Best and Worst Meats to Eat

By September 29, 2016 Nutrition

The surprising truth about which animal foods enhance health and which you should avoid.

Throughout the process of evolution, humans not only relied on animal organs and muscle meats for survival, these foods also fueled the development of our amazing brains to give us capabilities beyond those of other creatures.

Animal foods provide a complete protein with all amino acids, along and many other vital nutrients, making building a better brain and body easier at any age.

Many of the bad things you’ve heard about meat may be true. Most meats are to be avoided because they’re highly processed, or come from animals fed unhealthy food and chemicals, and treated inhumanely.

Emotions aside, healthy sources of meat fortunately are easier to obtain these days, thanks to various quality standards. However, the best source remains finding a local family farm where you can ask about how the animals are raised. In particular, look for those raised without chemicals, grass-fed without corn, and humanely treated from start to finish.

Terms like organic, kosher, and other standards may be important too, but many small family farms can’t afford the high costs of organic or other certifications, even though their standards may be higher than those required by governmental agencies.

And let me be clear that I’m not talking about overeating meat, but rather making it part of healthy dietary choices, which includes vegetables, nuts, seeds, fruits and other natural foods.

You also may notice that turkey, lamb, and farm-raised “wild” animals like bison, elk and venison didn’t make my list. That’s because they fall somewhere in between. I do like lamb on occasion, especially rare, but rarely eat turkey. In addition, I find many cuts of some meats to be too low in fat, although a great sauce can solve that issue.

Worst Meats

1. Processed and fast foods. Topping the list of meats to avoid are those that are highly processed. This includes most lunch meats, prepared and fast foods, and ground meats, and makes up the majority of meat sources in the marketplace. This is also the reason many studies show negative effects of meat-eating — most of the meat eaten by study subjects is highly processed. Lunch meats and other prepared foods, like fast-food or prepackaged burgers and sausages are usually full of added chemicals and sugar (and flour) as fillers. One just has to read the ingredients in a typical deli ham, salami, baloney or other loaf or prepared meat products. This includes organ meats, normally the most nutritious. Liverwurst may be worst due to it being a processed meat made from the organ that filters toxins from the body.

2. Chicken. Ah, the old so-called healthy meat (as if “white” somehow means “good”). Standards for raising and slaughtering chickens are much lower than any other meats. More importantly, chicken contains the highest levels of arachidonic acid of all meats — this fat easily converts to inflammatory chemicals (the eicosanoids).

3. Fish. One of the common recommendations is to eat at least two weekly servings of fish. The value of fish as a protein source is well-known, as is the benefit of the fats contained in oily cold-water fish. Humans ate fish for millions of years. However, the oceans and many waterways are very polluted, and this means so are the fish. In addition, most people overcook fish like salmon, destroying heat-sensitive oils that contain health-enhancing EPA and DHA (better to eat these fatty fish raw or cooked rare). As a general rule, smaller fish contain fewer toxins. Other seafood sources also come with various sets of cautions — for example pregnant women and small children should not eat swordfish due to mercury concerns. Be informed.

4. Wild game. Many people still hunt their own wild animals, from small game like pheasant and rabbit to deer and elk. Unfortunately, great numbers of these animals are exposed to many toxic chemicals in the environment. For example, feeding on lawns and other vegetation that are chemically treated, and drinking from polluted streams and ponds can make them poor food choices. While the livers of some wild animals are known to be very toxic, certainly the muscle meat could be as well. Of course, if you’re hunting far from polluted areas this problem is minimized.

Best Meats

1. Beef. It’s not just for dinner, but breakfast, lunch and snacks. Along with the traditional cuts, it can be a great source of organ meats for those who enjoy them. Buying the best beef products means grass-fed-only, organic or beyond. Because most beef can be prepared rare or medium rare, preserving such important nutrients such as glutamine (a key amino acid used by the gut for energy) makes it a unique treat. Raw beef in the form of fresh ground, as carpaccio or as dried as jerky, is also a nice option.

2. Duck. This highly aerobic animal is all dark delicious meat, not to mention the delicious crispy skin and its high nutrient content. It’s an unsung hero of meat. When not overcooked it’s tender and juicy. Duck fat is particularly great for cooking and adding to recipes, and duck soup and bone broth are also great health foods.

3. Pork. Once a poor choice of meat, pork has come a long way in improving its status. It’s a better white-meat choice than chicken, with recent recommendations that it need not be cooked to death (and can even be pink inside). Pork fat – lard — is one of the best cooking fats, and bacon (without the chemicals and sugar) makes a great travel food.

4. Fresh ground meat. Today’s requirements for ground meats have significantly reduced the dangers of high bacteria counts. Most stores will tell you when a particular ground meat was ground, or if in doubt, you can ask for a particular piece of meat to be freshly ground. The digestibility of ground meat is higher providing more nutrients.

28 Comments

  • Rich says:

    Thanks for this summary (and the other articles). This is great information but I was curious to see where bison and lamb fall. I love duck when I can find it but the selection is limited in my area. Bison and lamb are readily available and find their way to my plate on a regular basis.

  • I’ve heard that turkey is even less nutritious than chicken! I refer to them both as bread baskets on legs, and certainly not valuable as a source of protein and complex nutrients. Otherwise, thanks so much–I will be sharing your information!

  • Yolanta Roman says:

    Thank you for the article about meet. You assured me even more in my nutritional believes. I love duck breast cooked medium rare. Delicious. Good meet and vegetables is my choice, with nuts, fruits and more vegetables.
    All best wishes for you and Coralee.

  • Joe Ferry says:

    What about smoked salmon?

  • Scott Marckx says:

    I would love to see a discussion on nutrition and exercise between Phil Maffetone and Dr. Michael Greger of nutrtionfacts.org. Both have been very helpful to me on my path to better health. They both might benefit from a good meeting of the minds and I believe the rest of us would learn a lot.

    Thank you!
    Scott

  • Here in the UK we breed a ruminant called “Sheep”. The meat from this animal is called “lamb”.

  • Mikael says:

    How much “good” meat should I eat/week? Is it around 500 gram/week to minimize risk of intestinal cancer and other meat causing diseases?

    • Mikael:

      That’s a very difficult question. The number can vary wildly due to your genetic heritage, weight, activity level, comfort with meat, etc. The best way to know is to test out different quantities and see what works.

  • Deena Rocco says:

    so organ meets are not good for you?

    • Garrison says:

      Organ meats can be some of the most nutritious meats out there, but as with many things, moderation may be the best way to introduce yourself to it. Some even contain nutrients that cannot be found in many other food sources, if any. Definitely an acquired taste, and vitally important to aim for the highest quality possible when shopping for it. Hope this helps!

  • Michele says:

    Great information, thanks Dr Maffetone and team! What are your thoughts on organically farmed chicken?

  • James says:

    I think this is one of the problems people face when moving from a high carb (grain based diet) to a a lower carb eating plan. They often swap processed carbs for processed meats.

  • I believe the processed meats have been over-indicted as to health hazards.

    Salting and smoking meats for preservation and safety has been part of our food prep repertoire since before recorded history. It seems strange they would start killing us now.

    Keep in mind that those “A New Study Shows…!” negative health claims are based on food questionnaires, which are laughably inaccurate, and that all of the killer meats (smoked ham, salami, pepperoni, etc.) are almost always served in conjunction with a big old hoagie roll, pizza crust, or other gluten bomb, which the researchers willfully ignore in favor of prosecuting the meat, as these studies tend to be conducted by people who have an agenda.

    On the wild game, although I enjoy eating deer, I agree with the point but would add that the deer here in the mid-west are essentially as corn fed as any feedlot steer, as they spend most of the fall grazing in our GMO cornfields!

    Cheers

  • Steve says:

    I’m a fan of lamb as it is guaranteed to be outside, grass-fed and a high fat content, slow cooked shoulder in red wine and shallots! And stick to organic beef, good ground beef is a weekly staple.

    Pork and chicken are the most extremely factory farmed animals, so care should be taken to stick to free range, outdoor reared and organic, non corn fed. Chicken with crispy skin and bones turn to broth is good. I also make my own pork scratchings and save off the oil for lard. Bacon is a herb in my kitchen.

    Good quality liver pate is a delicious way to eat liver. And good quality sausages although hard to find can be a tasty source of offal, traditional salamis and chorizo make great hiking foods etc.

    Sardines are wild, small & cheap fish with good sources of omega 3 oil.

    Its hard to avoid all contaminants but good to eat a variety of well sourced foods.

  • Jon Ziegler says:

    I really dislike chicken, but my wife and twins love it. I get the eternal “beef is bad for you” sermon about once a month. But, I am a beef lover, and will share this article.

  • Dr. Maffetone, I would rethink your recommendation for pork. It is still intrinsically toxic to humans no matter the improvements on the sanitation.

  • Elgar Vaivars says:

    Liver is said by many health gurus to be good. (Ben Greenfield, Mark Sisson) So what changes on the way to liverwurst. Additives?

  • Sylvia F says:

    I have a question about deli meats. Are Applegate natural/organic deli meats considered “processed”? I eat them often for simplicity’s sake. The only ingredients in their oven-roasted turkey are turkey, water, less than 2% salt and carrageenan (from seaweed). The herbed turkey contains small amounts of herbs. I don’t eat the ones with sugar added. Wouldn’t these be acceptable meats?

  • Joseph Golden says:

    Hi. I have a few questions regarding pork. As we know, one of the biggest concerns with eating pork, is with the risk of getting trichinosis from undercooked pork. But even with well cooked pork, isn’t pork inheritantly unsafe?
    The thought process is that pigs eat filthy things. Even if healthy or well fed, they’ll eat feces, urine, anything rotting, and even cancer off of another pig with sores. Then when we eat this pork, we eat those toxins, as it was absorbed in their muscles and meat.

    Another question would be are you unaware that pigs continuously eat toxins? I can vouch they certainly do. If you are aware of that, is there some seal to look for that shows the pigs don’t ingest such things?
    It’s odd to see pork as a healthy choice, when it’s widely known to be a filthy animal. Even thousands of years ago it was frowned upon to eat pork because of the toxins. This is why shrimp is also a bad choice, as is other bottom feeders. Eating a bottom feeder means you’re eating the toxins they eat.

    I’d love if you could shed light on your opinion of this matter.

    • Chris says:

      Well said Joseph – this was exactly what I had learned as well – and even that all of those animals were actually designed to clean the earth – that their bodies retained to worst parts of what they ate to make them more effective at “cleaning”.

  • Chris says:

    I have been eating a diet containing 98%+ beef for the last 2 years. I eat eggs and cheese as well – but mostly steak and ground beef. I gave up vegetables 5 years ago and have only been sick once in that time when I got the flu, even when nearly everyone in my family and immediate circle caught the same thing, I don’t. My scars have recently started to fade as well and my skin is really healthy. Like many people in Zero Carb Zen facebook group (15k+ people) said would happen – my cholesterol elevated during the first 6 mos, then decreased to below what it was before over the next 6 mos and is now consistently low. I feel great, I look forward to every meal, I love cooking once or twice a week on the grill and then eating those steaks – usually cold for convenience sake. I think it says something that you can safely eat raw beef without getting sick. I don’t do that – I’m just saying eating raw beef is safe which is incredible. I have left steaks in the fridge for 2 weeks and they were slimy – I grilled them up and was fine. I also have left them out over night marinating in raw kiefer – I’ve never even felt as much as a little stomach ache!
    It’s unfortunate how much misinformation we have on red meat. Best to assume you know nothing and start looking at it with fresh eyes!
    This is just one example, but probably has had the biggest impact on truly healthy eating:
    In 1955 at the World Health Organization in Geneva, Ancel Keys offered what became known as his lipid hypothesis, which claimed dietary fat raised cholesterol, subsequently increasing heart disease. The American Heart Association quickly embraced Keys’s hypothesis, warning that butter, eggs, meat, and other saturated fat-rich foods contributed to heart disease and emphasizing a low-fat diet to prevent heart disease. As numerous other researchers point out, correlation is not causation, and Keys neglected to account for many factors that could also contribute to heart disease. Keys cherry-picked his data, conveniently excluding whatever didn’t fit his hypothesis. In fact, the countries he studied that had the highest rates of heart disease also were the countries with the highest intakes of sugar and refined carbohydrates. Was it the fat or the sugar? Turns out it was the sugar!

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