No, All Meats Are Not Created Equal—Here Are the 5 Healthiest Types of Meat to Know About, According to Nutritionists

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 Meat can be a good source of protein, which is something we all need. A commonly accepted general guideline dictates that a sedentary adult should consume about .36 grams of protein a day for each pound of body weight. But the American Heart Association recommends getting most of your protein from healthier sources—specifically plants and fish—instead of red meat and other less healthy options. 

Research has identified a link between the frequent consumption of processed meat or red meat and a higher risk of diabetes, stroke, heart disease, and other serious health issues. As with many things, moderation is key—most experts would say enjoying an occasional burger or having a sandwich with cold cuts once in a while is unlikely to do much harm.  

Meat can be a good source of protein, which is something we all need. A commonly accepted general guideline dictates that a sedentary adult should consume about .36 grams of protein a day for each pound of body weight. But the American Heart Association recommends getting most of your protein from healthier sources—specifically plants and fish—instead of red meat and other less healthy options. 

Research has identified a link between the frequent consumption of processed meat or red meat and a higher risk of diabetes, stroke, heart disease, and other serious health issues. As with many things, moderation is key—most experts would say enjoying an occasional burger or having a sandwich with cold cuts once in a while is unlikely to do much harm.  

If you do eat meat and want to mostly stick with varieties that will give you the best nutritional benefits, experts suggest these healthy meats.

Wild-caught salmon

Certified Nutritionist Serena Poon, a founder of Just Add Water and Culinary Alchemy, says, “A fish like wild-caught salmon not only contains about six grams of protein per ounce, but it’s also a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which support health in numerous ways, including boosting cardiovascular, brain and gut health.” In addition, “it also provides a good amount of essential vitamins and minerals such as niacin, vitamin B12, phosphorus, potassium and selenium.” She notes that farm-raised salmon has a different omega-3 to omega-6 ratio, and can sometimes pose a risk of contaminants, but can still be a healthy option. She recommends using the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch guide to help you determine the healthiest fish options, both wild and farmed.

Chicken breast (without skin) 

Dr. Melina Jampolisan internist and board-certified physician nutrition specialist, says skinless chicken breast is low in saturated fat and high in protein, and is a very good source of B vitamins—particularly niacin, and also B12, which older people are often deficient in. In addition, it contains important minerals like zinc, selenium, and magnesium. She notes that organic or free-range chickens are typically the healthier options. 

White meat turkey (without skin) 

Dr. Jampolis says that, like skinless chicken breast, skinless turkey meat is also low in saturated fat and high in protein. It too is rich in B vitamins, especially B6—and is, even more, B12 rich than chicken. One word of caution: she warns that turkey can be higher in sodium, so it’s wise to be careful about portion sizes if you are trying to limit your sodium intake. 

Grass-fed beef

Carrie Bonfitto, a wellness educator and cooking instructor at Two Hearts Nutrition who is board-certified in holistic nutrition, notes that people often consider beef an unhealthy food because of its association with high cholesterol and cancer, but grass-fed beef is a healthier choice than other types, including organic.  

“Grass-fed meat is what meat was before industrial farming took over,” Bonfitto says. “Grass keeps the animal healthy, leaner, and increases a good fat called conjugated linoleic acid or CLA. The benefits of CLA include the prevention of heart attacks and type 2 diabetes, reduced risk of cancer, and the promotion of weight loss.”

If the price of grass-fed beef is a little steep for you, opt for organic beef. The label “organic” means cows are fed a healthier, non-GMO diet, treated better, not given antibiotics or hormones. If organic beef is still too expensive, look for antibiotic and hormone-free labels.

Wild meat 

Poon said people often don’t think about the nutritional value of wild meats, such as that derived from locally hunted deer and elk, but they can be a great source of healthy protein. “These animals eat wild foods, are active and lean and do not contain the antibiotics found in a farm-raised animal. They are also good sources of B vitamins, zinc and iron. You cannot find these meats in the grocery store but may be able to buy them from a local hunter or you could even hunt your own.” 

Which meats should you avoid? 

The experts all agreed that anything processed should be enjoyed sparingly, if at all. This includes things like hot dogs, sausage, cured bacon, and cold cuts. Also, Dr. Jampolis advises steering clear of high-fat cuts of red meat where there is a lot of visible fat within the meat, as these are typically much higher in saturated fat.  

Making healthy meats more affordable 

Unfortunately, the leanest and healthiest meats are also often among the most expensive. But there are ways to eat meat in a smart way, even on a budget. “Instead of making meat the main attraction, consider making it more of a delicacy,” Poon suggests. “Fill your plate with vegetables and whole grains and then a small cut of high-quality meat. This will give you adequate protein and nutrition, and keep a little more money in your pocketbook.”  

How to prepare healthy meats

Meats that start out healthy can quickly go in a much less healthy direction if they aren’t prepared and cooked properly. “The biggest mistake I see when people are cooking meat is coating it in olive oil,” says Bonfitto. “Although olive is a healthy fat, it can’t take the high temperatures used in grilling or roasting meat. Once it gets too hot—say, over 350 degrees Fahrenheit—olive oil oxidizes and becomes carcinogenic.

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This content is strictly the opinion of Chef Serena Poon and is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of medical advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Serena nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement or lifestyle program.

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