1. Healthy: chicken
Why: low in calories; high in protein and B vitamins
A 3-ounce serving of grilled chicken breast has around 130 calories and 25 grams of protein. It’s low in saturated fat, which according to the American Heart Association, makes it a better protein choice than red meat. And the B vitamins in poultry help with metabolism and contribute to a healthy skin and nervous system.
Next: Avoid this chicken if you can.
2. Unhealthy: chicken nuggets
Why: high in sodium, calories, and processed ingredients
Although nugs may be a slightly better choice when (fast) food options are limited, stocking them in your freezer isn’t advisable. For instance, Perdue’s nuggets have 210 calories and 480 milligrams of sodium in one serving. And the heavily-breaded morsels leave you with less actual meat.
Next: All pig-related meats are not created equal.
3. Healthy: pork tenderloin
Why: similar to chicken in nutritional value
Pork doesn’t deserve its unhealthy image; the USDA states both roasted pork tenderloin and chicken have about 120 calories, 3.5 grams of fat, and 22 grams of protein. One expert told Time chicken breast and pork tenderloin are pretty equal in leanness. Just steer clear of factory-raised pork tenderloin to avoid added hormones.
Next: It’s hard to resist this breakfast food — but you should try.
4. Unhealthy: bacon
Why: extremely high in sodium and fat
Three slices of this cured meat yields around 150 calories, the majority from fat. It also has 570 milligrams of sodium per serving, which is 24% the recommended daily value. According to The Huffington Post, the salty meat can increase the risk for heart disease.
Next: If you love red meat, choose this kind every time.
5. Healthy: grass-fed beef
Why: comes from cattle who haven’t consumed grains
Beef has been called both healthy and harmful. Confusing, right? However, grass-fed beef really can be good for you. Cooking Light says choosing grass-fed over grain-fed varieties can save you around 16,000 calories a year if you eat the typical amount. Grass-fed beef also has less fat and contains a decent amount of omega-3s, according to Mayo Clinic.
Next: Even the Irish should avoid this kind of beef.
6. Unhealthy: corned beef
Why: majorly increases the fat and calories
Nutritionix shows a 3-ounce serving of corned beef has 210 calories, 16 grams of fat (5 from saturated fat), and 830 milligrams of sodium. The protein content for one serving falls far short for the same amount of grilled chicken breast, too. It’s fine for the occasional treat, but stick to leaner cuts most of the time.
Next: A healthy bird alternative, especially if you love to hunt.
7. Healthy: pheasant
Why: contains iron, vitamins, and selenium
This may sound off-the-wall, but it’s a great alternative to your go-to meats. According to game-to-eat, “Pheasant and partridge also contain a high level of iron, protein, vitamin B6 and selenium, which helps to protect cells from damage caused by free radicals.”
Next: Leave this bird in the pond where it belongs.
8. Unhealthy: Duck
Why: tons of calories and fat
Nutritionix shows ½ cup of roasted duck with skin totals 235 calories, 75% from fat. Eating a diet high in saturated fat can raise bad cholesterol and, according to the AHA, increases your risk of heart disease. Duck also has less protein than our healthier picks. When you want to indulge, ditch the skin to save some calories.
Next: We’re extra thankful for this meat.
9. Healthy: Turkey
Why: a lean meat full of B vitamins
Compared to chicken, a 3-ounce serving of turkey breast has slightly fewer calories and less fat, plus about the same amount of protein. Authority Nutrition says this extra lean meat is full of B vitamins, including selenium, which supports a healthy immune system. The best thing about turkey breast: its versatility. The poultry works well for everything from chili to sandwiches.
Next: Once considered healthy, this meat is linked to colon cancer.
10. Unhealthy: Deli meat
Why: filled with preservatives
WebMD mentions cold cuts are one of the worst foods you can have in your fridge because they’re made with nitrites and have tons of sodium. They’re also associated with an increased risk of colon cancer. While deli meats may seem like a quick, easy way to eat protein, it’s much better to opt for less-processed options, like a slice or two of the aforementioned turkey.