Is Meat Healthy? A Deep Dive Into Common Cuts, Nutrients, and Diets

Understanding the nutritional values of common meats is crucial for making informed dietary choices. Meats have an important place as the main protein source in human nutrition if the person is not vegan or vegetarian. Whether you are following a specific diet or just aiming for a healthier lifestyle, knowing the differences in meat types and meat substitutes can greatly impact your overall well-being.

Common meats list

Each type of meat, be it poultry like chicken and turkey or red meats such as pork and beef, comes with its own set of nutritional content. Awareness of these values allows you to make informed choices tailored to your specific dietary needs, health goals, and preferences.

Moreover, knowledge about meat nutrition is crucial for those following specific diets like keto, Mediterranean, or vegan, ensuring they meet their nutritional requirements while adhering to dietary restrictions. By comprehending the nutritional content of common meats, you can make informed decisions about your food choices, promoting long-term health, preventing nutrient deficiencies, and contributing to a more conscious and nourishing diet.

Let's start with a comprehensive list of commonly consumed meats. Here, you can find the macro and micronutrient details of each meat product, from chicken to beef, and even processed meats. In this table, nutritional values are given for the 100 g of cooked meat for each type according to Food Data Central records of the United States Department of Agriculture.

ChickenTurkeyBeefPorkHamBaconPlant-based meat alternative
Calories165147 291255107468204
Protein31 g30.1 g23.7 g26.5 g16.8 g33.9 g17.7 g
Fat3.57 g2.08 g21.8 g15.7 g4.04 g35.1 g12.39 g
Carbohydrates0 g0 g0 g0 g0.7 g1.7 g6.19 g
Iron1.04 mg0.71 mg2.24 mg0.81 mg0.59 mg0.95 mg3.54 mg
Sodium74 mg99 mg 54 mg69 mg945 mg1.680 mg345 mg
Phosphorus228 mg230 mg152 mg213 mg252 mg388 mg-
Potassium256 mg249 mg260 mg259 mg463 mg499 mg292 mg
Zinc1 mg1.72 mg5.91 mg3.11 mg1.51 mg3.06 mg0.44 mg

Nutritional values

As seen in the table, there are significant differences in the nutritional composition depending on the type of meat. It is noteworthy that white meats are especially good sources of protein with low fat and calories. However, beef appears to be a better source of iron. It can be understood that processed meats are an unhealthy food group, especially due to the high sodium content they contain. You can also see that vegan meat substitutes have nutritional content closer to meat products as a result of the enrichments. Since it is plant-based, it also contains carbohydrates, but, as expected, the amount of protein per 100 g is lower than meat.

The carnivore diet explained

The carnivore diet is a dietary approach that emphasizes the exclusive consumption of animal products while excluding all plant-based foods. Rooted in the belief that an animal-centric diet can promote various health benefits, proponents of the carnivore diet argue that eliminating carbohydrates that come from plant-based foods can alleviate inflammation and aid in weight loss.

However, following such a restricted diet may lead to many other health problems, such as cardiovascular diseases. It is also a great load for kidneys. Lack of dietary fiber from plant-based foods is also another issue about carnivore diet leading to digestive problems. Increased meat consumption also increases the risk of colon cancer.

Therefore, there should be a balance when it comes to nutritional habits, even though some amount of meat consumption is healthy.

The keto diet and meats

A similar idea to the carnivore diet occurs in the ketogenic or keto diet, which is limiting carbohydrates. Therefore, meat is an important product of the keto diet. However, the amount of meat consumed in the diet is not as excessive as in the carnivore diet; therefore, it can be accepted as a healthy and more balanced diet compared to the latter.

The keto diet also includes plant-based healthy fats, such as nuts, and incorporates dietary fiber into the meal plan. It limits the carbohydrate amount, generally under 50 g/day.

The amount of meat consumed on the keto diet may vary based on individual factors, such as personal preferences, nutritional goals, and specific macronutrient targets. Since dietary fat is not limited to the ketogenic diet, both red and white meat are consumed.

However, it is recommended that you prefer white meat even if you are on a keto diet. Because red meat is high in saturated fat. It would be more beneficial to get the high fat intake on the keto diet from healthy unsaturated fats from plant sources.

As it is a more balanced and nutritious diet, scientific studies have shown the benefits of the keto diet on several diseases, such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.

The Mediterranean diet and meat consumption

The Mediterranean diet is well-known as the most healthy and balanced approach to nutrition. While it is not strictly vegetarian, the Mediterranean diet places a strong focus on plant-based foods, healthy fats, and moderate consumption of meat. Unlike some other plant-based diets that heavily restrict meat, the Mediterranean diet allows for moderate consumption of lean meats. Fish and poultry are preferred choices over red meat, and the emphasis is on smaller portion sizes.

Studies showed that the Mediterranean diet is the most effective dietary approach in terms of decreasing nearly all chronic diseases, from diabetes, cardiovascular problems, and cancers to neurodegenerative diseases.

Vegan diet and meat consumption

The vegan diet stands out as a plant-based eating pattern that excludes all forms of animal products, including meat, dairy, eggs, and even honey.

The fundamental principle of a vegan diet is the complete exclusion of meat from all animal sources. This includes red meat, poultry, seafood, and any other products derived from animals. With the growing popularity of plant-based diets, there is an increasing availability of vegan meat alternatives. These products, often made from soy, peas, or other plant proteins, aim to replicate the taste and texture of traditional meat without the use of animal-derived ingredients.

Sodium in meat products

As we highlighted above in the nutrient content table, processed and cured meats, such as bacon, sausages, ham, and deli meats, are known to be higher in sodium. These products undergo curing processes that involve the addition of salt or sodium-containing compounds to extend shelf life and enhance flavor. Meat also contains some sodium in its natural state, but the levels are relatively low.

High sodium intake has been linked to health issues, such as high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases and should be also limited to kidney diseases.

What about antibiotics in chicken?

The use of antibiotics during poultry farming is a topic that confuses many of us. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, antibiotics can be used to prevent diseases and increase feed efficiency. However, before chicken or other poultry can be slaughtered, a 'withdrawal' period is required from the time the antibiotics are given. This ensures that no residue remains in the animal's system.

The Food Safety and Inspection Service randomly samples poultry at slaughter and performs residue tests. However, data from this monitoring program showed a very low percentage of residue violations. Therefore, it is important to buy poultry meat from quality brands that are reliable and have good standards.

Identifying the healthiest meats

The definition of 'healthiest' may vary depending on an individual's needs. Therefore, it is best to follow a generally healthy pattern in meat consumption. If you are not vegan or vegetarian, you can consume white meat, such as poultry and fish; limiting your red meat consumption to 1–2 per week seems to be a good approach to meet your dietary requirements. However, processed meats should not be consumed at all, if possible.


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