Rabbit meat nutrition facts, calories, and health benefits
Complete nutrition and health benefits analysis for Rabbit Meat
Rabbit meat is not a part of most people’s everyday diet, yet consumption of rabbit meat in 2017 alone was estimated to be around 1.5 million tones (1). In this article we will explore all aspects of rabbit meat, with a main focus on its health impact and nutrition
Rabbit meat is often categorized as game, meaning meat that is acquired through hunting for sport or food, more specifically it falls under the category of “game proper” and as “ground game”. However rabbit hunting comprises only a small portion of the annual rabbit meat consumption. Today rabbits are commonly bred and kept as livestock. The agricultural practice of breeding and raising domestic rabbits, mainly for their meat, fur and wool is called cuniculture. These rabbits are classified as poultry.
Rabbit meat is also classified depending on size. Fryer or young rabbit is a term for rabbits weighing from 1.5 to 3.5 pounds (0.7-1.6 kg) and less than 3 months of age. Rabbits weighing over 4 pounds (1.8kg) and usually over 8 months of age are referred to as roaster or mature rabbit.
One of the best ways of understanding the nutrition of a given food is through comparison to what we already know well. In this case we compare rabbit meat with chicken. Rabbit meat has a higher concentration of most minerals, except for sodium. It is also very rich in vitamin B12 and vitamin E, whereas chicken is richer in B complex vitamins, as well as A and K. Rabbit meat contains more protein and less fat.
As science and research surrounding food and nutrition grows, health-conscious customers demand foods with the best nutritional values. Even though rabbit meat naturally provides excellent nutrition, dietary fortification of rabbits has been growing in recent years, making its nutritional properties even better. Dietary fortification of rabbits is achieved through feeding rabbits the right diets: with high polyunsaturated fatty acids - enriching the rabbit meat with essential and bioactive fatty acids, using antioxidants - providing higher levels of vitamin E and extending the meat’s shelf life, supra-nutritional levels of selenium - contributing significantly to the selenium intake of humans, and other methods (2). Including bilberry pomace, a by-product that otherwise has no use, in diets for growing rabbits can potentially ameliorate the nutritional attributes of rabbit meat, significantly increasing polyunsaturated fatty acids (3).
Macronutrients and Calories
Rabbit meat’s fat content is significantly lower than in other meats, consequently it also contains less calories. Instead rabbit meat is richer in proteins, containing almost double the amount of all amino acids in comparison to chicken or beef. A study has found rabbit meat to have lower cholesterol levels than that of chicken and almost half the cholesterol levels found in beef (4). However meat from wild rabbits has almost double the amount of cholesterol, compared to domesticated rabbit meat.
When looking into the fat composition, most of rabbit meat’s fat is saturated, closely followed by monounsaturated fats, leaving polyunsaturated fats in last place.
In protein quality breakdown we see that out of all essential amino acids the one with the highest concentration within rabbit meat is tryptophan, the one with the lowest being phenylalanine.
Rabbit meat, similar to other meats, does not contain a notable amount of carbohydrates.
Rabbit meat contains significantly higher concentrations of vitamin B12, as opposed to beef and chicken, making it a great source for those with vitamin B12 deficiencies. It is also rich in vitamin E. Even though it is relatively lower in B complex vitamins, compared to other meats , except for B12, it is still a great source of pyridoxine (B6) and niacin (B3). Rabbit meat contains no vitamin A, vitamin D and vitamin C.
Rabbit meat has the highest concentration of iron in all types of meat. It is higher in calcium, potassium and magnesium as well, in comparison to beef and chicken.
Rabbit meat also contains optimal levels of phosphorus, copper, zinc and choline.
Another advantage of rabbit meat is its comparatively low levels of sodium, making it a great choice for people with high blood pressure.
Poultry rabbit is advised during pregnancy, as lean meats are favourable for the normal growth of the fetus and rabbit meat is a great source of B12 vitamins. However game rabbits should be avoided, especially if they have been shot by lead pellets, out of fear of lead poisoning and potential diseases (5).
Despite all the health benefits rabbit meat can still be dangerous for some people. A sugar molecule found in certain meats, like rabbit meat, can cause an allergic reaction. The allergy is called alpha-gal, named after the molecule galactose-α-1,3-galactose. Symptoms of an alpha-gal allergy appear 3-6 hours after consumption of meat and include rashes, hives, difficulty breathing, hypotension, severe stomach pains. This allergy can range from mild to life threatening, so it has to be carefully managed and dietary changes may be necessary (6).
Specific rabbit dander allergens may also cause similar issues. We may see a progressive increase of rabbit sensitization as a consequence of fast growing domestication of rabbits (7).
Rabbit meat is part of a recommended diet for people with diabetes, due to its low fat and low cholesterol qualities and the nutritive value that is on par with fish meat (8).
A molecule found in rabbit meat, called conjugated linoleic fatty acid, may have potential anti-obesity, anti-carcinogenic effects and be able to ameliorate diabetes. Rabbit meat is said to contain the molecule more than other non-ruminant animals. Furthermore, in recent years, conjugated linoleic acid has been used as a supplement in rabbit feed (9).
As previously mentioned conjugated linoleic acid, contained in rabbit meat, potentially has anti-carcinogenic effects.
Generally red meats are considered to increase the risk of most cancers: colon, rectum, gastric and others. In contrast to that white meat intake, such as rabbit meat, seems to have a negative association with the risk of gastric cancer (10).
Meat is known for its negative effects on cardiovascular health due to its concentration of saturated fats, however as already stated, rabbit meat has a significantly lower amount of fats. The recent developments of rabbit meat, fortified with polyunsaturated fatty acids, make this meat safer for people with cardiovascular diseases (11). Rabbit meat also contains the lowest amount of sodium, among other meats, making it the best choice of meat for people with hypertension.
If you have gout, rabbit meat is advised to be avoided, due to its high concentration of purines (12).
Tularemia is also known as rabbit fever and is a rare disease, caused by a bacterium called Francisella tularensis. It can spread to humans through a tick bite, direct contact with the animal or poorly cooked meat. Rabbit hunters are at a higher risk of getting infected, when skinning the rabbit.
Symptoms can differ depending on the route of infection and exposure. Poorly cooked meat usually affects the mouth, throat and digestive tract with symptoms such as fever, throat pain, mouth ulcers, vomiting, etc. People exposed to tularemia usually show symptoms in three to five days, but it can take as long as 14 days. It is highly contagious and potentially fatal, but can be successfully treated if diagnosed early (13).
Protein poisoning is an acute form of malnutrition that occurs when the body consumes too much protein, as the name suggests, and not enough fats and carbohydrates. Other names of this process are rabbit starvation, rabbit malaise and mal de caribou (the evil of caribou). The names derive from the fact that lean meats such as rabbit and caribou, a reindeer, contain a lot of proteins and very little fat.
The term rabbit starvation is said to have been coined by Vilhjalmur Stefansson, an arctic explorer who wrote in a book about human nutrition: “Rabbit eaters, if they have no fat from another source - beaver, moose, fish - will develop diarrhoea in about a week, with headache, lassitude, a vague discomfort. If there are enough rabbits, the people eat till their stomachs are distended; but no matter how much they eat they feel unsatisfied.” (14).
Overall symptoms include nausea, headaches, fatigue, diarrhea, low blood pressure (15).
Protein poisoning is not to be confused with protein toxicity. Protein toxicity occurs when the kidneys are under-functioning, so the protein metabolic wastes like ammonia have no way to leave the organism and create a potentially toxic build up. Protein poisoning on the other hand is the excessive amount of protein intake that can eventually lead to kidney damage.
Generally speaking, protein poisoning is very rare, but with new “high protein diets” it is important to keep in mind that the body needs balance of all nutritions, including fats and carbohydrates.
Rabbit meat does not contain a significant amount of carbohydrates, therefore its glycemic value is considered to be 0.
The average serving size of a rabbit is considered to be 3oz, equivalent to 85g per eating, according to FDA Reference Amounts Customarily Consumed (RACC).
It’s always important knowing the safe measures of cooking meats, as poorly cooked meat has numerous health hazards.
For safety, USDA recommends cooking rabbits to an internal temperature of at least 160°F (71°C). The use of a food thermometer is recommended to make sure that your rabbit is safe to eat. When roasting rabbit parts, it is advised for the oven temperature to be no lower than 325°F (163°). It is safe to cook frozen rabbit in the oven without defrosting it first, although the cooking time may be about 1.5 times longer (16).
Cooking rabbit meat changes the fat composition, destroying unsaturated fatty acids, therefore increasing the percentage of saturated fatty acids. One research has shown that microwaving rabbit meat results in the least amount of change in fat composition, compared to boiling and aluminium foil baking. However boiling treatment did the most serious damage to polyunsaturated fatty acids (17).
Another study has shown how the nutritional value and in vitro digestibility change by boiling or frying rabbit meat for different amounts of time. Boiling for 15 min enhanced the in vitro digestibility and nutritional value of rabbit meat, whereas boiling for 5 or 40 min led to their loss. Frying for 2 to 4 min helped to obtain an acceptable in vitro digestibility and nutritional value; even though the values were lower than that of boiled rabbit meat. The frying of rabbit meat for 6 min resulted in a severe impairment to the protein content, color, muscle surface structure, in vitro digestibility and protein nutrition (18).
Cooking rabbit meat with oregano and sage can improve the energy value and amino acid composition of rabbit meat (19).
Storing, Keeping & Conservation
Rabbit meat is supposed to be refrigerated at 40°F (4-5°C) or below, if it is to be used within 2 days. If it is intended to be kept for a longer period of time, the optimal temperature is about 0°F (-18°C). It can be kept in the right conditions for an indefinite period, although the quality of the meat decreases over time. It is best to use a whole frozen rabbit within a year and a frozen rabbit in pieces, within 9 months.
Leftovers are to be refrigerated within 2 hours after cooking and used within 3-4 days, otherwise frozen. Frozen, cooked rabbit meat is to be used within 4-6 months for best quality. Leftovers are to be reheated at 165°F (74°C).
Some studies have suggested that the shelf life of rabbit carcasses, wrapped in oxygen-permeable film and stored in 3°C (37.4°F), is over 8 days. However after 5 days of storage most of the carcasses started showing some softening and the counts of bacteria were growing (20).
A study has found the acidity of rabbit meat, that was stored for at least 24h, to range around 5.6-5.85, indicating that rabbit meat has an inferior shelf life compared to other types of meat (21).
Another research has found a similar number, with a mean pH value of 5.98, for both rabbit carcasses and prepackaged meat (22).
When the acidity of chilled and thawed rabbit meats were compared, it was found that chilled muscles had a slightly lower pH value, equal to 5.72±0.99 (23).
Based on our calculations, the Potential Renal Acid Load (PRAL) value of rabbit meat is 16.8, which confirms it to be acidic.
Rabbit meat - red or white
Meats are often generally categorized into red or white, based on heme iron content and myoglobin concentration. The higher the myoglobin concentration, the darker the meat.
Epidemiologic evidence suggests an association between red, and processed meat consumptions, and increased incidence of cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancers, especially colorectal cancer (24). As aforementioned, white meat, by contrast, has a negative association with the risk of gastric cancer.
Rabbit meat, as all poultry, is considered to be white meat.
Rabbit meat in diets
A keto diet includes foods with high protein and fats, and low carbohydrates. Rabbit meat fits into a keto diet, since it has no carbs, however it is also low in fat. To achieve optimal physical performance endurance during a keto diet, constraint of daily protein dose is required. According to some calculations, daily protein intake should be around 1.5g/kg, which translates to 90-120g a day for people in the range of 60-80kg (25). One serving size of rabbit meat contains 28g of protein, so if you’re on a keto diet, occasionally eating rabbit meat is not an issue, but it is better to consume it with a natural source of healthy fats, like cheese, butter and olive oil.
The DASH diet is more about how much you eat, rather than what you eat. Rabbit meat is suitable for both standard and lower sodium DASH diets (26), since a serving of rabbit meat only has 38.3 mg of sodium. Preferably, it should not be fried or salted. You should have no more than 6 one-ounce servings a day (27). Several dietary studies have found that rabbit meat has shown no negative effects on blood pressure (28).
Fortification of rabbit meat with polyunsaturated fatty acids can even have a positive impact on potential to prevent hypertension (29).
Atkins diet is mostly about cutting out or lowering carbohydrate intake. Since rabbit meat has no carbohydrates, it fits into this diet, for both phases and all three types. Atkins diet recommends aiming for three 4-6 ounce servings of protein each day (30).
Moderate amounts of poultry are an important aspect of the Mediterranean diet. The intake of poultry, such as rabbit meat should be weekly (31). Rabbit meat is overall common in Mediterranian diet, since it is considered to be of Mediterranian origin.
A paleo diet centers around foods that historically could be obtained by hunting and gathering, including lean meats, such as poultry or game. Rabbit meat is ideal for this diet.
Vegan / Vegetarian / Pescatarian
Vegan, vegetarian and pescatarian diets, naturally, do not allow rabbit meat consumption.
Since the basis of the Dukan diet is eating meat, rabbit meat is more than suitable for this diet. It suits best for the Attack phase and can be consumed in unlimited amounts, but it is good for all four phases. During this diet, rabbit meat is not to be fried or used with any additional fats (32).
Intermittent fasting doesn’t control what you eat, instead it controls when you eat it, described more as an eating regime, rather than a diet. Lean meats are recommended during the eating periods and rabbit meat is a great choice, due to its nutritional benefits.
Low Fat & Low Calorie
Rabbit meat has less fats and calories, when compared to most meats, so it fits both diets.
Rabbit meat contains no carbohydrates and is perfect for a low carb diet.
An anti-inflammatory diet discourages or limits the consumption of red meats, however it favors lean proteins, such as rabbit meat and omega-3-fatty acids. Adding linseed oil to rabbit’s diets increases the amount of omega-3-fatty acids in rabbit meat and may add anti-inflammatory qualities to it (33). The best option of choice within this diet is meat from organically raised animals, to avoid injected hormones and antibiotics (34).
You can add white meat, such as rabbit on day three of the BRAT diet, no sooner (35). However protein is at times difficult to digest, so it should only be consumed in moderate amounts if you have an upset stomach.
All in all, diets are made, having in mind a generalized group of people so before starting a diet it is important to pay attention to one’s own individual needs and state of health.
Rabbit meat is most popular in China with a yearly consumption of 925 thousand tonnes, which accounts for more than 60% of the world’s total rabbit meat consumption. China is followed by Democratic People’s Republic of Korea with 154 thousand tonnes and Egypt with 57 thousand tonnes.
Rabbit meat consumption in 2017 alone averaged around 1.5 million tonnes, picking up by 2.9% against the previous year (1). This number is different according to Rabbit Advocacy Network and reaches up to 200 million tonnes of meat a year (36).
Overall, in the European Union, rabbit consumption accounts for less than 3% of all meats consumed. Consumption of rabbit meats is more relevant in Italy, France, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands. Game meat is mainly consumed during the hunting season, i.e. from October till December. Rabbit meat accounts for 490 thousand tonnes in all of meat production (37).
One study has researched the consumers’ attitude to consumption of rabbit meat in eight countries: Spain, Italy, France, Poland, Hungary, China, Brazil and Mexico. It has found that rabbit origin was the most important factor in Italy and France, in Spain it was rated as moderately important. In China, the level of origin was rated very low, while the level of processing was considered the most important. The freshness of the meat was the most important in Spain and France, but not in Italy; however, the frozen meat was not preferred in any Mediterranean countries. They concluded that no general trend was detected in all countries (38).
The consumption of rabbit meat in the USA and Canada is very low, 0.15-0.20kg per head, in contrast with Malta (7.5kg), Italy (5.5kg) and France (3.0kg), even though it is in the same price range as chicken breast (39).
Rabbit meat production is highly profitable due to its high prolificacy and short reproductive cycle, its ability to convert a large percentage of protein intake into muscle mass and its simple feeding needs. It is said that on the same feed and water, rabbits can produce 6 times more meat than cows.
During World War II, due to food shortages, the British Government urged its people with posters and propaganda, to domesticate rabbits and raise them for food (40).
A study in 1995 showed that 6 countries were responsible for 58% of the world meat production: Italy, France, Ukraine, China, Spain and Russia. It also stated that globally West Europe was the main rabbit meat producer (43%), followed by East Europe (24%) and Far East Asia (14%). North Africa and Middle and South Africa represented each one between 5 and 10% of the world rabbit production (41). Since then, rabbit production numbers have changed quite a lot, declining in some countries and greatly increasing in others.
According to FAOUN (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations), rabbit meat production has increased in China from 370K to 870K from the year 2000 to 2018. The numbers also increased in Mexico and Italy, however they decreased in Spain, France, Brazil and Poland (42).
These production numbers don’t necessarily represent consumption levels, since a lot of the production gets exported and part of the consumption is imported.
Cultural or Religious details
Many animal lovers are protesting the use of rabbits as food and the general conditions in which rabbits are being kept. Organisations, such as Save a Bunny (43), Rabbit Advocacy Network (44), Advocacy for Animals (45) and others, are fighting to protect rabbits from being mistreated and exploited.
Rabbits are one of the most popular pets in the USA and when an American multinational supermarket chain, “Whole Foods” started selling rabbit meat, they soon had to remove the product after public outcry of animal welfare concerns. Organisations such as People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the House Rabbit Society organised protests outside 40 stores, based on the concerns generated by certain documents, that showed the animals were caged in cold conditions overnight with no access to water (46).
A survey of the intensive rabbit meat industry in the EU published in 2017 (European Parliament Plenary sitting) found that the majority of rabbits were kept in barren environments, often in battery cages, intensive farming systems had severe negative implications for rabbit welfare and a high rate of disease and mortality amongst caged farm rabbits (47).
However there are certain requirements and regulations for rabbits’ general conditions and slaughter in most countries. In the European Union, rabbit meat must be obtained in establishments that fulfil the general conditions of the poultry meat directive with the source animals being similarly checked for their health status (48). In the USA processors must meet all USDA/FSIS (Food Safety and Inspection Services) inspection exempt requirements. Processors are prohibited from selling adulterated or misbranded products as defined by FSIS (49).
FDA and NHS recommendations
According to the USDA, hormones are not used in raising rabbits and antibiotics may be used only sometimes to prevent or treat diseases in rabbits. However, after the antibiotic is administered, a certain “withdrawal” period has to pass before the animal can be legally slaughtered. During this time period the residues of the antibiotic completely exit the rabbit’s system (15).
Rabbits are often known for their ability to breed fast, which is part of the reason why they have been used in science to study genetics and reproduction physiology. However, only in the 20th century have people begun to move in the direction of rabbit’s genetic improvement with an aim to achieve finer meat production.
Overall rabbit breeds can be divided into four groups based on adult size. Heavy breeds have an adult weight exceeding 5kg. Their body mass makes them a desirable meat product. Average breeds weigh from 3.5 to 4.5kg and are often used for meat production in Western Europe. A rabbit of a lightweight breed weighs around 2.5-3kg and is usually used in developing countries as meat. Adult rabbits of a small breed weigh around 1kg and cannot be used for meat production (50). Commercial production often uses heavy breeds for does and average breeds for sires.
The genetic flexibility and short reproductive cycle of rabbits is used to rapidly create breads, varying in size and muscle mass, however most studies have found that genetic modification does not affect the quality of the meat (51).
- RABBIT & POULTRY SLAUGHTER/PROCESSING REQUIREMENTS
Important nutritional characteristics for Rabbit Meat
Rabbit Meat Glycemic index (GI)
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NEW NUTRITION FACTS LABEL
Serving Size ______________
Rabbit Meat nutrition infographic
Mineral coverage chart
Mineral chart - relative view
Vitamin coverage chart
Vitamin chart - relative view
Protein quality breakdown
Fat type information
All nutrients for Rabbit Meat per 100g
|Nutrient||DV%||In TOP % of foods||Value||Comparison|
|Protein||79%||2%||33.02g||11.7 times more than Broccoli|
|Fats||5%||58%||3.51g||9.5 times less than Cheese|
|Calories||9%||54%||173kcal||3.7 times more than Orange|
|Calcium||2%||57%||18mg||6.9 times less than Milk|
|Iron||61%||11%||4.85mg||1.9 times more than Beef|
|Magnesium||7%||31%||31mg||4.5 times less than Almond|
|Phosphorus||34%||24%||240mg||1.3 times more than Chicken meat|
|Potassium||10%||27%||343mg||2.3 times more than Cucumber|
|Sodium||2%||74%||45mg||10.9 times less than White Bread|
|Zinc||22%||36%||2.38mg||2.7 times less than Beef|
|Copper||20%||34%||0.18mg||1.2 times more than Shiitake|
|Vitamin E||3%||61%||0.41mg||3.6 times less than Kiwifruit|
|Vitamin B1||2%||88%||0.02mg||13.3 times less than Pea|
|Vitamin B2||5%||75%||0.07mg||1.9 times less than Avocado|
|Vitamin B3||40%||22%||6.4mg||1.5 times less than Turkey meat|
|Vitamin B6||26%||37%||0.34mg||2.9 times more than Oat|
|Folate||2%||68%||8µg||7.6 times less than Brussels sprout|
|Vitamin B12||271%||16%||6.51µg||9.3 times more than Pork|
|Vitamin K||1%||73%||1.5µg||67.7 times less than Broccoli|
|Tryptophan||0%||43%||0.44mg||1.4 times more than Chicken meat|
|Threonine||0%||43%||1.48mg||2.1 times more than Beef|
|Isoleucine||0%||43%||1.57mg||1.7 times more than Salmon|
|Leucine||0%||44%||2.57mg||1.1 times more than Tuna|
|Lysine||0%||43%||2.89mg||6.4 times more than Tofu|
|Methionine||0%||44%||0.83mg||8.6 times more than Quinoa|
|Phenylalanine||0%||43%||1.36mg||2 times more than Egg|
|Valine||0%||43%||1.68mg||1.2 times less than Soybean|
|Histidine||0%||49%||0.93mg||1.2 times more than Turkey meat|
|Cholesterol||41%||8%||123mg||3 times less than Egg|
|Saturated Fat||5%||60%||1.05g||5.6 times less than Beef|
|Monounsaturated Fat||0%||65%||0.95g||10.3 times less than Avocado|
|Polyunsaturated fat||0%||54%||0.68g||69.4 times less than Walnut|
The source of all the nutrient values on the page (excluding the main article and glycemic index text the sources for which are presented separately if present) is the USDA's FoodCentral. The exact link to the food presented on this page can be found below.