Medically Reviewed by Christine Mikstas, RD, LD on August 17, 2020
It gets a bad rap. While it can be unhealthy to eat too much fatty red meat, lean red meat doesn't raise your cholesterol and contains nutrients like protein, vitamin B12, iron, niacin, and zinc. Beef tenderloin is a lean, delicious -- and healthy -- way to go.
Like beef, lamb is a good source of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, niacin, zinc, and iron. Irish lamb stew, full of healthy vegetables and lean cuts of lamb, is a great meal to share with friends.
This is one of the leanest red meats, which makes it healthier from the start. But there's more: Compared to beef with the same fat content, bison doesn't make as many of the fatty plaques that can clog your arteries and lead to heart disease.
This isn't on many menus in the U.S., but three-quarters of the world eats it. It has far less fat and calories than other red meats, and has plenty of vitamins and nutrients. It also has very little saturated fat -- even less than chicken. An Indian goat curry might be a good way to get familiar with it.
It's far lower in saturated fat -- the most harmful kind -- than most red meat. A 3-ounce serving has 25.9 grams of protein along with essential amino acids, iron, and niacin. These help with cell growth and metabolism. Roast a whole bird and serve it with a simple green salad.
Like chicken, turkey has all nine essential amino acids (which is called a complete protein). It's also lower in saturated fat than most red meat. But Thanksgiving hosts learn every year how hard it can be to prepare this poultry well. Try putting it in an outdoor smoker for several hours until the meat is tender.
Liver, particularly beef liver, is one of the most nutritious meats you can eat. It's a great source of high-quality protein; vitamins A, B12, B6; folic acid; iron; zinc; and essential amino acids. How about some beef liver pate paired with a nice glass of red wine?
Lean pork is every bit as good for your body as lean beef and chicken. In one study, substituting lean pork for beef and chicken led to less body fat and better heart health. For a spicy take, try ancho-rubbed pork tenderloin. It's lean, flavorful, and perfect for grilling.
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NIH: Dietary Supplement Fact Sheets.
National Institutes of Health: "Lean meat and heart health," "Effects of Eating Fresh Lean Pork on Cardiometabolic Health Parameters," "Role of poultry meat in a balanced diet aimed at maintaining health and wellbeing: an Italian consensus document," "Bison meat has a lower atherogenic risk than beef in healthy men."
Cleveland Clinic: "7 'Unsexy' Foods You Should Be Eating."
USDA: "Chicken and Turkey -- Nutrition Facts (PDF)."
Michigan State University Extension: "Eat goat! It is a healthy choice!"