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What is the Healthiest Red Meat?

By Liam McAuliffe Published on

Though red meat has been targeted since the 1960s as a speculative factor in heart disease and cancer, modern studies have finally set red meat free from the anti-meat dogma. 

To be clear, there are exactly zero randomized control trials linking fresh red meat with heart disease and all forms of cancer.

But we’re still recovering from the damage that the unfounded suspicion of red meat has caused. You’re probably familiar with headlines and mainstream nutritionists warning against too much red meat.

Variety of Raw Black Angus Prime meat steaks Machete, Blade on bone, Striploin, Rib eye, Tenderloin fillet mignon on wooden board

Thanks to numerous modern studies, the truth is emerging that there is no scientific basis for fearing red meat. On the contrary, eliminating red meat may be detrimental to our health. This is especially true when we replace red meat with toxic vegetable oils and high-carb, processed plant-based foods. 

In fact, modern nutritional science now considers red meat a healthy whole food that provides a complex matrix of essential and meat-specific nutrients.

diagram showing that red meat is a healthy food

Better to be a couple of million years too late to the party than miss it entirely. Modern research suggests that humans have been hyper-carnivores for most of our time on earth. Only recently in the scheme of things has our species adopted lower-quality plant foods.

In this article, we’ll run through some of the modern science clearing red meat of outdated health concerns, and offer a list of the healthiest red meats to sink your teeth into. 

Table of Contents

Red vs White Meat

The red meat vs. white meat debate is based on categories that are inconsistent, confusing, and not based on the presence of any single or collection of nutrients.

Some scientists designate red meat by pH levels, while in other sources red meat is classified based on the presence of a protein called myoglobin. When the iron in myoglobin combines with oxygen it causes tissues to exhibit a red color. 

Officially the USDA classifies red meat as the meat of mammals. However, some cuts of duck and chicken can be redder than pork. And there’s no consistent concentration of macro or micronutrients that would designate meat as red rather than white. This calls into question the entire history of demonizing red meat and promoting so-called white meat. 

chart of nutrients in red and white meat

Source: Foodandnutrition.com

In any case, the standard red meat list includes

  • Beef 
  • Veal (young cow)
  • Bison/Buffalo
  • Lamb (young sheep)
  • Mutton (adult sheep)
  • Pork (including sausages and bacon)
  • Venison
  • Goat
  • Boar
  • Elk

What the Science Says about Health Risks and Benefits of Red Meat

Before launching into our science-based list of the healthiest red meats, let’s review what modern science says about red meat and your health: 

  • For most people fresh red meat is loaded with bioavailable and meat-specific nutrients that are associated with numerous markers of health, fertility, and longevity
  • Reducing fresh red meat has no impact on incidences of breast, colorectal, esophageal, gastric, pancreatic, and prostate cancer 3
  • Total meat consumption correlates to greater life expectancy, independent of the effects of economic status, urban advantages, obesity, and total caloric intake
  • Saturated fat when consumed as part of a matrix of whole foods including fresh meat, is healthy for most people
  • Saturated fat does not cause heart disease, and eating red meat is not associated with heart disease
  • Randomized control trials comparing low-carb diets high in red meat with vegetarian diets show dramatically better results for high-meat diets regarding cardiovascular health, weight loss, and blood sugar regulation
  • Meat raised with “regenerative agricultural practices” and “carbon farming” sequesters carbon while increasing the health of our soils. This is crucial when considering that our topsoil is on tract to be depleted by industrial farming in 60 years

Benefits of Red Meat

The nutrients provided by red meat support numerous physiological functions, including:

  • Healthy fertility 
  • Energy production
  • Anti-aging
  • Gene expression
  • Mental health
  • Cognitive ability 
  • Immune function

Now on to our list of healthiest red meat

1. Ribeye and Other Fatty Cuts of Steak

Traditional barbecue dry aged wagyu entrecote beef steak sliced with salt and spice as closeup on modern design wooden cutting board

Fatty cuts of steak like ribeye and new york strip are succulent, delicious, and abundant in both macro and micronutrients. 

In fact, ribeye and other fatty cuts of steak are nutrient-dense that it’s entirely possible to thrive on a diet of ribeye, salt, and water. This approach to carnivore eating is called the lion diet and was popularized by psychologist Jordan Peterson. 

image of ribeye steak with nutrients

Dr. Shawn Baker is another high-profile proponent of this elimination approach to dietary health. 

So what makes ribeye so healthy? Let’s start with the fats.

Ribeye is loaded with monounsaturated fatty acids, accounting for ⅓ of its total fat. Monounsaturated fat has been shown to be anti-inflammatory and can reduce the risk of heart disease.

In addition to healthy fats, complete proteins, B vitamins, zinc, and selenium, ribeye also provides numerous nutrients that you won’t find on the nutritional labels

  • Carnitine: boosts male fertility, and supports cellular energy production and heart health   
  • Taurine: Antioxidant that protects against glycation, and oxidative stress, and supports mental health while reducing symptoms of depression
  • Carnosine: Reduces glycation and protects telomeres thereby providing anti-aging effects
  • Creatine: supports cognition, heart health, and improved athletic performance, while protecting against neurological decline t
NUTRIENT227G (8 OZ) 
Calories560 cal
Fat34g
Saturated Fat12g
Monounsaturated Fat12g
Carbs0
Protein65g
Vitamins
B1 (Thiamin) 25%
B2 (Riboflavin)23%
B3 (Niacin)119%
B5 (Pantothenic Acid)30%
B6100%
B9 (Folate)7%
B12142%
Vitamin D70%
Vitamin E7%
Choline70%
Minerals
Magnesium12%
Potassium14%
Iron31%
Copper33%
Phosphorus42%
Selenium131%
Zinc111%

2. Lamb

grilled lamb ribs loin on a stone surface

Any discussion of lamb starts with the fact that Lamb provides more of the healthy fat called conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) than any other food.   

Lamb offers between 4 – 19.0 mg CLA per gram of fat.  Beef typically contains 1.2 – 4.0 mg. And pork and poultry provide less than 1.0 mg.

Studies show that CLA

  • supports immune function
  • strengthens bones
  • supports heart health
  • improves excess fat loss

The CLA in lamb and other red meats has also been shown to be a powerful anticarcinogen that can stop the growth of cancer and tumors in the stomach, prostate, breast, and liver.

Lamb Chop Rib Nutrition

 

Lamb is also high in a powerful antioxidant called glutathione. Glutathione has been shown to benefit our health in various ways, including

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

As an abundant source of many essential nutrients, a serving of lamb chops provides at least 100% of your recommended intake 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%

3. Beef Liver

Beef Liver

Often overlooked in our modern diet where red meat generally means muscle meat, beef liver is actually the king of nutrient-density. It’s so loaded in vitamins and minerals that it is often called nature’s multivitamin. And unlike synthetic multivitamins, the nutrients in beef liver are highly bioavailable. 

Beef liver is not just one of the healthiest red meats, but one of the healthiest foods you can eat, period. 

Vitamin A

A 3.5 serving of beef liver provides around 552% RDV of your vitamin A. 

This highly useable form of vitamin A (retinol) helps support healthy skin, vision, physical growth, and fertility.

And don’t be fooled by vitamin A in plant foods like carrots. Only a small percentage of this plant vitamin A “precursor” is absorbed by the body. And 45% of people aren’t able to convert any of it!

B Vitamins and Copper

Beef liver  is also one of the most abundant sources of vitamin B12 with over 2000% of your RDV per serving. Combined with 488% of your RDV of copper, liver helps maintain blood vessels, bone health, nerve function, and immune function.

Nucleic Acids 

You won’t find nucleic acids on a nutritional label, but these nutrients are essential to many important physiological processes including[

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

Enzymes

Liver contains numerous organ-specific enzymes. For example, cytochrome P450 supports hormone production, detoxification, and the healthy functioning of your own liver.

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%

Let’s see how beef liver stacks up to normal muscle meat and popular plant foods.

APPLE (100 g)CARROTS (100 g)RED MEAT (100 g)BEEF LIVER (100 g)
Calcium3.0 mg3.3 mg11.0 mg11.0 mg
Phosphorus6.0 mg31.0 mg140.0 mg476.0 mg
Magnesium4.8 mg6.2 mg15.0 mg18.0 mg
Potassium139.0 mg222.0 mg370.0 mg380.0 mg
Iron.1 mg.6 mg3.3 mg8.8 mg
Zinc.05 mg.3 mg4.4 mg4.0 mg
Copper.04 mg.08 mg.18 mg12.0 mg
Vitamin ANoneNone40 IU53,400 IU
Vitamin DNoneNoneTrace19 IU
Vitamin E.37 mg.11 mg1.7 mg.63 mg
Vitamin C7.0 mg6.0 mgNone27.0 mg
Thiamin.03 mg.05 mg.05 mg.26 mg
Riboflavin.02 mg.05 mg.20 mg4.19 mg
Niacin.10 mg.60 mg4.0 mg16.5 mg
Pantothenic Acid.11 mg.19 mg.42 mg8.8 mg
Vitamin B6.03 mg.10 mg.07 mg.73 mg
Folate8.0 mcg24.0 mcg4.0 mcg145.0 mcg
BiotinNone.42 mcg2.08 mcg96.0 mcg
Vitamin B12NoneNone1.84 mcg111.3 mcg

4. Organ Meats

grass-fed-beef-organ-meats-organic-offal-meat-beef

We can’t give beef liver all the glory. 

Thanks to the growing trend of nose-to-tail eating, numerous highly nutritious and surprisingly tasty organ meats have found their way onto menus and into our homes. 

Here’s a rundown of nutritional highlights for these extremely healthy red meats

Heart

  • Heart is nature’s most concentrated source of Co-Enzyme Q10. CoQ10 helps your cells produce energy, reduces fatigue, improves sperm quality, and performs as an antioxidant neutralizing free radicals and reducing oxidative stress
  • Beef heart provides heart-specific proteins and nutrients that have been found to boost mood, support immune function, and increase energy
  • The DWORF protein found in beef heart may support heart health and contraction strength

Kidney

  • Beef, lamb, and pork kidney contains numerous proteins and enzymes that can support your body’s ability to detoxify
  • The selenium in kidney can support thyroid functions and promote the production of hormones pregnenolone, progesterone, and DHEA. These hormones are associated with youthfulness and anti-aging
  • The fat surrounding the kidneys is it’s 70% saturated and remarkably high in stearic acid. This fatty acid is associated with lower body fat and can activate mitochondria (energy factories) in your cells
  • Kidney contains several rare amino acids. The amino acid L-ergothioneine promotes kidney health and reduces risk of preeclampsia

Spleen

  • Beef spleen is a robust source  of peptides, co-factors, coenzymes, and other beneficial compounds that support  immune function and the generation of blood cells  
  • Two of the most powerful spleen-specific peptides, tuftsin, and splenopentin can stimulate your immune system’s macrophages (infection-fighting white blood cells)
  • The proteins and peptides in beef spleen can enhance the activity of your body’s “natural killer” (NK) cells. These cells secrete chemicals that turn on the immunological functions of other cells, promoting effective immune responses

Pancreas

  • Pancrease also plays an important role in blood sugar and growth hormone regulation
  • Both an exocrine and endocrine organ, the pancreas is critically involved in the absorption of nutrients through the secretion of digestive enzymes

Liver from Duck, Goat, Lamb, Pork, Chicken, and Goat

  • Like beef liver, the liver of goat, lamb, pork, chicken, and duck is loaded with a wide spectrum of bioavailable vitamins and minerals
  • Only 100grams of duck liver provides 1330% RDV of vitamin A retinol
  • The nutrients in liver can support healthy skin and bones, fertility, cardiovascular function, concentration, memory, positive mood, muscle strength, and physical endurance.

Brain

  • Brain from beef, pork, and lamb is high in the omega-3 fatty acid DHA. DHA has been shown to support mood and cognition, provide anti-inflammatory effects, support male and female fertility, and forms the foundation of hormones that regulate blood clotting and the health of arterial walls
  • Brain-specific nutrients including sphingomyelin, phosphatidylserine, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF-1), and varios peptides that may protect the brain and support cognitive health  

5. Pork

keto meats pork belly

If you’re on a budget, pork is a fantastic red meat that’s surprisingly high in numerous essential and hard-to-get nutrients. 

One of the highlights of pork is its abundance of complex amino acids–the building blocks of proteins.  

Many common mental disorders like depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder are associated with amino acid deficiencies.

These amino acids and saturated fats in pork are essential components of the neurotransmitters responsible for mood stabilization.

Additionally, the highly satiating combination of fats and proteins in pork can reduce cravings and feelings of deprivation that drive people to bing on processed junk foods. Resisting junk food binges isn’t just good for your waistline. Studies show that processed foods damage your microbiome resulting in mood swings and anxiety. In this way pork can both nourish and nurture your mental and emotional wellbeing.

Pork is Packed with Nutrients

A typical 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of pork belly contains:

  • 37 grams of complete proteins
  • Vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, and B12
  • 89% of the RDA for selenium
  • Bioavailable minerals, including iron, magnesium, zinc, and potassium
  • 50% of the fat in pork belly is monounsaturated with a high percentage of “heart-healthy” oleic acid.
Pork Belly Nutritional Content per 224gAmount% RDA
Fat89gN/A
Saturated Fat32gN/A
Monounsaturated Fat42gN/A
Polyunsaturated Fat9gN/A
Omega 3 ALA900mg100%
Choline113mg21%
Vitamin B121.8mcg75%
Pantothenic Acid (B5)2.5mg50%
Niacin (B3)9mg56%
Riboflavin (B2).4mg32%
Thiamin (B1.7mg56%
Copper.2mg22%
Phosphorous300mg24%
Selenium23mcg42%
Zinc1.7mg16%
Vitamin D1.8mcg9%
Iron.9mg5%

Healthiest Red Meats: The Takeaway

Despite decades of misinformation, unfounded suspicion, and downright institutional corruption, modern science is returning red meat to its rightful place as the center of a healthy diet. 

Red meat is among the healthiest foods on earth with unparalleled abundance and combination of highly bioavailable macro and micronutrients. 

Some of the nutrients provided by this list of healthiest red meat, include

 

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