How often do you stop in the supermarket and consider which meat is healthiest for your body?
When you’re rushing through the meat aisle, you might grab what you know tastes great or what you are comfortable cooking. With the cost of groceries on the rise, you might even choose whatever’s on special.
If you’re not considering nutrition, though, your habitual choices might be damaging your health and waistline.
You don’t have to spend much to buy healthy lean meat, either. There are plenty of cheap and healthy cuts of meat on the market – especially if you shop at your local butcher.
To help you out, I’ve put together a list of the healthiest meats to choose from. I’ve examined our most popular (and some less popular) meats, ranked in order of nutrition.
Let’s explore which meats are not only tasty, but also provide maximum health benefits. You may find the results surprising!
What Makes a Meat Healthy?
Meat is a powerhouse of protein and nutrients, but not all meats are created equal. The nutritional value can vary greatly depending on the animal, cut and cooking method.
There are five main criteria for a healthy meat:
- Lower in fat, especially saturated fat
- Lower in calories
- Low in cholesterol
- High in protein
- High in iron
- Grass fed over grain or mixed lot feeding
Fat content is my top consideration when choosing a healthy cut of meat. In my opinion, the leaner, the better! Lean meats are lower in fat, calories and cholesterol – three big ticks for healthy choices.
It’s not just about avoiding the health baddies, though. We also want to get the key nutritional benefits of meat in the form of protein and iron. In Australia, most of us rely on meat for our daily protein intake, and if you’re aiming to build muscle, high-protein meats are your best friend.
Protein intake is super important, so ensure you are reaching your recommended daily intake of 1 to 1.5g per kg. For example, if you weigh 70kg, your protein RDI is 70 to 105g per day.
Iron content is the last factor in choosing healthy meat. Choosing iron-rich meats helps avoid or treat iron deficiency anaemia. In fact, the heme iron in meat boosts our bodies’ levels more effectively than plant sources or supplements.
With these factors in mind, let’s look at the best meats to put on your plate.
What are the Best Meats to Eat?
First, the big question: what is the best meat to buy? If you’re assuming chicken is the healthiest meat out there, think again!
Kangaroo is the healthiest meat available in Australia today. It’s incredibly lean, so it’s low in fat, calories and cholesterol. Kangaroo has as much iron as beef and almost as much protein, with less calories and fat than chicken breast.
If you’re not keen on kangaroo, white fish, chicken breast, and pork tenderloin are also great healthy proteins. Some less popular (but nutritious) alternatives include bison, ostrich and venison.
You can keep scrolling for my detailed list of healthiest meats and their nutritional info – but first, I’ve put together this ‘cheat sheet’ based on the common scenarios I see as a nutritionist.
Here are my top meat recommendations according to your goals:
Best Meats for Weight Loss
If you’re trying to lose weight, choose lean meats like kangaroo, white fish, ostrich, chicken breast, pork tenderloin, or bison (in that order). These provide plenty of protein to help keep you feeling full while being low in fat and calories.
Whatever meat you choose, it’s important to consider portion size when dieting for weight loss. Eating too much of any food (even lean meat) can hamper weight loss or even lead to weight gain, so stick to 65 to 100-gram portions.
Best Meats for Muscle Gain
If increasing muscle size but staying lean is your goal, aim for plenty of protein. Chicken breast, kangaroo, ostrich, white fish, pork tenderloin or lean beef are good choices.
Most elite athletes requiring endurance eat kangaroo or ostrich due to the high iron and protein content. Bodybuilders will also benefit from lean, high-protein choices to build muscle.
Best Meats for High Cholesterol
If you want to reduce your cholesterol levels or improve heart health, opt for the leanest choices, like white fish, ostrich or kangaroo.
Avoid processed meats, such as sausages and bacon, as these tend to be high in saturated fat and sodium.
Best Meats for Iron
Choose dark meats such as kangaroo, beef or lamb if you need more iron. Make sure to choose lean cuts and trim any visible fat before cooking.
If you aren’t vegetarian or vegan, these should be your go-to choice for a healthy dose of dietary iron. Intense exercisers, mums-to-be, older people, and anyone suffering from iron deficiency anaemia can benefit from iron-rich foods.
Healthiest Meats (Ranked From Best to Worst)
Here is a list of the healthiest meats, from highest to lowest recommendation.
I’ve used the Australian Food Composition Database for my nutrition facts.
These are the best meats to eat, in priority order:
1. Kangaroo Meat
Nutrition (per 100g):
- Energy: 556 kJ
- Protein: 30.1 g
- Fat: 1.2g (0.38g saturated)
- Cholesterol: 71 mg
- Iron: 4.1 mg
Kangaroo is the number one healthy meat choice. It has fewer calories and less fat per serving than chicken breast but as much iron as beef and almost as much protein.
For the Aussie readers out there, we grew up watching ‘Skippy’, so now it can be hard to come to terms with eating him – but Skippy really packs a punch in the nutrition stakes!
Kangaroo steak is the healthiest red meat choice since it’s incredibly low in fat and has one of the highest protein contents, at over 30g per 100g serving. It’s also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids and selenium.
Buying Guide: In the past, you had to visit your butcher to buy kangaroo meat, but these days, it’s commonly found in supermarkets, too.
How to Cook It: When preparing kangaroo meat, they say to treat it as you would beef. However, I prefer stews, casseroles and marinades to plain steaks.
2. White Fish
Nutrition (Flathead, per 100g):
- Energy: 541 kJ
- Protein: 28.8 g
- Fat: 1.4 g (0.38g saturated)
- Cholesterol: 78 mg
- Iron: 0.27 mg
Also extremely low in fat and high in protein, white fish will provide you with some iron, minimal cholesterol and lots of healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
White fish has some of the lowest calories per serve. A cod fillet provides just 140 calories per serving, making it an excellent choice for those trying to lose weight. White fish in Australia include barramundi, snapper, flathead, and whiting.
Most options on my list of healthiest fish to eat are oily fish since they’re higher in omega-3s. However, as the name suggests, they’re higher in fat and calories, so they rank lower on this list – even if it’s unsaturated fat.
Buying Guide: For best quality, choose sustainably sourced wild-caught (not farmed) options. Wild-caught white fish provide more omega-3 fatty acids and better flavour.
How to Cook It: White fish is incredibly versatile. As Aussies, we love fried fish, but baking or steaming is a lower-fat alternative.
Nutrition (per 100g):
- Energy: 455 kJ
- Protein: 23.7 g
- Fat: 1.4 g (0.46g saturated)
- Cholesterol: 53 mg
- Iron: 2.8 mg
Ostrich is the US equivalent of kangaroo, an excellent healthy meat choice. Ostrich is a relatively unusual meat in Australia, but it’s one of the best lean meats on the market.
Ostrich contains significantly less fat and cholesterol than beef and pork yet still provides an incredible 23g of protein and 2.8mg of iron per 100g serving.
It also has an impressive amount of essential minerals like iron, zinc and magnesium. It’s no wonder ostrich is so popular with athletes! It’s an incredibly low-calorie meat, so it’s an excellent choice for those trying to lose weight.
Buying Guide: Ostrich is available in specialty butchers and online stores. It’s usually in the frozen section of the supermarket.
How to Cook It: Ostrich can be cooked exactly like beef. The meat can dry out quickly, so I prefer this in a stew, but I have eaten the steak. It’s especially nice marinated in soy sauce.
4. Chicken Breast
Nutrition (trimmed, per 100g):
- Energy: 598 kJ
- Protein: 29.8 g
- Fat: 2.5 g (0.82 g saturated)
- Cholesterol: 98 mg
- Iron: 0.4 mg
Chicken breast with no skin is one of the highest-protein meats on the list, with saturated fat remaining nice and low. Chicken is also a great source of B vitamins, zinc, potassium and selenium.
A single 100-gram serving of grilled chicken breast contains just 142 calories and almost 30 grams of protein. This makes it a great pick for those trying to gain muscle or lose weight.
An important note: there’s a vast difference between chicken breasts without skin and BBQ chicken. A rotisserie chook with skin has 8.9g fat per 100g and 160 mg of cholesterol. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that just because it’s chicken, it’s good for you!
Poultry is lower in iron than red meat, especially the breast. If you’re iron deficient, also try to include red meat in your dinner rotation.
Buying Guide: Choose organic, free-range chicken where possible. When chickens are raised on open pasture and fed a natural diet, they’re more nutritious than factory-farmed chooks.
How to Cook: Of course, chicken is incredibly versatile. You can roast it, grill it, bake it or even add it to soups and stews. For healthier chicken schnitzels, try my recipe for Crispy Chicken Wands – kids love them!
5. Bison or Buffalo
Nutrition (Buffalo, per 100g):
- Energy: 448 kJ
- Protein: 24.6 g
- Fat: 0.8 g (0.33 g saturated)
- Cholesterol: 46 mg
- Iron: 3.3 mg
Bison is a more common meat in the United States than Down Under – and it’s not like buffalo is mainstream in Australia, either! However, there’s a growing market for buffalo, and it is an incredibly lean protein source.
Bison and buffalo have all the nutritional benefits of beef, with far less fat and cholesterol than traditional red meat. It also provides plenty of protein and essential vitamins like B12.
Buying Guide: Buffalo meat is still hard to come by in Australia, but you can find it in specialty butchers. Choose grass-fed buffalo whenever possible, as this will be more nutritious.
How to Cook It: Buffalo is very lean, so it’s ideal for roasting, slow-cooking and stews. You can also use it as a lean beef mince replacement in burgers or tacos!
6. Pork Tenderloin
Nutrition (trimmed, per 100g):
- Energy: 566 kJ
- Protein: 28.5 g
- Fat: 2.2 g (0.76 g saturated)
- Cholesterol: 56 mg
- Iron: 0.98 mg
Fresh lean pork is an excellent source of protein, but be sure to eat the right part of the pig. Pork tenderloin is the leanest pork cut there is. It’s similar to chicken breast in its nutrition profile, with only slightly higher fat content.
A 100g serving of pork tenderloin has just 135 calories and around 28 grams of protein, so even a small portion is filling. Pork tenderloin is also rich in B vitamins, with a decent amount of iron.
Buying Guide: Choose lean cuts of pork like tenderloin for the lowest fat content. Other cuts, such as pork belly (many people’s favourite!) and roasted ham, are extremely fatty.
How to Cook It: For best results, marinate your pork first. You can then grill it on the BBQ or roast it in the oven with some vegetables for a balanced meal.
7. Lean Beef
Nutrition (trimmed, per 100g):
- Energy: 648 kJ
- Protein: 31.5 g
- Fat: 3 g (0.98 g saturated)
- Cholesterol: 77 mg
- Iron: 2.8 mg
Beef is often considered unhealthy due to its high fat content, but not all cuts are created equal. Choosing leaner cuts of beef means you can benefit from plenty of protein and iron while keeping the fat to a minimum.
When it comes to nutrition, lean beef mince is similar to ground turkey or pork tenderloin. A single 100-gram serving contains around 155 calories and 31 grams of protein.
However, it’s important to note that some cuts of beef can be higher in fat than others – which will boost the calorie count significantly. The more marbling in the meat, the more fat. You should also trim your beef before cooking.
Buying Guide: My favourite lean beef cuts are flat iron and hanger steak – they’re affordable and have less than 10% fat content. Other lean cuts include sirloin and flank steak. Look for grass-fed beef where possible, as it contains more vitamins and minerals.
How to Cook It: Use low-fat cooking methods like grilling – ideally in a way that you can drain the fat off. Lean beef mince is also incredibly versatile, so you can make anything from rissoles to pasta dishes.
Nutrition (per 100g):
- Energy: 661 kJ
- Protein: 30 g
- Fat: 3.2 g (1.3g saturated)
- Cholesterol: 112 mg
- Iron: 4.5 mg
Venison is growing more popular in Australia, especially with foodies keen to try less typical meats. Venison has a similar amount of protein and fat, with more cholesterol and iron than beef. As a bonus, venison is higher in omega-3s than other red meats.
Buying Guide: As with all game meats, buying from a reputable butcher will get you the best quality meat (and the best prices, too). In Australia, venison will be farmed rather than wild game.
How to Cook It: Venison has a rich flavour that’s delicious in casseroles, stews and pies. Just be careful not to overcook it – like other lean meats, venison can get tough if overdone.
9. Turkey Breast
Nutrition (trimmed, per 100g):
- Energy: 648 kJ
- Protein: 29.4 g
- Fat: 4 g (1.08 g saturated)
- Cholesterol: 65 mg
- Iron: 0.6 mg
Turkey breast is higher in fat than chicken breast, with about the same amount of protein. It has a little more iron, but dark meat will always be slightly more nutrient-dense when it comes to poultry.
If you’re tired of chicken, turkey breast can add more variety to your poultry dishes. Just keep an eye on that saturated fat!
Best Picks: Like with chicken, try to choose organic, free-range turkey where possible. Free-range poultry are more nutritious, and it’s a more humane choice as well.
How to Cook It: Turkey can be cooked in many different ways – from simply roasting or grilling the breast to slow cooking.
10. Lean Lamb
Nutrition (per 100g):
- Energy: 773 kJ
- Protein: 31.3 g
- Fat: 6.5 g (2.45 g saturated)
- Cholesterol: 96 mg
- Iron: 3.7 mg
Lamb is one of the higher-fat meats, but that doesn’t mean it’s off the menu entirely. Leaner cuts of lamb can be part of a healthy diet when eaten in moderation – in other words, stick to small portions of lamb less often.
As a red meat, lamb offers a fair amount of iron and protein. Compared to beef, lamb has less iron and protein, as well as more fat. – though levels are lower than beef, contains less than beef.
Lamb does contain a higher fat content than other meats on this list, so it may not be ideal if you’re trying to lose weight. However, when cooked correctly, it can be a lean source of protein.
Buying Guide: Choose lean cuts of lamb, and look for grass-fed where possible – it’s much more nutrient-dense. To reduce the fat content further, trim any visible fat before cooking.
How to Cook It: Lamb can be served rare or medium-rare, depending on your preference. It’s also delicious on the BBQ – just don’t overcook it! My favourite lamb recipe is my Lamb Cutlets with Pomegranate Cous Cous, perfect for entertaining.
What are the Worst Meats to Eat?
The most unhealthy meats include anything high in fat (especially saturated fat) and processed meats. Avoid fatty sausages, deli meats like salami, greasy BBQ chicken, and higher-fat cuts of beef and lamb.
Beef and lamb fall low on the list of healthiest meats – even leaner cuts aren’t the best to put on your plate. Don’t despair, just eat sparingly! The main problem with these two red meats is that they are high in fat, including saturated fat, so they’re not ideal for everyday eating. On the positive side, they are also the richest source of iron (behind kangaroo).
If you enjoy a good snag, there are still healthier sausages on the market – extra lean kangaroo or chicken sausages are my top recommendations. Regular sausages can be up to 35% fat, so they’re not the best for you.
You have been warned about those greasy BBQ chickens! Check out their stats: 300 calories and 14 grams of fat per 100 grams. Steer clear if you value your health! Instead, opt for chicken breast with the fat and skin trimmed.
Salmon comes in surprisingly low on the list compared to white fish. This is mainly due to its high fat content, but salmon is relatively low in saturated fat – it’s just the unsaturated fat that tips this fish over the edge.
On the positive side, salmon contains a lot more essential omega-3 fatty acids compared to other fish, so they’re still a healthy fish to eat. Swordfish and shark are a great alternative to salmon – almost as high in omega-3s, yet low in fat and a great dietary source of vitamin D.
Healthiest Meat FAQs
How often should you eat meat?
Generally, the recommended intake of meat is 3-4 servings per week for adults. One portion is between 65 and 100 grams – about the size of your palm. Look to sources like beans, nuts, and legumes for the rest of your protein intake.
What is the best red meat to eat?
The healthiest red meat is kangaroo. It’s the most nutrient-dense, low in fat and saturated fat, and high in iron. Venison, bison and buffalo are other healthier picks. If you’re eating beef or lamb, opt for the leanest cuts possible and trim the fat before cooking.
Kangaroo vs chicken breast: which is healthier?
Kangaroo is the clear winner in this battle – it’s lower in fat, higher in iron and contains about the same amount of protein. However, you should limit your red meat intake to 2-3 servings per week so you can easily include kangaroo and chicken breast in your diet.
What meats are highest in protein?
Meats that are highest in protein include kangaroo, pork, venison, chicken, and turkey. Lamb and beef are lower in protein and higher in fat, so they should be eaten in moderation.
What is the healthiest way to cook meat?
Low-fat cooking methods are the healthiest way to cook meat, including baking, grilling and stir-frying. Use just enough oil to keep the meat from sticking – an angled grill is ideal to drain the fat. Avoid frying or deep-frying, as these add more fats to your meal.
Choosing the Best Quality Meats
When it comes to animal products, it is vital to consider quality. After all, you are what you eat eats – try saying that three times quickly! In other words, the quality of the food provided to the animals is essential as it directly affects the meat and egg quality you consume.
Here’s why quality meat is worth the cost and what to look for when grocery shopping:
Pastured animals are raised in paddocks and have more than just freedom from confinement – they have the freedom to behave naturally. Animals free to roam spend much of their day rooting, scratching and grazing in the sun and fresh air. Pastured sows can build nests to give birth in, just like in the wild.
Importantly, animals grown on pasture do not suffer the disease burden of those raised in unnatural, confined conditions. Therefore, they do not need to be constantly fed antibiotics to keep them in good health. The use of antibiotics in production animals can have far-reaching human health effects.
Pasture-raised meat is also far more environmentally sustainable and beneficial to the local community and economy.
Free Range Poultry
Whether you’re buying meat or eggs, free range is best – these farms provide a natural environment for the animals to thrive.
Free-range chickens spend their entire lives, from birth to slaughter, with free access to the outdoors. This ensures a stress-free environment, healthy animals and good-quality produce.
However, it’s important to know that “free range” can mean 400 hens per hectare or 20,000. Please do your research if you are purchasing from a large farm.
Grass-fed meat refers to animals raised in their natural environment – pastures and paddocks. Animals raised on a grass diet are healthier, more resilient, and require fewer antibiotics and other drugs.
Please avoid grain-fed meat, which has higher omega-6 levels and is inflammatory. It may be more expensive for both the farmers and you as consumers, but cheap food is a false economy.
I love this statement from Humane Choice: “The cost may not be immediately recognised, but it is generally charged to your health, the environment and the welfare of our animals. Cheap milk, for example, is not just pushing the farmer to the wall financially; he, in turn, tries to push the production levels of his cows to the very limits, and they suffer as a result.”
By definition, certified organic produce comes from animals kept on farms that meet and exceed the standards of the best free-range facilities. The problem is, however, that the word ‘organic’ may merely mean that animals in barns are fed organic grains.
There can certainly be health benefits to consuming organic produce, but please know this: “organic” does not mean the welfare of the animals meets certified organic standards. Please only prioritise organic if it is also pasture-raised, free-range and grass-fed.
When it comes to selecting the best quality meat, there are a few key points to remember:
- Choose the leanest cuts of meat available: Consider the animal you’re eating and which part you put on the plate. Trim any visible fat before cooking.
- Stick to three to four servings of meat per week: For the rest of your protein needs, look to other sources, like beans, nuts, dairy and legumes. Recommended protein intake is 1 to 1.5g per kilogram of body weight.
- Prioritise pasture-raised, free range and grass-fed meats: They are more ethical, and the meat is more nutritious. Organic may also be beneficial, but only if these three criteria are met too.
I suggest finding some recipes and experimenting with your three healthiest types of meat until you find a dish that’s easy to prepare and tastes good. Remember, a good rule of thumb is to eat red meat no more than twice per week.
Eating healthy can be a balancing act – after all, you have to weigh up taste, nutrition, cost and convenience! It’s okay to indulge in less healthy cuts of meat; just be sure it’s in moderation.
If cost is the main barrier to buying healthier meat, check out my guide to the best cheap cuts of meat. There are plenty of tips there to keep meat on the family menu without compromising on nutrition.