As far as meats go, alligator is usually considered to be relatively healthful. It is generally quite lean, and contains almost no saturated fat; it is also high in a number of essential vitamins and minerals. Meat from alligators may have more calories per serving than more “traditional” choices like beef or chicken, but many still view it as a healthy alternative because of how those calories are accounted for, in most cases through protein rather than fat. Tail meat is often considered the best from a nutritional perspective, followed by steaks cut from the body and feet. A lot depends on preparation, but alligator meat is usually a good choice for people looking for a low-fat, health-conscious dish.
Calories and Cholesterol
People looking only at calorie count might be tempted to pass on alligator, but health experts usually recommend taking a more comprehensive view since calories are just one way of assessing of whether or not a food is good for you. Not all calories are created equal, either. A chicken breast, for example, may be low in calories but derive nearly all of them from fat; an alligator steak of the same size might have a higher count, but take the bulk from dense muscle protein. Choosing the meat with more calories might seem less healthful, but could actually deliver superior nutrition.
Alligator is typically a very lean meat, making it low in cholesterol in most cases. Cholesterol is a blood molecule that can be harmful in large quantities, as it can clog arteries and make it difficult for the heart to function properly. Most foods that are low in fat are also low in cholesterol, and for this reason alligator is often considered a “heart-healthy” food.
Vitamins and Minerals
Another way to judge whether a particular kind of food is good for you is to evaluate the vitamins and minerals it contains; alligator meat has quite a few, including potassium, iron, and vitamin B-12. It is very high in protein and dietary fiber as well.
One thing that alligator doesn’t contain is omega-3 fatty acids. Most fish contain these helpful “good” fats, and many shellfish do, too. Manufacturers often market alligator as seafood, but this doesn’t mean that its nutritional make-up is the same as other things in this category.
Differences Based on Cut
The specific nutritional composition of alligator can vary somewhat depending on the part of the body at issue. Most experts believe that meat from the animal’s thick tail is the best for you, since it is made primarily of packed muscle tissue. Alligators use their powerful tails to propel them through the water, and the meat from this region is contains virtually no fat. Cuts taken from the torso tend to have more fat by weight, and meat from the feet (or “wings” as they are often called commercially) tends to be densely fibrous, which can make them tougher and more difficult to digest. For the most part, though, all parts of the body have basically the same nutritional composition.
Animal Diet Considerations
Exactly how good alligator is for you can also be determined in part by how well the animal ate while it was alive. In the wild, alligators tend to eat a diet primarily of fish, shellfish, and small animals that live in or near wetlands. As such, their diet is high in protein, and their muscles dense and full of useful nutrients. Alligators that are raised on commercial farms, by contrast, are often fed a mixture of grains and processed foods. Animals with a more carbohydrate-heavy diet tend to build more fat stores, and may not produce as many vitamins and minerals as they would if they ate more protein. Farm-raised alligator is still usually considered good for you, it just isn’t always as good as its wild-caught counterparts.
Importance of Preparation
Of course, how good or bad something is for you in many ways depends on how it is prepared. Sauteing an alligator steak in butter or frying nuggets in oil will likely negate some of the meat’s healthful attributes, just as pairing fillets with fatty sauces and condiments can make an otherwise low-fat meal highly caloric. The meat is usually best able to pack a nutritional punch when it is only lightly prepared. It can be cooked or grilled with only seasonings and herbs, or marinated with vinegar, juice, or low-fat dressings. In most cases, the simpler the presentation the better it is for you. Food purists also favor light presentations as the best way to showcase the meat’s natural flavor.
Commercially-packaged alligator often has a number of preservatives added to help it retain its shelf life, color, and taste, many of which come in the form of chemical additives. While these don’t necessarily make the meat bad for you, they can change the nutritional composition, particularly as relates to salt content. Alligator is usually relatively low in salt, or sodium as it is called chemically, so adding a few pinches in isn’t usually a major concern; high sodium has been linked to cholesterol and other blood problems, though, and many people are wary of consuming too much.
Comparison to Crocodile
Many people confuse alligators and crocodiles since the two animals look very similar, and though they are related biologically, they are different in a number of key respects. In terms of nutritional profile, however, the meats of both are basically the same. Crocodile meat is often slightly higher in sodium, but usually has the same low-fat, high-protein characteristics of its alligator counterparts.