We’ve written before about people who are convinced that eating nothing but meat is the way forward. “Carnivore dieters swear by a litany of benefits from an all-meat regimen, first and foremost that it leads to immediate and sustainable weight loss,” writes my colleague Eddie Kim.
Unsurprisingly, their thoughts are in sharp contrast with what Dana Hunnes, senior dietitian at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, tells me about the nutritional value of an all-meat diet. “I’d like to start off by saying that a plant-based diet is the healthiest diet we can follow,” says Hunnes. “It prevents a myriad of chronic, degenerative diseases.”
Still, chances are most of us are enjoying at least some meat on a daily basis, so let’s press on with our ranking of all the different types of animal flesh in order of how likely they are to kill you, starting with the least likely…
1. Fish: According to Hunnes, from a fat-composition perspective, fish will be the “healthiest.” “It has omega-3s and less saturated fat than land-animals,” says Hunnes. However, she warns that you have to be careful about the fish you choose. “Larger fish like shark, tunas and swordfish contain more mercury and likely some plastic-residues in them — there’s a lot of plastic floating in the oceans that bioaccumulates in their fats,” she explains.
2. Shellfish: Dietitian Sarah Mirkin says that although most people think that shellfish isn’t healthy, the opposite is true. “Shellfish is also the lowest calorie ‘meat’ available,” says Mirkin. “Chicken breast has about double the calories as shrimp!” Still, Hunnes warns that shellfish tend to be filter feeders, meaning they vacuum up whatever is in the water. “If you’re eating any fish out of Florida right now, I’d avoid it because of the algae problem,” she says. Ugh.
3. Turkey: Luckily for Thanksgiving enthusiasts, while turkey may (or may not?) put you to sleep, it’s actually pretty healthy. “Turkey has the lowest levels of saturated fat amongst fowl,” says Hunnes. But she stresses that you should eat organic, antibiotic-free whenever possible.
4. Chicken: Both Mirkin and Hunnes tell me that while chicken isn’t as lean as turkey, the difference between the two is trivial. According to the American Heart Association, chicken has less saturated fat than most red meat, which is why it’s still a considerably healthy option. It’s important to note, though, that according to a Consumer Reports study, 97 percent of raw chicken in U.S. supermarkets is contaminated with bacteria that could make you sick, reports Bustle.
5. Duck: It may appear to be the most elegant bird on this list, but duck is also the fattiest, says Mirkin. “[It’s] higher in fat then chicken breast, but it’s still a good protein choice.”
6. Bison: If you’ve ever tasted bison, you know that it’s a delicious, mild tasting meat. What may surprise you is that it’s also healthier than any of the other four-legged animals on this list. “Bison is probably the healthiest because it’s eating grass all the time, which makes the meat have a healthier fatty-acid profile than grain-fed beef,” says Hunnes. Furthermore, according to Mirkin, this wondrous creature’s flesh also has less potential carcinogens than beef.
7. Lamb: While lamb is technically fattier than beef, Hunnes tells me that because it’s fed with grass, it has significantly more amounts of omega-3 fats, which is good for cardiovascular health.
8. Beef and Pork (tied): According to Hunnes, beef and pork are both technically dark meat. “Though the ‘pork-council’ wants you to believe pork is the other ‘white meat,’ from a health perspective, both are high in saturated fat,” she explains. That’s why Mirkin suggests eating beef and pork in moderation. “I recommend choosing the leanest cuts and limiting your intake to once per week,” she says. Hunnes takes it one step further and tells me that she wouldn’t advise eating any of the four-legged creatures on this list. “I cannot recommend eating any of these foods — except perhaps bison, and I still wouldn’t recommend it.”
So much for the carnivore diet.