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What are the Healthiest Meats to Eat?

By Liam McAuliffe Updated on

For decades mainstream nutritionists have been giving meat a bad rap. The prevailing dogma calls for eating less total meat and selecting lean cuts. But modern nutritional science does not support this less and leaner advice. 

On the contrary, emerging studies on the benefits of the all-meat carnivore diet and meat-eating in general reveal numerous benefits from reducing conditions related to diabetes to increased lifespan. 

The fattiest cuts of meat also provide the most abundant complex of micronutrients. This holds true for meat harvested from land-based animals, fish, and fowl. 

This article offers a science-backed list of the healthiest meats based on total nutrient density, including healthy fats, complete proteins, and a matrix of vital micronutrients. 

But before jumping into the list, let’s get up to speed on the science of meat and health. 

Table of Contents

Surprising Facts About Meat

According to numerous recent studies, fatty meat, saturated fat, and fresh meat, in general, are not bad for you. Rather, they are a vital part of a healthy lifestyle. Here is a rundown on the science-backed outlook on eating meat: 

  • The guidelines for choosing lean meats and limiting saturated fat are based on outdated observational studies dating back to the 1950s
  • Numerous high-quality studies reveal that for the average person, saturated fat has NO significant association with heart disease, stroke, diabetes, death from heart attacks, and cancer[1] [2] [3] [4] [5]
  • A 2020 review published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, authored by researchers from the world’s most renowned medical schools found that: “Although intake of processed meat has been associated with increased risk of CHD, intake of unprocessed red meat is not, which indicates that the saturated fat content of meat is unlikely to be responsible for this association.” [6]
  • Saturated fat consumed as part of whole foods, including fresh meat, is healthy for most people [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13]
  • Fresh meat provides an abundance of bioavailable and meat-specific nutrients, is highly satiating, and is associated with numerous markers of health, fertility, and longevity  [14][15]. 
  • Total meat consumption correlates to greater life expectancy independent of total caloric intake, economic status, urban advantages, and obesity [16]
  • Substituting fatty meat with lean protein may increase the risk of certain cancers [17]
  • Studies comparing low-carb, high-fat, high meat diets to vegetarian diets reveal dramatically better outcomes for the high-meat diets with regards to cardiovascular health, weight loss, and blood sugar regulation [18] [19] [20].
  • The physiology of modern humans is nearly identical to that of our caveman ancestors, who evolved on a diet of mostly fatty meat for nearly 2 million. This suggests that our bodies are evoled to thrive on meat [21]
  • Meat can be farmed with “regenerative agricultural practices” or “carbon farming” This can sequester carbon and improve soil health [22]. At current rates, industrial agriculture of plant foods will destroy all arable topsoil in 60 years [23]

Healthiest Meats: Land Animals

For this list, we will look at the three healthiest meats from land animals, seafood, and poultry. 

Land animals, especially ruminant animals like beef, bison, and lamb provide the greatest nutritional benefits. 

In addition to healthy fats, complete protiens, and various meat-specific nutrients, land animals (especially grass-fed) have high levels of a beneficial type of fat called conjugated linoleic acid (CLA).

CLA can’t be made by the human body so must be obtained through food. 

Meat that contains CLA offers benefits including [24][25][26][27][28]:

  • Decreases body fat, increases lean muscle mass
  • Reduces risk of atherosclerosis
  • Supports immune function
  • Prevents and treats diabetes
  • Supports bone formation and mineral density

Let’s take a look at the very healthiest land animal meats. 

Ribeye Steak

Medium rare Ribeye steak with herbs and a piece of butter on the wooden tray.

Ribeye steak is succulent, delicious, and abundant in vital nutrients like B vitamins, zinc, and selenium. 

But what you won’t find listed on the package are the numerous vitalizing compounds that ribeye provides: 

  • Carnitine: supports male fertility, energy production in cells, heart health, and fertility [31]  
  • Taurine: An antioxidant that reduces glycation, oxidative stress, and improves markers of mental health including reducing symptoms of depression [32]
  • Carnosine: Another glycation reducing compound, it also protects telomeres for combined anti-aging effects [33]
  • Creatine: supports improved cognition, heart health, and athletic performance, while protecting against neurodegeneration [34]
  • Carnitine: Can significantly improve male fertility, support mitochondrial (cell energy) function, insulin sensitivity, and reduce anemia [6][7][8] 
  • Carnosine: Heart and muscle protective. Prevents glycation, protects against telomere damage to prevent aging [2][3][4][5]
  • Creatine: Improves cognitive function [10]. Enhances athletic performance. [11]  Alzheimer’s patients show low creatine levels[12]. Supports cardiovascular health and glycemic control [13]
  • Heme Iron: Found only in meat, a crucial nutrient for supporting immune function, cognition, and energy metabolism [15]

In fact, ribeye is so loaded in nearly all essential nutrients that you can thrive on a diet of ribeye steak, salt, and water–known as the lion diet

NUTRIENT200G (7 OZ) 
CALORIES582 cal
FAT55g
SATURATED FAT20g
MONOUNSATURATED FAT
CARBOHYDRATES0
PROTEIN 48g
VITAMINS
B1 (THIAMIN) 14%
B2 (RIBOFLAVIN)35%
B3 (NIACIN)44%
B660%
B12245%
MINERALS
MAGNESIUM12%
POTASSIUM18%
IRON31%
COPPER33%
PHOSPHORUS42%
SELENIUM93%
ZINC113%

Lamb

Lamb is another succulent meat that’s as healthy as it is delicious. 

Of all meats, lamb provides the most CLA, while offering many other vital nutrients and antioxidants.

The antioxidant glutathione found in lamb offers numerous benefits including [24]: 

  • reduces insulin resistance
  • Reduces oxidative damage in children with autism
  • Reduce the risk of autoimmune diseases
  • Reduces the severity of symptoms of Parkinson’s disease 

Lamb provides an abundance of more well-known nutrients including at least 100% of your RDV of B12 and B3 vitamins.

Lamb Chops/Rack
Nutrients per 7 ozAmount% RDA
Fat24g
Saturated Fat18g
Trans Fat (CLA)2.7g
Protein55g
B12144%
B3112%
B692%
B2 (RIboflavin)56%
B526%
B126%
Selenium 56%
Zinc46%
Phosphorus44%
Copper30%
Iron26%

Beef Liver

In terms of nutrient-dense foods, beef liver wears the crown. It’s not just one of the healthiest meats, but one of the healthiest foods to eat, period. 

Vitamin A

A modest 3.5 ounce serving 2-3 times a week will deliver all its benefits. Consuming more liver than this can actually result in an overdose of vitamin A. 

At 552% of your vitamin A intake per serving, eating beef liver may be an excellent way to maintain healthy skin and vision. Just as important is the type of ‘preformed’ vitamin A that beef liver provides. This version of vitamin A is far more easily absorbed and used by the body than the ‘precursor’ vitamin A found in plant food like carrots [13][14

B Vitamins and Copper

A serving of Beef liver also offers more than 2000% of your RDV of vitamin B12. 

When combined with liver’s abundance of copper, B vitamins help maintain bone health, blood vessels, nerves, a healthy immune system, and iron absorption [15]

beef liver is also high in folate (B9), critical for healthy fetal development [16]

Nucleic Acids 

Another vital nutrient not found on nutritional labels but a major component of the healthiest meats is nucleic acids. These nutrients are critical to many body processes including[20] [21]:

  • Immune function
  • Digestion
  • Muscle recovery
  • Reduced inflammation
  • Reduced oxidative stress
  • Proper metabolism

Enzymes

Liver, like other organ meats, contains an organ-specific enzymes. One in particular, called cytochrome P450, plays a role in hormone production, detoxification, and the general health of your own liver [22].

Beef Liver
Based on 100 grams
Calories135
Fat3.6g
Protein20.4g
Net Carbs3.9g
Vitamins%Daily Value
Vitamin A   

Vitamin B6  

Vitamin B12  

Thiamine

Riboflavin

Niacin 

Folate 

Choline

Vitamin C  

Vitamin D   

Vitamin K  

4968μg

1mg

59.3μg

0.2mg

2.8mg

13.2mg

290μg

333.3mg

1.3mg

1.2μg

3.1μg

552%

84%

2471%

13%

163%

66%

73%

61%

3%

8%

3%

MINERALS
Iron Magnesium

Phosphorus 

Zinc  

Copper

Manganese

Selenium

4.9mg18mg

387mg

4mg

9.8mg

0.3mg

39.7μg

62%6%

39%

27%

488%

16%

57%

The Fertile Feast a new book by Doctor Kiltz

Healthiest Meats from the Sea

Selections of seafood and fatty fish have earned their spot on this list of healthiest meats thanks to powerful combinations of healthy fats, proteins, antioxidants, and essential micronutrients. 

Anchovies

Though small in size, anchovies are one of the healthiest meats, packing an abundance of nutrients like vitamin B3, and selenium. 

Together these nutrients convert food into useable energy while supporting heart health and thyroid function [48] [49].

The beneficial omega-3 fatty acid eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) is higher in anchovies than in salmon. Combined with selenium, these omega-3s may prevent the growth of certain tumors and are used to treat various types of cancer [50] [51] [52].

Anchovies (Wild)Amount per 3 oz. % RDA
Fat15.9g
Saturated Fat128g
Cholesterol61mg
Protein28g
Vitamins
Vitamin D103.5IU16.5%
Vitamin K18µg15%
Vitamin B12 1.4µg56%
B330mg186%
B6.3mg24%
B2.6mg42%
B51.4mg27%
Choline128mg23%

 

Significant Minerals
Selenium102µg186%
Zinc3.6mg26%
Potassium816mg21%
Calcium348mg38%
Iron6.9mg39%
Copper.4mg57%

Oysters

Oysters have a remarkably rich nutrient profile making them far and away one of the healthiest meats to eat. 

Oysters offer one of the highest concentrations of zinc found in food at 605% RDV per 3.5 oz. They’re also one of the most robust dietary sources of both vitamin D (80%) and selenium (91%). 

These crucial nutrients work synergistically to provide benefits, including: 

  • Immune support
  • Reduce oxidation
  • Support fertility
  • Improve body composition

It’s also worth noting that Vitamin D has been shown to help fight viral infections, including COVID-19 [15][16][17].

Nutrition per 3.5 oz. of raw oysters

RAW OYSTER CALORIES68 CALORIES% RDV
Protein7 grams8%
Fat2.5 grams1%
Carbs3.9 grams4%
Vitamin D320 IU80%
B10.1 mg7%
B31.4 mg7%
B1219.5 mcg324%
Iron6.7 mg37%
Magnesium47 mg12%
Phosphorus135 mg14%
Zinc90.8 mg605%
Copper4.5 mg223%
Manganese0.4 mg18%
Selenium63.7 mcg91%

Dungeness Crab

Like the other healthiest meats on this list, Dungeness crab is a great source of numerous key nutrients. But where it falls short is in fat. Fortunately, it’s customary to dip Dungeness in drawn butter, a healthy fat that will round out your macros. 

Crab is a good source of selenium. Selenium plays a key role in reducing inflammation and may protect against prostate cancer [10] [11]. Dungenes crab is also loaded with 324% RDV of  B12. 

The combination of B12 and omega-3 fatty acids, including DHA and EPA, found in crab may have powerful brain-health promoting properties [12]

Nutrients per 100 grams of Dungeness Crab

Dungeness Crab81 CALORIES% RDV
PROTEIN17 grams
FAT1 gram
DHA (fatty acid).009g44%
EPA (fatty acid).22g73%
CARBS1 gram
VITAMIN B3 (Niacin)3.1 mg20%
VITAMIN B1219.5 mcg324%
MAGNESIUM47 mg12%
PHOSPHORUS 182 mg18%
ZINC4.3 mg31%
COPPER.7 mg75%
SELENIUM37.1 mcg67%

Poultry

Unlike ruminant animal meat, poultry is monogastric, meaning they only have one stomach. They eat almost anything, and the quality of food they eat can have a large effect on the health of their meat. 

The healthiest poultry is pasture-raised so it’s allowed to forage on a combination of plant foods and nutrient-rich insects. 

Poultry is usually very lean, which can cause issues for people practicing a ketogenic and carnivore diet that require higher fat intake. 

Chicken also tends to be high in omega-6 fatty acids and less nutrient-dense than ruminants like beef and lamb. 

However, poultry does offer significant amounts of vitamin K2, a crucial “activator” nutrient that is absent in most modern foods. 

So even though most poultry doesn’t really hold a candle to ruminant meat in terms of ‘healthiness’, it is an extremely popular class of foods. For that reason alone it deserves some deeper exploration. Especially when it gives us the opportunity to highlight the extremely healthy organ meats, chicken liver, and duck liver.  

Chicken Liver

Chicken liver has a high protein, zero-carb macronutrient profile that makes it a perfect addition to any keto or carnivore diet. 

And when it comes to getting vitamin C on a carnivore diet, chicken liver is unusually abundant with 30% of your RDV. 

Chicken liver also offers a broad spectrum of essential minerals, especially B12, selenium, and iron. 

Nutrients per 100 grams of chicken liver

NutrientAmount% of Recommended Daily Value (RDV)
Calories116 calories6%
Total Carbohydrate0 grams0%
Total Protein16.9 grams34%
Total Fat4.8 grams7%

 

Vitamin C17.9 mg30%
Thiamin0.3 mg20%
Vitamin A11077 IU222%
Riboflavin1.8 mg105%
Niacin9.7 mg49%
Vitamin B60.9 mg43%
Folate577 mg147%
Vitamin B1216.6 mcg276%
Pantothenic Acid6.2 mg62%
Choline194 mg– 
Betaine16.9 mg– 
Iron9.0 mg50%
Magnesium19.0 mg5%
Phosphorus297 mg30%
Potassium230 mg7%
Zinc2.7 mg18%
Manganese0.3 mg13%
Selenium54.6 mcg78%

 

Foie Gras

Foie gras is made from fatty duck liver. Its vitamin A and B12 content alone make it one of the healthiest meats. 

The body uses vitamin A as a precursor (building block) for important eye pigments like rhodopsin. It also plays a role in the cellular health of your skin. 

The selenium in foie gras can offer antioxidant protection while serving to enhance the levels of even more powerful antioxidants, including glutathione [44] [45]. 

A review of studies including over 350,000 people reveals that levels of selenium in the blood are associated with a lower risk of breast, lung, colon, and prostate cancers [46]. 

Fois Gras Nutrition

Nutrients in Foie GrasPer 100g
Fat44g
Saturated Fat14g
Carbs5g
Protein11g
Vitamin B12392%
Vitamin A111%
B524%
B223%
Selenium80%
Copper44%
Iron31%

Chicken Wings Highlights

If chicken liver seems weird, and foie gras is too expensive, chicken wings are a cheap, easy, and healthy poultry meat. 

Chicken wings are one of the fattiest cuts of poultry, making them a good fit for low-carb high-fat diets

The significant amount of selenium in chicken wings may be neuroprotective, as people with Alzheimer’s disease have low levels of selenium [47][48].

Chicken wings are also a good source of vitamin B6. This B vitamin supports oxygen circulation throughout the body. It also supports immune function, lowers the risk of heart disease, and supports the synthesis of hormones, including serotonin and norepinephrine. This last attribute can help regulate mood and sleep [49]. 

Chicken Wings
Nutrients per 4 ozAmount% RDA
Fat22gN/A on carnivore diet
Saturated Fat7gN/A on carnivore diet
Cholesterol111mg
Protein30.4g
Vitamin B6 0.5m41%
Vitamin B35.7mg36%
Choline82 mg15%
Vitamin B12%0.3µg10%
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)0.1mg8%
Selenium17.6µg32%
Phosphorus123.0mg12%
Zinc1.2mg9%

Healthiest Meats: The Bottomline 

Most fresh meats are healthy. But the healthiest meats are those that provide the greatest abundance of macro and micronutrients per calorie. 

It’s also important to acknowledge that saturated fat in meat is not unhealthy when consumed as part of a whole foods matrix of nutrients–exactly what you get when you eat fresh meat. 

Though ruminant meats provide the best combination of fats, proteins, vitamins, and minerals, there are healthy meat options from seafood and from poultry. 

The healthiest meats from each category include: 

Land Animals

  • Ribeye steak
  • Lamb
  • Beef liver

Seafood

  • Anchovies
  • Oysters
  • Dungeness crab

Poultry

  • Chicken liver
  • Foie Gras
  • Chicken wings