Rabbit meat nutrition facts, calories, and health benefits
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 tonnes (1). In this article, we will explore all aspects of rabbit meat, focusing on its health impact and nutrition.
Table of contents
- Serving Size
- Glycemic Index
- Health Impact
- Rabbit Starvation
- Storing, Keeping & Conservation
- Rabbit meat - red or white
- Rabbit meat in diets
- Cultural or Religious details
- FDA and NHS recommendations
Rabbit meat is often categorized as game meat, meaning meat that's acquired through hunting for sport or food. Game meat, in turn, is divided into three categories: small birds, game proper, and big game. Rabbit meat falls under the category of game proper and 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. The USDA classifies these rabbits as domesticated poultry (2).
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 three months of age. A rabbit weighing over 4 pounds (1.8kg), usually over eight months of age, is classified as a roaster or mature rabbit (2).
The average serving size of a rabbit is 3oz, equivalent to 85g per eating, according to FDA Reference Amounts Customarily Consumed (RACC).
Naturally, depending on the type of rabbit meat and its cooking method, the nutritional value of the food may slightly differ. In this article, we will be presenting nutritional information about wild, stewed rabbit meat.
One of the best ways of understanding the nutrition of a given food is to compare it to what we already know. In this case, we compare rabbit meat with the most commonly consumed poultry meat - chicken. In doing so, we see that rabbit meat has a higher concentration of most minerals, except for sodium. It is also very rich in vitamins B12 and E, whereas chicken is more decadent in B complex vitamins and vitamins A and K. Rabbit meat also 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, the 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 proper 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 (3). Including bilberry pomace, a by-product that otherwise has no use, in diets for growing rabbits can potentially improve the nutritional attributes of rabbit meat, significantly increasing polyunsaturated fatty acids (4).
Macronutrients and Calories
Rabbit meat's fat content is significantly lower than other meats; consequently, it contains fewer calories. Instead, rabbit meat is richer in proteins, containing almost double the amount of all amino acids than chicken or beef.
A study has found rabbit meat to have lower cholesterol levels than chicken and almost half the cholesterol levels found in beef (5). However, meat from wild rabbits has almost double the amount of cholesterol compared to domesticated rabbit meat.
The infographic shows that most rabbit meat fat is saturated, closely followed by monounsaturated fats, leaving polyunsaturated fats in the last place.
Fat type information
In protein quality breakdown, we see that out of all the essential amino acids, the one with the highest concentration within rabbit meat is tryptophan, with the lowest being phenylalanine.
Protein quality breakdown
Like other meats, rabbit meat does not contain a notable amount of carbohydrates.
Rabbit meat contains significantly higher concentrations of vitamin B12 than beef and chicken, making it an excellent source for those with vitamin B12 deficiencies. It is also rich in vitamin E.
Even though it is relatively lower in B complex vitamins than 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
Vitamin coverage chart
Rabbit meat has the highest concentration of iron in all types of meat. It is higher in calcium, potassium, and magnesium than beef and chicken.
Rabbit meat also contains optimal levels of phosphorus, copper, zinc, and choline.
Another advantage of rabbit meat is its comparatively low sodium levels, making it an excellent choice for people with high blood pressure.
Mineral coverage chart
Rabbit meat does not contain significant carbohydrates; therefore, its glycemic index value is 0.
To get more information about the glycemic index of foods with no carbohydrates, you can visit this page.
A study has found the pH value of rabbit meat, stored for at least 24h, to range around 5.6 to 5.85, indicating that rabbit meat has an inferior shelf life compared to other types of meat (24).
Another research has found a similar number, with a mean pH value of 5.98, for both rabbit carcasses and prepackaged meat (25).
When the acidic values 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 (26).
Based on our calculations, rabbit meat's Potential Renal Acid Load (PRAL) value is 16.8, confirming it to be acid-forming.
Poultry rabbit is advised during pregnancy, as lean meats are favorable for the average growth of the fetus, and rabbit meat is an excellent source of B12 vitamins. Vitamin B12 deficiency in pregnant women significantly increases the risk of neural tube defects in children (6).
However, game rabbits should be avoided, mainly if they have been shot by lead pellets, out of fear of lead poisoning and potential diseases (7).
Despite all the health benefits, rabbit meat can still be dangerous for some people. A sugar molecule 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 to 6 hours after meat consumption and include rashes, hives, difficulty breathing, hypotension, and severe stomach pains. This allergy can range from mild to life-threatening, so it must be carefully managed, and dietary changes may be necessary (8).
Specific rabbit dander allergens may also cause similar issues. We may see a progressive increase in rabbit sensitization due to the fast-growing domestication of rabbits (9).
Rabbit meat is part of a recommended diet for diabetes due to its low fat and low cholesterol qualities and its nutritional value, which is on par with fish meat (10).
A molecule found in rabbit meat called conjugated linoleic fatty acid may have potential anti-obesity and anti-carcinogenic effects and likely help ameliorate diabetes. Rabbit meat is said to contain more molecules than other non-ruminant animals. Furthermore, in recent years, conjugated linoleic acid has been used as a supplement in rabbit feed (11).
As previously mentioned, conjugated linoleic acid in rabbit meat has potential anti-carcinogenic effects.
Generally, red meats are correlated with an increased risk of most cancers: colon, rectum, gastric, and others (12).
In contrast, white meat intake, such as domesticated rabbit meat, seems negatively associated with the risk of gastric cancer (13).
Red meat is known for its adverse 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 in rabbit meat, fortified with polyunsaturated fatty acids, make this meat safer for people with cardiovascular diseases (14). Rabbit meat also contains the lowest amount of sodium, among other meats, making it the best choice of meat for people with hypertension.
People with gout are generally advised to avoid eating game and red meat due to its high purines and uric acid concentration. However, rabbit meat may be a good option for this diet, as it is low in both compounds (15, 16).
Tularemia, also known as rabbit fever, 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 (17).
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 for this disorder are rabbit starvation, rabbit malaise, and mal de caribou (the evil of caribou). The names derive from the fact that lean meats such as rabbits, caribou, and 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 diarrhea 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." (18).
Symptoms can include nausea, headaches, fatigue, diarrhea, low blood pressure, and even death (19).
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 cannot leave the organism and create a potentially toxic build-up. On the other hand, protein poisoning is excessive protein intake that can eventually lead to kidney damage.
Generally speaking, protein poisoning is very rare; however, with new "high protein diets," it is essential to remember that the body needs a balance of all nutrients, including fats and carbohydrates.
Knowing the safe ways of cooking meats is always essential, as poorly cooked meat has numerous health hazards.
USDA recommends cooking rabbits to an internal temperature of at least 160°F (71°C) for safety. A food thermometer is recommended to ensure your rabbit is safe to eat. When roasting rabbit parts, the oven temperature is advised 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 (20).
Cooking rabbit meat changes the fat composition, destroying unsaturated fatty acids and increasing the percentage of saturated fatty acids. One research has shown that microwaving rabbit meat results in the most negligible change in fat composition compared to boiling and aluminum foil baking. However, boiling treatment did the most severe damage to polyunsaturated fatty acids (21).
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 minutes enhanced rabbit meat's digestibility and nutritional value, whereas boiling for 5 or 40 minutes led to their loss. Frying for 2 to 4 minutes helped 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 minutes resulted in severe impairment of the protein content, color, muscle surface structure, in vitro digestibility, and protein nutrition (22).
Cooking rabbit meat with oregano and sage can improve the meal's energy value and amino acid composition (23).
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 more extended period, 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 should be refrigerated within 2 hours after cooking and used within 3 to 4 days; otherwise, they should be frozen. Defrozen, cooked rabbit meat will be used for best quality within 4 to 6 months. 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 at 3°C (37.4°F) is over 8 days. However, after 5 days of storage, most carcasses started showing some softening, and the counts of bacteria were growing (11).
Rabbit meat - red or white
Meats are 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 consumption and an increased incidence of cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers, especially colorectal cancer (27). As aforementioned, by contrast, white meat negatively correlates with the risk of gastric cancer.
Rabbit meat, like 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 but is also low in fats.
In order to achieve optimal physical performance endurance during a keto diet, a 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 of 60-80kg (28). 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; however, it is better to consume it with a natural source of healthy fats like cheese, butter, and olive oil.
The DASH diet recommends a low intake of saturated, trans fats, and sodium. This diet usually encourages increased poultry consumption and a decreased red meat intake (29).
Rabbit meat is suitable for the DASH diet since a serving of rabbit meat only has 38.3 mg of sodium while being rich in protein, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Preferably, it should not be fried or salted. You should have no more than 6 one-ounce servings daily (30). Several dietary studies have found that rabbit meat has no negative effects on blood pressure (31).
Fortification of rabbit meat with polyunsaturated fatty acids can even positively impact the potential to prevent hypertension (32).
|Atkins||The 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 three 4-6 ounce servings of protein daily (33).|
|Mediterranian||Moderate amounts of poultry are an essential aspect of the Mediterranean diet. The intake of poultry, such as rabbit meat, should be weekly. Rabbit meat is common in the Mediterranean diet since the consumption of rabbit meat prospered around this area (34).|
|Paleo||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.|
|Dukan||Since the basis of the Dukan diet is eating meat, rabbit meat is more than suitable for this diet. It is best for the Attack phase and can be consumed unlimitedly, but it is acceptable in all four phases. During this diet, rabbit meat is not to be fried or used with any additional fats (35).|
|Intermittent Fasting||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 an excellent choice due to its nutritional benefits.|
|Low Fat & Low Calorie||Rabbit meat has fewer fats and calories when compared to most meats, so it fits in both these diets.|
|Low Carb||Rabbit meat contains no carbohydrates and is perfect for a low-carb diet.|
|Anti Inflammatory||An anti-inflammatory diet discourages or limits the consumption of red meats; however, it favors lean proteins, such as rabbit meat, rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Adding linseed oil to rabbits’ diets increases the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in rabbit meat and may add anti-inflammatory qualities to it (36).|
|BRAT||You can add white meat, such as rabbit, on day three of the BRAT diet no sooner (37). However, protein is sometimes difficult to digest, so it should only be consumed in moderate amounts if you have an upset stomach.|
All in all, diets are made with a generalized group of people in mind, so it is important to pay attention to one'srabbits'doesn'tyou're own needs and state of health before starting a diet.
Rabbit meat consumption is most prevalent in China, with a yearly consumption of 925 thousand tonnes, accounting for more than 60% of the world's total rabbit meat consumption. China is followed by the 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, up 2.9% against the previous year (1). According to Rabbit Advocacy Network, this number is different and reaches up to 200 million tonnes of meat annually (38).
Overall, rabbit consumption accounts for less than 3% of all meats consumed in the European Union. Consumption of rabbit meats is more prevalent in Italy, France, Spain, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Game meat is mainly consumed during the hunting season, i.e., from October to December. Rabbit meat accounts for 490 thousand tonnes in all meat production (39).
One study researched consumers' attitudes to rabbit meat consumption in eight countries: Spain, Italy, France, Poland, Hungary, China, Brazil, and Mexico. Rabbit origin was the most critical factor in Italy and France. In Spain, it was rated as moderately necessary. 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 Italy; however, frozen meat was not preferred in any Mediterranean countries. They concluded that no general trend was detected in all countries (40).
The consumption of rabbit meat in the USA and Canada is deficient (0.15-0.20kg per head), in contrast with Malta (7.5kg), Italy (5.5kg), and France (3.0kg), even though it is at the same price range as chicken breast (10).
Rabbit meat production is highly profitable due to its high prolificacy and short reproductive cycle, ability to convert a large percentage of protein intake into muscle mass, and simple feeding needs. B rabbits can produce six times more meat than cows on the same feed and water.
Due to food shortages during World War II, the British Government urged its people with posters and propaganda to domesticate rabbits and raise them for food (41).
A study in 1995 showed that six countries were responsible for 58% of the world's meat production: Italy, France, Ukraine, China, Spain, and Russia. It also stated that globally, West Europe was the primary rabbit meat producer (43%), followed by East Europe (24%) and Far East Asia (14%). North, Middle, and South Africa each represented between 5 and 10% of the world's rabbit production (42). Since then, rabbit production numbers have changed significantly, declining in some countries and 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 2000 to 2018. The numbers also increased in Mexico and Italy. However, they decreased in Spain, France, Brazil, and Poland (43).
These production numbers don't necessarily represent consumption levels since much of the production gets exported, and part of the consumption is imported.
Cultural or Religious details
Many animal lovers protest the use of rabbits as food and the general conditions in which rabbits are being kept. Various organizations fight to protect rabbits from mistreatment and exploitation (10, 44).
Rabbits are one of the most popular pets in the USA. Thus, when an American multinational supermarket chain, "Whole Foods," started selling rabbit meat, they soon had to remove the product after a public outcry of animal welfare concerns. Organizations such as People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the House Rabbit Society organized 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. Eventually, "Whole Foods" announced the end of rabbit meat sales (45).
A survey was done about the intensive rabbit meat industry in the EU published in 2017 (European Parliament Plenary sitting). It was found that most 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 (46).
However, most countries have specific requirements and regulations for rabbits' general conditions and slaughter. In the European Union, rabbit meat must be obtained in establishments that fulfill the general conditions of the poultry meat directive, with the source animals being similarly checked for their health status (47). Processors must meet all USDA/FSIS (Food Safety and Inspection Services) inspection exempt requirements in the USA. Processors are prohibited from selling adulterated or misbranded products as defined by FSIS (48).
FDA and NHS recommendations
According to the USDA, hormones are not used in raising rabbits, while antibiotics may sometimes be used to prevent or treat rabbit diseases. However, a specific "withdrawal" period must pass after administering the antibiotic before the animal can be legally slaughtered. During this period, the residues of the antibiotic completely exit the rabbit's system (2).
Rabbits are often known for their ability to breed fast, so they have been used in science to study genetics and reproduction physiology. However, only in the 20th century have people begun to move toward rabbit genetic improvement 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 (49). Commercial production often uses heavy breeds for does and average breeds for sires.
Rabbits' genetic flexibility and short reproductive cycle are used to create bread rapidly, varying in size and muscle mass. However, most studies have found that genetic modification does not affect the quality of meat (50).
- ENHANCEMENT OF NUTRITIONAL QUALITY AND SAFETY IN RABBIT MEAT
- Rabbit From Farm to Table
- RABBIT & POULTRY SLAUGHTER/PROCESSING REQUIREMENTS
Important nutritional characteristics for Rabbit Meat
Glycemic index ⓘ
The food is assumed to have 0 or no glycemic index bason on the fact that it has no carbs and that foods with 0 carbs have no glycemic index
Check out our Glycemic index chart page for the full list.
|Calories ⓘ Calories per 100-gram serving||173|
|Net Carbs ⓘ Net Carbs = Total Carbohydrates – Fiber – Sugar Alcohols||0 grams|
|Serving Size ⓘ Serving sizes are taken from FDA's Reference Amounts Customarily Consumed (RACCs)||3 oz (85 grams)|
|Acidity (Based on PRAL) ⓘ PRAL (Potential renal acid load) is calculated using a formula. On the PRAL scale the higher the positive value, the more is the acidifying effect on the body. The lower the negative value, the higher the alkalinity of the food. 0 is neutral.||16.8 (acidic)|
Rabbit Meat calories (kcal)
|Calories in 100 grams||173|
|Calories in 3 oz||147||85 g|
Rabbit Meat Glycemic index (GI)
Mineral chart - relative view
Vitamin chart - relative view
All nutrients for Rabbit Meat per 100g
|Nutrient||Value||DV%||In TOP % of foods||Comparison|
|Calories||173kcal||9%||54%||3.7 times more than Orange|
|Protein||33.02g||79%||2%||11.7 times more than Broccoli|
|Fats||3.51g||5%||58%||9.5 times less than Cheddar Cheese|
|Cholesterol||123mg||41%||8%||3 times less than Egg|
|Iron||4.85mg||61%||11%||1.9 times more than Beef|
|Calcium||18mg||2%||57%||6.9 times less than Milk|
|Potassium||343mg||10%||27%||2.3 times more than Cucumber|
|Magnesium||31mg||7%||31%||4.5 times less than Almond|
|Copper||0.18mg||20%||34%||1.2 times more than Shiitake|
|Zinc||2.38mg||22%||36%||2.7 times less than Beef|
|Phosphorus||240mg||34%||24%||1.3 times more than Chicken meat|
|Sodium||45mg||2%||74%||10.9 times less than White Bread|
|Vitamin A RAE||0µg||0%||100%|
|Vitamin E||0.41mg||3%||61%||3.6 times less than Kiwifruit|
|Vitamin B1||0.02mg||2%||88%||13.3 times less than Pea raw|
|Vitamin B2||0.07mg||5%||75%||1.9 times less than Avocado|
|Vitamin B3||6.4mg||40%||22%||1.5 times less than Turkey meat|
|Vitamin B6||0.34mg||26%||37%||2.9 times more than Oat|
|Vitamin B12||6.51µg||271%||16%||9.3 times more than Pork|
|Vitamin K||1.5µg||1%||73%||67.7 times less than Broccoli|
|Folate||8µg||2%||68%||7.6 times less than Brussels sprout|
|Saturated Fat||1.05g||5%||60%||5.6 times less than Beef|
|Monounsaturated Fat||0.95g||N/A||65%||10.3 times less than Avocado|
|Polyunsaturated fat||0.68g||N/A||54%||69.4 times less than Walnut|
|Tryptophan||0.44mg||0%||43%||1.4 times more than Chicken meat|
|Threonine||1.48mg||0%||43%||2.1 times more than Beef|
|Isoleucine||1.57mg||0%||43%||1.7 times more than Salmon raw|
|Leucine||2.57mg||0%||44%||1.1 times more than Tuna|
|Lysine||2.89mg||0%||43%||6.4 times more than Tofu|
|Methionine||0.83mg||0%||44%||8.6 times more than Quinoa|
|Phenylalanine||1.36mg||0%||43%||2 times more than Egg|
|Valine||1.68mg||0%||43%||1.2 times less than Soybean raw|
|Histidine||0.93mg||0%||49%||1.2 times more than Turkey meat|
|Omega-3 - EPA||0g||N/A||100%||N/A|
|Omega-3 - DHA||0g||N/A||100%||N/A|
|Omega-3 - DPA||0g||N/A||100%||N/A|
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NUTRITION FACTS LABEL
Serving Size ______________
Rabbit Meat nutrition infographic
All the values for which the sources are not specified explicitly are taken from FDA’s Food Central. The exact link to the food presented on this page can be found below.