From fish to bacon: A ranking of meats in order of healthiness
As an average consumer, you probably have a vague awareness of the nutritional value of your meats - fish being better than red meat, for example. The issue can be complicated, because all meats have pros and cons, research can come up with conflicting results, and studies can surprise us. For example, research suggests that in terms of cholesterol alone, eating white meat chicken is as bad for you as eating beef.
Still, there's a generally agreed upon hierarchy of nutritional value when it comes to meat, and small shifts in your diet might have greater effects than you realize. In a study of the Danish population, researchers found that Danes could gain more than 7,000 years of healthy life annually if they ate the recommended quantity (12 ounces per week) of fish while replacing red and processed meats in their diet.
Fish and poultry
Poultry and fish are considered the best meats you can load your diet with, Laster said. Fish is hailed for its omega-3 fatty acids, which can protect against cardiovascular disease. Fish is also rich in vitamin D, selenium and protein. "A healthy diet would entail a great diversity of fish consumption, rather than the same fish every day, along with fish that is wild-caught rather than farmed," Laster said. Because there's some risk of ingesting "mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls, microplastic due to our polluted water supply," try to avoid species such as swordfish or king mackerel and opt for cod or salmon instead.
Poultry, such as chicken and turkey, is also great protein source, low in calories and saturated fat. Keri Gans, registered dietitian and author of "The Small Change Diet," used to recommend light meat over dark, but the fat difference is actually quite minimal. "Eat what you enjoy" is her new advice. "That said, breast meat is typically leaner than thigh, and you should always look at how it's prepared." Chicken wings loaded in sauce are not the best option. Gans recommends baking and grilling, and a skinless, boneless cut of poultry to keep each serving the healthiest.
Less is more: Red meat
Most meat-eaters love a juicy hamburger or steak - but that should fall more in the category of indulgence than in dietary staple. The pros to red meat - which includes beef, pork, lamb, veal, venison and duck - are found in its minerals. Red meats can be great sources of iron and also pack "vitamin B12, zinc and protein, all of which are important nutrients," said Amy Patton, a registered dietitian at Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center.
Which meats and cuts of meat are the best for you? Here's what they said, listed from healthiest to least healthy:
- Wild Alaskan salmon, oysters and sardines are highest in healthy fats; white fish such as cod or flounder tend to be leaner.
- White meat has slightly less saturated fat than dark. Turkey is fairly comparable to chicken in nutrients, but both its dark and white meat are slightly leaner.
- White meat has slightly less saturated fat than dark; skinless, boneless breast is leanest.
- Super-lean, lower in fat than other red meat.
- Look for loin cuts like tenderloin or top loin, which are typically leaner.
- Round or sirloin are leaner cuts; flank steak is typically pretty lean; T-bones, rib-eyes, New York strip steak are higher in saturated fats.
- Loin, shank and leg cuts are leanest; some cuts of lamb are slightly higher in calories than beef, but you can typically trim fat from the edges to make them leaner.
- Processed meat
- Bacon, hot dogs and sausage are all high in saturated fat and often made with chemicals considered carcinogenic to humans.