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Nutrition Articles  ›  Meals and Food

Best and Worst Meat Choices

How to Spot the Healthiest Cuts

-- By Lauri Watson, Registered Dietitian
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Poultry: Chicken and Turkey
Chicken and turkey are generally thought of as a healthier alternative to red meat. While poultry can be leaner, certain cuts and cooking methods can make it just as bad for you—if not worse—than red meat. When selecting poultry, consider the following:

Cut: Different cuts of poultry, like beef and pork, have different calories and fat content. Generally, white meat, such as breasts and wings, are lower in calories, fat, and cholesterol while cuts of dark meat cuts (legs and thighs) are higher. Boneless, skinless chicken or turkey breast are the leanest cuts of poultry. Skinless chicken wings are also a good choice, but beware of fried chicken wings, which are often dipped in high calorie sauces.

Color: Light and dark selections of turkey or chicken have their own pros and cons. White meat, or any meat lighter in color, is leaner than darker cuts. However, dark meat contains more B vitamins (such as thiamine) and iron, even though it's higher in fat and calories. Choose leg or thigh pieces every once in a while for a nutritional boost—especially if you prefer eating less iron-rich red meat. When purchasing ground chicken or turkey, look for ground chicken or turkey breast; it will be lighter in color and lighter on the waistline. Ground chicken and ground turkey can include fat and skin in addition to the meat, thus increasing the fat and calorie content.

Skin: On its own, poultry skin isn't necessarily bad for you, but when the meat is cooked, a lot of the fat once inside the bird seeps out and gets trapped in the skin, making it high in fat. Choose skinless whenever possible (or simply remove the skin yourself) and you'll save 50 calories and 5 grams of fat per 3 oz. (cooked) portion.

Sodium: Poultry is generally low in sodium, but when you purchase it marinated, frozen, or canned, it can contain added sodium. Read labels carefully: Look for "low sodium" or "no salt added" varieties of canned or frozen poultry. Some canned chicken items, while convenient, can contain more than 250 mg of sodium per serving. The “low sodium” products usually contain less than a third of the sodium in the original products.

Debunking the Turkey Bacon Myth
Turkey bacon is often recommended over regular (pork) bacon because turkey is generally lower in fat than pork. However, when it comes to bacon from either source, this is not always true. In fact, turkey bacon often contains more sodium than its pork counterpart. Read labels and choose leaner cuts of bacon for the best balance between sodium, fat, and overall calories. For example, three slices of center cut pork bacon contain 70 calories and 4.5 grams of fat, but just two slices of turkey bacon contain just as many calories and significantly more sodium.

See the chart below for a nutritional comparison of various types of poultry. These values are for a single cooked, 3-ounce serving (85 grams), unless otherwise specified.


Poultry Cut Calories Total Fat (g) Sat Fat (g) Cholesterol (mg) Sodium(mg)
Turkey bacon (1 ounce,
3.5 slices, or 28 grams)
107 7.8 2.3 27 640
Turkey breast, skinless 115 0.6 0.2 71 44
Ground turkey, fat-free 117 2.1 0.6 55 50
Chicken breast, skinless, roasted 140 3.0 0.8 72 63
Chicken drumstick, skinless, roasted 158 8.5 2.3 110 97
Chicken breast with skin, roasted 167 6.6 1.8 71 60
Ground turkey, 85/15% 212 14 3.5 89 69
Chicken drumstick, with skin, batter fried 228 13.3 3.5 73 229
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About The Author

Lauri Watson Lauri Watson
is a Registered Dietitian with a bachelor's degree in psychology. She eats her way through life's tasty treats and documents her culinary journeys at RedHeadRecipes.com, which provides recipes and ideas for a balanced lifestyle.

Member Comments

  • PPCONFUSED
    I chose to limit my meat intake to white meat only. No red meat. I ended up severely anemic and iron pills didn't correct it. Red meat did. I have never believed in a strictly vegetarian diet as I believe that if you are provided with the ripping tearing teeth we have then we are an organism which requires fresh meat. I also tried the Atkins diet at one point and passed out cold with in 6 hours. I'm Hypoglycemic so require a little sugar to balance. Balance in all foods we take into our bodies. Balanced Calories, nutrients, fats, etc. plus a balance in our activity levels which is my biggest problem as my arthritis and wrecked knees tend to get in the way for exercise.. - 9/14/2013 6:18:43 PM
  • Our bodies make all the cholesterol we need. All meat product carries cholesterol. Of which we do not need to be getting any extra. Makes on difference how much fat is in the meat either or what kind of meat. It is just plain not good for your heart and arteries. And the protein in meat makes your liver work harder. Just facts I have been reading about lately. Don't mean to offend anybody. I use to be a meat eater too. And feel much better without the stuff. - 9/4/2013 4:08:44 PM
  • You didn't address lamb, mutton or goat which are mainstays in many cuisines. - 9/3/2013 3:23:49 PM
  • The most enlightening thing for me was that pork tenderloin is low on the fat scale. Often I can buy one tenderloin and get a second for free so that is what I buy a lot. Thank you it shows me I am on the right track. - 9/3/2013 11:59:13 AM
  • I too love red meat and we endulge often BUT now we eat leaner cuts and watch the fat calories also.We just eat red meat a little less often and have a good rib eye steak less often also.This is a good article and a wake up call for those of us who need to watch our intake of high fat foods. - 9/3/2013 11:12:44 AM
  • what about lamb, sheep? - 9/3/2013 7:00:50 AM
  • Great article but what about turkey wings I love them. - 5/28/2013 3:52:03 PM
  • This article was so helpful, I'm grateful to spark for putting this up! - 3/5/2013 7:14:31 AM
  • I was raised on a large dairy farm & ranch, so we didn't have to worried about allot of what U buy from the store. The meat was always marble right, had the right amount of fat. & the color was good. We always ate healthy, had our own gardens, fresh water too drink & not too many store brought items. Even today I grow my own vegetables & herbs. Just go to the store for a few staples. - 2/20/2013 7:01:08 PM
  • I am glad to hear the bacon myth debunked, as well as some grass fed information out there! - 9/12/2012 11:48:04 AM
  • I know this would not be everyone's cup of tea, but we purchased a good quality electric meat grinder a while ago. We really decided to grind our own meats to save money, but it turned out we found we could have much leaner and healthier ground meats by grinding our own. We buy boneless, skinless chicken breasts on sale for as low as $1.69 a pound and grind them. Ground chicken breast at my local supermarket is $3.99 a pound and I know it has skin and who knows what else ground in it. We also make fantastic and very lean bulk Italian sausage and ground beef for a fraction of what it costs to buy in packages in the store - and we know what's in it and that the grinder, etc. is clean! We buy beef and lean cuts of pork when it's on sale so we save money as well as getting a quality product. It takes a little effort but it's worth it to us. - 9/3/2012 6:49:49 PM
  • APPROACHINGMARS
    When I lost the weight I have so far, it wasn't by picking the leanest meat I could, it was by selecting fatty meats that actually kept me full and didn't have me grabbing for the Pop Tarts.

    Restrict your grain and sugar intake and you won't have to worry about lean meat. - 9/3/2012 1:48:10 PM
  • I think all of us know that meat that is grass fed, or extra lean 95/5 is better for us. The same with chicken and all other meats, but sometimes the budget has to be taken into account too. Not all of us can afford the price on a regular basis even if it is much healthier for us. So I guess I'll just have to eat smaller portions and exercise more to work off the cholestrol clogging my arteries. Oh, btw, even with eating these meats my cholestrol is doing just fine. - 9/3/2012 1:06:55 PM
  • Avoiding fat in meat? Is it the 1990s again? Control your calories, hit your macronutrient goals and you won't have to worry about this drivel. - 9/3/2012 12:33:13 PM
  • JOEBUCK50
    I've been buying Ball Park "All white meat" turkey hot dogs because the label on the package says 40 calories per hot dog. That seems pretty low based on what this article says. Does all white turkey meat really have such a low calorie count? - 9/3/2012 11:35:27 AM