Compared to lean beef, horse meat appears to have some nutritional advantages. Image courtesy of Tambako the Jaguar/Flickr.
There's been much hoopla this week over the ethical and cultural implications of eating, you guessed it, horse meat. The discussion was sparked by the Summit of the Horse, a conference that convened the past 4 days in Las Vegas. The agenda of the conference was to “Restore humane and regulated horse processing,” that is, horse slaughter for human consumption.
Though the topic is controversial, what's one man's pet is another man's dinner. Horse meat consumption has been growing rapidly for the last several years in France, and is common in several other cultures including Belgium, Germany and Switzerland. In Japan, you can even get horse sushi.
But once we get past the sentiment and politics of eating Sea Biscuit, how healthy is horse meat?
Horse is generally leaner than cow. (Errr, beef—for starters, why doesn't horse meat get a cuter, less offensive name like beef or venison? Just saying.) And those who have tasted it describe it as having a “sweeter” flavor. For this article I chose a fairly lean, grass-fed strip steak for comparison.
According to NutritionData, the strip steak has slightly fewer calories than horse (117 vs 133 calories per 100 grams), though this is obviously not be true for all cuts of beef. Sirloin, for example, contains 142 calories. The meats also have very similar amounts of fat, cholesterol and protein when lean cuts are compared.
Where the meats really differ is iron concentration, with horse meat having double the iron (21% vs 10% DV) that beef contains. It is not surprising that a more athletic animal has more iron, but the magnitude of the difference is striking. Horse meat also contains substantially more vitamin B12 (50% vs 21% DV), but less B6, niacin and folate.
But what's truly impressive is the omega-3 fatty acid concentration in horse meat, which contains 360 mg (per 100 grams) compared to just 21 mg in strip steak. Omega-3s are essential fatty acids that need to be obtained from your diet. They are thought to be helpful in fighting against heart disease, stroke and neurodegeneration.
Compared to lean beef, horse meat appears to have some nutritional advantages. If we do ever manage to get past the taboo, at least we know there's good nutrition on the other side.