When attempting to make healthy and informed choices about the food we eat, one of the more important things to consider is the nutritional value of meat and if it has a place in our life. Meat is one of the main sources of protein in food and also contains many essential vitamins such as B2, B6, and B12. Not all meat, however, is equal in nutritional value. Certain meats such as red meat have been linked to increased heart disease due to high saturated fat content. Although not all fat is saturated fat, meats with a higher total fat content typically have more overall saturated fat. When choosing what meat to consume, consider both the fat and protein content for a standard serving.
Perhaps the most controversial meat in health communities, there are several varieties of red meat. Most red meat contains more iron than bird or fish, but also contains more saturated fat. Pork, beef, and lamb all classify as red meat. According to the USDA, a 3oz serving of lean beef contains 213 calories, 13g of fat, and 22g of protein. In a standard 2,000 calorie diet, 13g of fat accounts for approximately 20% of your daily value. Some red meat, however, can have an even higher fat content. A 3oz serving of lamb contains 250 calories, 18g of fat, and 21g of protein. Although red meat can have a considerable amount of protein, that protein comes with an equally large amount of fat.
A variety of birds comprise what classifies as poultry. Included are duck, chicken, turkey, and other fowl such as quail. Of this group, chicken is the most popular in the meat industry. At 141 calories per 3oz, the protein in chicken breast actually surpasses certain red meat at 28g of protein. Chicken also has a significantly lower fat content than red meat at 4g of fat per serving. Turkey has similar nutritional value at 135 calories and 25g of protein.
Certain varieties of poultry can, however, have higher fat content. A serving of duck contains roughly 300 calories and 28g of fat - which is nearly half of the recommended daily allowance. Although possible to be enjoyed in moderation, leaner meats such as chicken or turkey provides greater nutritional value.
Another meat protein option comes from seafood. Seafood comes in many forms, resulting in a wide range of calories and nutritional values for a standard 3oz serving. Fish such as cod and flounder are often low-calorie while providing roughly 20-24g of protein per serving. Depending on the kind of seafood consumed fat content can vary significantly. Fish such as salmon, catfish, and herring are high in fat, whereas crab, clam, cod, flounder, and tuna are low in fat. Seafood with high fat can have 10g or more per serving. Low-fat fish often has as little as 2-5g of fat per serving.
When deciding what meat to eat, look at your lifestyle and health goals. For someone who is considering a low-fat and more health-conscious diet, meat from the seafood and poultry categories are the most fitting. Meats from these sources have much less saturated fat and calories per serving while delivering comparable or superior protein content. If consuming red meat, look for leaner varieties, such as lean ground beef, and consume in moderation.
Although following a healthy diet and minimizing saturated fat consumption is important for everyone regardless of age and lifestyle, even the fattiest of meats can be consumed on occasion without significant health risk. Importantly, make informed choices by looking at nutritional guidelines to find what meat fits your goals.