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.

Horse meat vs. Strip steak

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.

How Nutritious Is Horse? The Other Red Meat 20 September,2015Darya Pino
  • Morgan Griffith

    Guess you forgot to mention the many drugs that are not allowed to be given to food for human consumption even one time such as bute, various wormers etc. Please add those to your study.

    • Desertrose984

      well when you consider the fact people that are sending these horses to slaughter are cheap mixed breed horses that likly have not even been vacinated let alone wormed or given any kind of drugs,now dont get me wrong i dont nesisarily agree with the slaughter idea but with the horse population on the rise due to breeding for nurse mare foals and pmu horses nobody wants horses who have never been handled by people and there are only so many places to put these unwanted horses this also drops the prices in the horse market and is forcing breeders to sell off their broodstock and there for adding to more unwanted horses

      • The horses are suffering because there are too many with little monetary value. When there is no value, they aren’t valued, thus they suffer. Just sayin’

        • neicey22

          Tax the over-breeders! cut their subsidies! We will not support “foal milling” anymore! NO tax money being used for the over-breeding luxury animals.
          This author should have to eat race horse meat full of bute. They get bute everyday plus multiple harmful to human drugs.
          This author hasn’t done her homework and I feel she and anyone in the US that wants to eat companion animals (per our FDA) then they should move to horse eating countries. When 90% of all Americans say NAY to eating companion animals then that’s the way it will be!
          Btw, All heart surgeons recommend NO red meat!

  • KMG

    This article reflects the author’s lack of research and insight into the issues surrounding horsemeat.

    Since the author prides herself on being a “food and health” writer, as well as promoting her “Detox Diet”, it’s more than ironic she fails to mention that horses are not subject to any of the USDA regulations for banned substances in food animals. (ie, phenylbutazone, just for starters)

    It would probably have been worth mentioning in an article titled “How Nutritious is Horse?”

    Note to author: you may want to avoid horsemeat on your “Detox Diet”

    • lola

      I think the article is just addressing the ridiculousness of peoples double standards and find horse a taboo food . mental more than nutritionally. I wouldn’t eat rabbit for the same personal taboo.

    • Yes, because the USDA is the final authority on what you should eat, and anything they don’t regulate is a terrible idea.

      Or maybe you’re an idiot.

  • Mary M

    You should not promote poison meat for human consumption! The Bible tells us not to eat horsemeat. You don’t have a clue and better get yourself educated before you write any more articles!

    • Terry S

      The Bible tells us to not eat a good many things. If you don’t keep Kosher, then the following should apply: 1 Corinthians 10:25–28. It basically takes the old testament food restrictions and throws them out the window. The only mention of horse is Leviticus.

    • PackerFortier

      ”The Bible tells us to not eat horsemeat”
      If I say the Greek gods are mythology, you would probably agree with that statement. The Greeks thought those stories were real. We now say those are JUST stories. The Bible is the same. When you try to write a intelligent post, use facts instead of falsities. As far as I can tell there is nothing ethically wrong with eating horsemeat.
      Disclaimer: This post states nothing about if slaughter is ethical, and this post has nothing to do with the topic of slaughter.

  • Darya (author)

    I’m not sure why this requires mentioning, but this article is only meant to reflect the nutritional value of pure horse meat. The issues of treatment, regulation and sale of the meat is a government matter (was probably the subject of the conference) and is beyond the scope of this story.

  • B. B.

    Dear bed wetters,

    The title is how nutritious NOT how toxic. Please put down your emotional ringing bell and read the words – They do have meaning!


  • Commenting8257

    I would love to know where you find PURE horse meat. I’m pretty sure there is not a person on the earth that has a horse and just lets it eat grass that has NEVER been fertilized and doesn’t give their horse any supplements or anything like that.

    Otherwise, I found this article to be somewhat helpful in writing a term paper.

    • lupusposse

      I think the words you’re searching for are “certified organic.”

    • Anywhere where horse meat is consumed normally, so Eastern Canada, Belgium, Holland, etc etc.
      No not the USA or Britain..since a certain pope stopped that when he found out pagans ate horse <–which is the ONLY reason it is a taboo nowadays.

  • American Mustangs = Free Range Chickens, never touched by human
    hands….and in the state of this economy, I wouldn’t worry about domestic horses being drugged either. People can hardly afford to FEED them let alone, keep them vaccinated!

  • steph graham

    Actually horse meat consumption in France has DROPPED by at least 12% if not more by now in the last few years. People are waking up to the risks of eating meat….whether it be cow, pig, chicken or….horse. Japans cancer rate has risen exponentially and studies are showing that meat consumption is the main player. They have been eating their race horses for years (and ours) and they also eat Canada’s PMU (hormone replacement drugs for human females) mares including foals. They are shipped live from Calgary and slaughtered in Japan. Sad thing is that horses are caught in the battle between those who say we should be able to eat what we want and those who say we should never eat a companion animal. I for one would rather ride my horse and brush him than eat him. I know people talk about starving people need meat, well, why not feed them prisoners who have committed serious crimes? Why are we paying their rent and feeding THEM? Food for thought….

    • erm…because that would be cannibalism??

      • lupusposse

        Any distaste for cannibalism is a social phenomenon, as various groups have had viewpoints on cannibalism ranging from ennobling ritual, to useful meat source, to exhibition of objects of that cuisine to members of the dined-on’s group of their low or absent social status.

        Since our brains are associative organs, companions are weighed for social status, and some companion animals or other species might have more importance to an individual than another with whom we dispute.

        It is true that Japanese have increased their intake of land animals, changing from a plant and ocean animal diet, and also true that adulteration and pollution have increased mutagenic effects of foods high in the trophic pyramid.

        Your friends, whether homo or equus, can be increasingly unhealthy to consume; this is a population problem, as technology greedily circles resources growing most economically .

    • Christianhorseeater

      It would be nice if people knew what they were talking about before they post. Horses are not shipped live from Calgary to Japan or any other country. But judging from the rest of this post this person isn’t exactly putting any intelligence on display. As for horse meat being taboo according to the Bible….only in the Old Testament….being half right isn’t much better than being completely wrong.

      • They absolutely are shipped live from Calgary. This is one of Claude Bouvry’s businesses.

    • YouIzDumb

      Maybe you should ride a prisoner and brush him….but then perhaps you might more likely want to eat him.

    • Miss Island

      Not all prisoners that are found guilty actually are guilty. Do you want to be the person who sits their and decides which is which, or do you want to send potentially innocent people to the slaughterhouse? And the prison system is built on the hope that people will learn from their mistakes, or is that a myth that needs to be addressed? If we are sending prisoners to jail to “learn their lesson” knowing good and well they won’t learn their lesson from the system we set up, then we need to rework the system, not just send people we don’t understand to the slaughterhouse. This would be like sending all of your items that you no longer see use for to the landfill. But one man’s trash is another man’s treasure and the guilt of those prisoners may simply be a result of poor functioning bureaucracy and social control. Have a heart lady.

  • Svmarvbart

    I would like to know what Authority the Nutrition data goes by. Is it a Government publication or a University one?

    • Bris Vegas

      The Nutrient Database It is published by the US Department of Agriculture.

    • Donna Goodnight

      Probably from someone profiting from the slaughter of horses. It is an ideas that sickens me. Wonder why cancer, autism, Alzheimer’s is on the rise. Provably been eating horse meat for years without knowing.

  • mzm

    the beef industry put an end to the option of horse meat – it cannot even be used for pet food

    the US veterinary association stupor US slaughter as it is/was regulated and more humane

    is a horse that different from a cow or lamb?
    what is a person to do w/ an injured animal? – euthanize and bury

    i would rather they be used to feed people or pets rather than be killed chemically

  • Diablo3fan

    I love your article, I’m using it for a source in my research paper arguing for a solution to gas prices rising. There are many benefits to owning a horse over a car.

    • One of the benefits is definitely NOT parking at work

  • LeonardoM

    I am personally looking into better ways to improve my bodybuilding diet. This looks like the best way to get more for less. More Creatine, iron, proteins, vitamins and quality of amino acids. However, the slaughter of horses is not my belief, I would totally take this new profound diet for my personal gains.

    • adrenaline… cortisol… The MMA fighters swear by the stuff and that is why.

  • seash

    animals need de-wormers by the way, even your organic animals get them, especially because animals that graze are ingesting worms all the time. it is for the health of the animal and does not affect human when consumed in anyway. also there used to be horses that were only grazed and only had approved vaccinations, that where fine for human consumption.

  • Miss Island

    How were the cows raised that they are comparing the horses too, and were they eating similar diets throughout their entire life? This report has no validity to me unless the horses were raised and fed in the same manner as the cows. If horse eating becomes more widespread, we would turn to raising them as we do cows, and thus there is potential for the nutritional content of their meat to go down. Although the cows were grass fed, they may have been finished off with corn and grains, and they may not have lived the entire of their lives free roaming, or had access to the wild grasses/plants that the horse had access to. Was the horse eating grain? We are what we eat, and I would hate to see somebody influenced to allocate their funds to horse meat in hopes of getting more omega 3’s from their meat, a situation that may not sustain under the pressures of high demand.

  • how was the omega 3- fatty acid concentrations found higher in horse meat? both cattle and horses eat basicly the same feed . What would make it higher in the horse? where did the author get this info??

    • BD

      athletic ability. improve comprehension skills.

  • Ken Hunter

    Toxic? I doubt it, but will ask why you think this is so?

  • Taco Bell is in luck!!!!

  • justin bieber

    If we didn’t eat horses, then the expression “so hungry I could eat a horse” is useless! Lets make this expression have some real meaning. #Horsemeat #Bestmeat

  • Beckette

    Having owned horses and responsibly dealt with their end of life issues for over 35 years, never sending to slaughter, I will be upfront with the fact I don’t approve. BTW everything we use on domestic horses, from wormer to fly spray carries a distinct , all caps warning : NOT MEANT FOR ANIMALS USED FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION. How much more warning does one require? Horses aren’t generally raised as feed animals in the US as they require far more hay, pasture and grain than cattle. While we’re on the subject, red meat isn’t healthy, period. Meat headed body builders aside, no one really requires red meat to thrive. In fact, a diet consisting of red meat leads to cancer , kidney, liver and heart disease. What’s for dinner? Death.

    • whisperingsage1

      Red meat is the only food with as high levels of carnitine to be useful. PLEASE read for free online, Weston Price’s Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. The healthiest peoples all over the world ate 80% animal or other saturated fats, the rest in animal protein, and often very little carbs.These people were the ideal of perfection.

  • Peanut butter

    Seriously, all of you need to be educated. The horses that go on to be slaughtered sit for a certain amount of days/months before being killed therefore there is no toxic medications in there meat! And all horses that are slaughtered are tested after kill for toxins, disease etc… Just to make sure! That’s why they have laboratories in the slaughter plants. I’ve eaten horse meat for as long as I can remember and I’m as healthy as a bee! Nothing wrong with me, and I will keep eating it and so should everyone else :0)

    • whisperingsage1

      Ooops! Haven’t heard of colony collapse Syndrome?

    • Donna Goodnight


  • Jennifer Schroeder

    Peanut Butter. There are state laws that require a horse to be shipped immediately to slaughter after purchase at the auction. No. They don’t lounge around waiting for required drug withdrawal.

    • whisperingsage1

      Suppose they weren’t bought for slaughter? We have many young buck goats that go to the dairies in Fallon for breeding before they go to slaughter.

  • whisperingsage1

    For the Omega 3’s to be there, the animal has to be fed on green growing pasture. Many cattle are finished on corn (not the lean ones) or are on dry yellow grass, , dairy animals are fed on silage mostly, or dry hay which won’t have the omega 3’s. (yes dairy culls end up as meat).

  • Aleeana

    We eat loads of horse meat here in Kazakhstan. we even make sausages from this type of meat))))

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Darya Pino

Darya Pino is a Ph.D trained scientist, San Francisco foodie, food and health writer and advocate of local, seasonal foods. She shares her unique scientific perspective on health and enthusiasm for delicious foods at her website Summer Tomato. Follow her on Twitter @summertomato.

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