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Latest Edit: Iva Lloyd, ND 2021-08-24 (EDT)

See Also Clinical Nutrition

The term meat refers to the muscle tissue, fat, liver, kidney, tongue, tripe, brains, sweetbreads and heart of animals or birds that is used for food. [1]



There are three main types of meat:

  • Red meat (beef, lamb, mutton, bison)
  • White meat (veal, pork, rabbit, poultry)
  • Dark meat (game)

A distinction can also be made between butcher's meat (beef, veal, mutton, pork and variety meats), poultry and game (e.g. deer)

Nutritional Value

The chief constituents of meat are water, protein, and fat. Phosphorus, iron, zinc and vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 are also contained in meat, especially in some of the edible organs (e.g., liver). Meats are also rich sources of vitamin B1 and B2 and provide high levels of protein and niacin. It is valued as a complete-protein food, containing all the amino acids necessary for the human body.[1]

Fats: The fat of meats varies greatly depending on the species, cut and quality.

  • Meat is digested more slowly than starches or sugars because of the presence of fats
  • However, meat has a high food value, with more than 95% of the protein and fat being digested
  • The fattier meats (e.g., pork) usually take longer to digest than the leaner ones but consequently delays hunger
  • Fats are a valuable source of energy and also influences the flavour, juiciness, and tenderness of the meat.
  • Organs such as livers, kidneys and hearts are excellent sources of vitamins and of essential minerals, easily assimilated by the digestion system.[2], [1]

Following are the nutritive values of commonly consumed meats:[2], [1]

  • The fat content in beef varies a great deal. The healthiest option is to be extra lean ground beef which contains 16 grams of fat vs. 21 grams of fat in regular ground beef.
  • Eye of the round, Top round, Sirloin, and Tip round have the lowest fat contents of all of the cuts of beef.
  • It is also low in fat with only 5 grams in 3.5 ounces (27% of its calories)
  • Beef liver is high in cholesterol: 3.5 ounces has 369 mg of cholesterol which is more than the recommended maximum daily intake.
  • Chicken: Is one of the most versatile and low fats (saturated) meats available, and offers similar protein content to red meat.
  • When cooked, skinless light-meat chicken is 33-80% leaner than trimmed cooked beef.
  • The breast of the chicken is the leanest part and has half the fat or a trimmed Choice grade T-bone steak.
  • 3.5 ounces of roasted chicken breast provides 49% of the recommended daily amount of protein for the average man, and 62% for the average woman.
  • Chicken skin derives 80% of its calories from fat, 23% of which are from saturated fat.
  • Dark-meat chicken has approximately the same fat content as white-meat.
  • Lamb: Is a good source of easily absorbed iron and zinc which is essential for growth, the formation of red blood cells, tissue repair, and a healthy immune system
  • The recommended daily allowance provided by a three ounce serving of cooked lamb is 30% for zinc and 17% for iron.
  • Lamb is also rich in B vitamins, especially vitamin B12.
  • One serving can provide 74-100% of the daily requirement for vitamin B12, which is essential for the body's metabolic reactions.
  • Lamb is also nature's best source for an amino acid called L-carnitine, which is needed to generate energy from fatty acids.
  • Trace elements such as copper, manganese, and selenium are also found in this meat.
  • The foreshank of the lamb is the leanest cut.
  • Pork: Although many pork products such as hot dogs, sausages, bacon and spareribs are highly processed and therefore not nutritionally as sound, fresh cuts of pork can be a good source of valuable vitamins and minerals.
  • Fresh pork cuts are naturally low in sodium. There is an average 55 mg of sodium in a 100 gram serving of pork which is 2 % of the Daily Value for sodium.
  • Pork that is processed (ham, bacon, etc) or pork labeled as "seasoned" will have much higher levels of sodium so it’s best to check the packaging
  • This meat is high in B1, B2, B3, B6, and B12 which are essential for maintaining a health nervous system, metabolism and skin, and red blood cell production. In fact, pork is the leading food sources of thiamine (B1).
  • Pork is also a good source of iron, zinc, magnesium and phosphorus – the latter which helps build strong bones, teeth and also keeps a good energy balance in the body.
  • While pork typically has a higher fat content than most other types of meat, its fat is slightly less saturated than that in beef.
  • Salt, sugar and sodium nitrate are used to cure pork, and additional chemicals such as sodium ascorbate, erythorbate or phosphate are often used as well to speed up the cure time and help retain moisture in the final product. Sodium nitrate has been linked to the development of stomach cancer.
  • Cuts from the pork loin are the leanest and most tender cuts.
  • It’s a good source of zinc and vitamin B12 and the skinless white meat is an excellent high-protein, low-fat food.
  • Light, skinless, roasted turkey has less saturated fat, less total fat, and less cholesterol than chicken, pork or beef.
  • The amino acid tryptophan contained in turkey is needed for T cells, a type of immune system cell that kills cancer cells. T cells activated in the absence of free tryptophan become susceptible to death via apoptosis.
  • Tryptophan is required to make the neurotransmitter serotonin which helps to improve mood and has also been shown to promote sleep in cases of chronic insomnia.

Percentage of Protein

It is typically best to choose lean meat protein sources with the highest amount of protein. The following list looks at the protein percentage in meats and other common protein sources:[3]

Protein Protein Percentage Fat Percentage
Skinless turkey breast 94% 5%
Shrimp 90% 10%
Orange roughy 90% 10%
Pollock 90% 10%
Broiled lobster 89% 5%
Red Snapper 87% 13%
Dungeness Crab 86% 10%
Alaskan king crab 85% 15%
Broiled mackerel 82% 18%
Roast venison 81% 19%
Broiled halibut 80% 20%
Beef sweetbreads 77% 23%
Steamed clams 73% 12%
Lean pork tenderloin 72% 28%
Beef heart 69% 32%
Broiled tuna 68% 32%
Veal steak 68% 32%
Sirloin beef steak 65% 35%
Chicken livers 65% 35%
Skinless chicken breasts 63% 37%
Beef liver 64% 28%
Lean beef flank steak 62% 38%
Broiled salmon 62% 38%
Lean pork chops 63% 38%
Mussels 58% 24%
Fat pork chops 49% 51%
Lean lamp chops 49% 51%
Pork shoulder roast 45% 55%
Ham lunch meat 39% 54%
Chicken thigh/leg 36% 63%
Ground beef (15% cut) 35% 63%
Eggs 34% 62%
Lamb shoulder roast 32% 68%
Cheeses 28%
Legumes 27%
Pork ribs 27% 73%
Beef ribs 26% 74%
Fat lamb chops 25% 75%
Fatty hamburger 24% 76%
Dry salami 23% 75%
Link pork sausage 22% 77%
Bacon 21% 78%
Whole milk 21%
Liverwurst sausage 18% 79%
Bologna 15% 81%
Hot dogs 14% 83%
Cereal grains 12%
Nuts and seeds 10%

Protein: Following is the amount of protein in grams per 100 gram (3.5 ounce) portion of meat:

Meat Protein Content
Fowl 16-24 grams
Beef & other red meats 17-21 grams
Beef heart 20 grams
Beef Kidney 20 grams
Beef Liver 20 grams
Chicken Liver 21 grams

Potentials Health Risks

Over the past few decades the relationship between the consumption of poultry and meat and its role in various illnesses has been under a great amount of scrutiny. Specifically:[2]

  • A study in 2010 involving over one million people who ate meat found that only processed meat had an adverse risk in relation to coronary heart disease. The study concluded that eating 50g (less than 2oz) of processed meat per day increases risk of coronary heart disease by 42%, and diabetes by 19%.[4]
  • Cancer: High fat red meat and processed meats have been found to be associated with higher risk lung, esophageal, liver, colon and breast cancer.[5]
  • Breast Cancer: The risk of breast cancer among women who eat meat on a daily basis in 3.8 times higher than women who eat meat less than once a week.
  • Gout: Excessive consumption of high-purine containing foods such as refined carbohydrates, alcohol, fats, organ meats, poultry and red meat can lead to the development of gout.[6]
  • Pesticides: When grain used for feed is grown with pesticides and then fed to livestock, pesticide residues accumulate in the animals' fatty tissue. These toxins can subsequently enter our systems when these animal products are consumed.
  • Growth Hormones, Sedatives & Antibiotics: Are administered to animals by some meat producers in an effort to maximize their weight. When humans consume the meat and dairy products derived from these animals we are exposed to these same toxic ingredients.
  • Growth hormones, (e.g. steroids) are used by some meat producers to accelerate muscle growth in animals.
  • Sedatives may be given to animals to help reduce the stress factors of their living conditions, and to accelerate their weight gain.
  • Antibiotics are administered to certain animals to help improve their growth rates, which can cause antibiotic resistance in pathogenic microorganisms.
  • When excessive levels of antibiotics, hormones or chemicals are found in meat they are usually in the animal’s liver, kidneys or fat, not in the lean tissue.
  • Food borne illnesses: Beef and ground meats have the potential to carry food borne illnesses such as E-coli and Staph Aureus
  • A recent study by the Translational Genomics Research Institute showed that 47% of the meat and poultry in U.S. grocery stores had been contaminated with S. aureus, and more than half (52%) of those bacteria were resistant to antibiotics.[7]

Perceived Health Benefits

  • Heme Iron: Meat and poultry contain heme iron - the type of iron that is most well absorbed in the body
  • Beef has 2.7 mg of iron per 100g – more than most other foods and more easily utilized than from vegetable sources
  • Zinc: The rich levels of zinc contained in meat are important for healthy skin and a healthy immune system
  • Beef contains 4.1mg of zinc, a mineral in which a large proportion of the population (particularly teenage girls and women) are deficient.
  • Protein: Meat is a complete source of protein, which is essential for the body's repair and renewal as well as general health
  • B Vitamins: Red meat is one of the best sources of B vitamins found only in animal foods, and which help to maintain nerve cells and normal blood formation.

Specific Consideration

Purchasing and Eating Meat

The current thinking is that being healthy doesn’t mean abstaining from eating meat, as long as one chooses the right cut. Lean cuts of meat can help prevent nutrient deficiencies (e.g. protein, B vitamins), provide support for the immune system and help fortify the blood.

The key is moderation and making meat a part of a balanced diet consisting of whole grains, whole foods (fruits, vegetables) and regular exercise. [8]

Following are some guidelines regarding meat consumption:[2]

  • Choose lean cuts of pork, beef or lamb that have less than 10 grams of fat in a 3.5 ounce serving.
  • Eat smaller portions (3.5 – 4 ounces)
  • Reduce the amount of red meat being consumed. Try substituting red meats for chicken or turkey which are leaner
  • Limit fattier cuts of meat such as beef, bacon, sausage and duck to special occasions.
  • Trim all of the excess fat from red meats and remove the skin from poultry.
  • Preserved meats (e.g. ham, bacon, salami) should be avoided as they are very high in fat, salts, nitrites and nitrates which are known to increase the risk of cancer.
  • The comparative toughness of meat depends on: the character of the muscle walls and connective tissue, the part of the animal from which the meat is taken, and the age and condition of the animal.
  • Ripening meat (hanging it at a temperature just above freezing) permits enzymatic action and the formation of lactic acid which works to tenderize it. [9], [10]

Recommended Intake

The recommended intake varies based on age and health status. To determine what your specific requirements are talk to your naturopathic doctor or other trained medical professional.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Pitchford P (2002) Healing with Whole Foods North Atlantic Books
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Margen S (1992) The Wellness Encyclopedia of Food and Nutrition Random House
  3. Cordain Loren (2011) The Paleo Diet, Revised Edition, Lose Weight and Get Healthy by Eating the Foods You Were Designed to Eat, John Wiley & Sons, New Jersey.
  4. Snowdon, D et al (1984) Meat consumption and fatal ischemic heart disease Preventive medicine;13(5): 490–500.
  5. Cross Amanda et al (2007) A Prospective Study of Red and Processed Meat Intake in Relation to Cancer Risk PLoS Medicine;4(12):e325.
  6. Murray M (1993) The Healing Power of Foods Prima Health
  7. Waters A, et al. (2011) Multidrug-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus in US Meat and Poultry Clinical Infectious Diseases.
  8. Busch F (2000) The New Nutrition From Antioxidants to Zucchini, John Wiley & Sons.
  9. Margen S (1992) The Wellness Encyclopedia of Food and Nutrition Random House
  10. Encyclopedia Britannica Meat Retrieved 18 March 2012