Spectacular 2nd Edition of the World's Healthiest Foods is now complete and ready to order at the same low price of $39.95. You will also receive 2 free gifts valued at $51.95
To order and more. . .
The George Mateljan Foundation, a not-for-profit foundation with no commercial interests or
advertising, is a new force for change to help make a healthier you and a healthier world.
Why do you include lean meat and poultry in the World's Healthiest Foods?

Large studies like the China Study (and numerous other studies, including the Oxford Study and repeated studies on Seventh-Day Adventists) have clearly shown health benefits from a vegetarian diet. As a whole, the research on diet and health shows better protection from disease when a vegetarian versus non-vegetarian diet is followed. We believe that the research lends support to any personal decision to follow a vegetarian diet and that a high-quality vegetarian diet can provide outstanding nourishment and health.

However, we still chose to include lean meat and poultry in the World's Healthiest Foods for three basic reasons: (1) these foods have research-tested health benefits, (2) they are a rich source of certain nutrients that are often found deficient in the average U.S. diet, and (3) some people really enjoy these foods and feel much better when they are included as part of their diet. We don't believe that lean meats and poultry are for everyone, or that they are a required in a diet. Nor do we think about them in the same way that we think about vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts, or seeds. But the potential benefits of lean meat and poultry in a healthy diet are many. Here are more details about those benefits and your best way of obtaining them.

Key Nutrients in Lean Meat

In the average U.S. diet, about one half of the zinc and about one-quarter of the iron come from meat, particularly beef. While you cannot rely on lean meats to meet all of your zinc and iron needs and still need to include other zinc- and iron-rich foods in your overall diet, lean meats can make a major contribution for both nutrients. Perhaps the most dramatic example of meat as a key nutrient source, however, is vitamin B12. The average U.S. diet only provides less than half of the DV for this nutrient, and lean beef can provide 60% of the DV for vitamin B12 in one 4-ounce serving. Of course, there are other sources for this important nutrient; in our rating system, seafoods such as sardines, salmon, tuna, code, scallops, and shrimp classify as excellent sources while yogurt, milk, cheese, and eggs qualified as very good sources. Spinach, asparagus, shiitake mushrooms, and crimini mushrooms are very good sources of zinc while spinach, Swiss chard, and beet greens are among the WHFoods that are most iron-rich.

Fortunately, research studies have shown that you can eat lean cuts of beef and still enjoy the full benefits of its zinc and iron and vitamin B12. If you enjoy beef and do well when it is included in your diet, these findings are important. They make it clear that you can enjoy these nutrient benefits of lean beef while simultaneously avoiding potentially unwanted levels of saturated fat and total fat in non-lean cuts.

Health Research on Lean Meat

Unlike many former research studies on meat that did pay attention to the difference between high-fat and low-fat meats, recent studies have looked at these types of meat and come up with some often unexpected findings. For example, did you know that when a moderate amount of lean beef (5-6 ounces cooked) is substituted for foods like breads and pastas and rice in the diet, there's a slight decrease in the likelihood of inflammation and oxidative stress? Since unwanted inflammation and oxidative stress are risk factors for heart disease and type 2 diabetes, this research suggests that individuals who enjoy a moderate amount lean beef can do so without worrying it increasing their risk of these two potential health problems. Similarly, in recent research where two-thirds of all daily protein came from either lean beef, lean poultry, or lean fish, lean meats were found to help lower levels of total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol as effectively as lean fish. (The lean fish did provide one health benefit that the lean meats did not, however, and that was the increasing of HDL cholesterol.)

These lean meat studies stand in clear contrast to studies on meat in which fattier meats and processed meats are included. In those studies, the higher saturated fat content of fatty meats almost always shows a trend toward increased disease risk, especially coronary heart disease. The take-away message here seems especially clear: if you enjoy meats and decide to include them in your diet, stick with lean cuts only and keep the amounts to a moderate level.

If you're trying to decide between lean red meat (like beef round steak) and lean poultry (like skinned chicken breast), there's evidence that moderate amounts (6 ounces or less) of both can work equally well in lowering LDL cholesterol level (if your LDL cholesterol is too high). In addition, although the evidence is not as strong and involves some mixed findings in various studies, there may be a potential for lean meats to slightly raise your HDL cholesterol as well. i On balance, these findings are good news for anyone with cholesterol problems who would like a variety of meat options and still wants to follow a program like the National Cholesterol Education Program's Step 1 Diet.

Practical Tip

If you enjoy meat and feel better when meat is part of your diet, lean meats can make important nutrient contributions to your weekly diet. In addition, if kept to a moderate level of 5-6 ounces and woven into a healthy overall diet, lean meats can do a good job of keeping your heart disease and type 2 diabetes risk factors in check. The key here is lean! Fattier meats provide excess saturated fat and total fat and increase your disease risk factors. Stick with cuts of beef like top round, bottom round, or eye of round, and white meat poultry including skinned chicken breast. If you feel like you do better with no meat whatsoever in your diet, you can omit lean meats completely and still stay optimally healthy; just make sure that some of the key nutrients provided by lean meats — like protein, zinc, vitamin B12, and iron — are provided in ample amounts from the foods you choose.


  • Beauchesne-Rondeau E, Gascon A, Bergeron J, et al. Plasma lipids and lipoproteins in hypercholesterolemic men fed a lipid-lowering diet containing lean beef, lean fish, or poultry. Am J Clin Nutr 2003 Mar;77(3):587-93. 2003.
  • Davidson MH, Hunninghake D, Maki KC, et al. Comparison of the effects of lean red meat vs lean white meat on serum lipid levels among free-living persons with hypercholesterolemia: A long-term, randomized clinical trial. Archives of Internal Medicine. 1999;159(12):1331-1339. 1999.
  • Duckett SK, Wagner DG, Yates LD, et al. Effects of time on feed on beef nutrient composition. Journal of Animal Science. 1993;71(8): 2079-2088. 1993.
  • Fung TT, Chiuve SE, McCullough ML, et al. Adherence to a DASH-Style Diet and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease and Stroke in Women. Arch Intern Med. Apr 2008;168:713 - 720. 2008.
  • Fung TT, Willett W, Stampfer MJ, et al. Dietary Patterns and the Risk of Coronary Heart Disease in Women. Arch Intern Med, Aug 2001;161:1857-1862. 2001.
  • Hodgson JM, Ward NC, Burke V, et al. Increased Lean Red Meat Intake Does Not Elevate Markers of Oxidative Stress and Inflammation in Humans. J. Nutr. Feb 2007;137:363-367. 2007.
  • Hu FB, Rimm EB, Stampfer MJ, et al. Prospective study of major dietary patterns and risk of coronary heart disease in men. Am J Clin Nutr 2000 Oct;72(4):912-21. 2000. PMID:19540.
  • Hu FB, Stampfer MJ, Manson JE, et al. Dietary saturated fats and their food sources in relation to the risk of coronary heart disease in women. Am. J. Clinical Nutrition. Dec 1999;70:1001-1008. 1999.
  • Key TJ, et al. Mortality in vegetarians and nonvegetarians: detailed findings from a collaborative analysis of 5 prospective studies. Am J Clin Nutr 1999; 70(suppl): 516S-24S. 1999.
  • Sinclair AJ, Johnson L, O'Dea K, et al. Diets rich in lean beef increase arachidonic acid and long-chain omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acid levels in plasma phospholipids. Lipids 1994 May;29(5):337-43. 1994.
  • Snetselaar L, Stumbo P, Chenard C, et al. Adolescents eating diets rich in either lean beef or lean poultry and fish reduced fat and saturated fat intake and those eating beef maintained serum ferritin status. J Am Diet Assoc 2004 Mar;104(3):424-8. 2004.
  • Wolmarans P, Laubscher JA, van der Merwe S, et al. Effects of a prudent diet containing either lean beef and mutton or fish and skinless chicken on the plasma lipoproteins and fatty acid composition of triacylglycerol and cholesteryl ester of hypercho. J Nutr Biochem 1999 Oct;10(10):598-608. 1999.

Printer friendly version

Send this page to a friend...


If you want to learn everything about how to eat and cook healthier, here's the book for you.
2nd Edition
Order this Incredible 2nd Edition at the same low price of $39.95 and also get 2 FREE gifts valued at $51.95. Read more

Newsletter SignUp

Your Email:

What You Should Know This Week

Find out what foods you should eat this week, the recipe and nutrient of the week, and the Smart Menu on our home page.

Healthy Eating
Healthy Cooking
Nutrients from Food
Website Articles
Privacy Policy and Visitor Agreement
For education only, consult a healthcare practitioner for any health problems.

We're Number 1
in the World!

35 million visitors per year.
The World's Healthiest Foods website is a leading source of information and expert on the Healthiest Way of Eating and Cooking. It's one of the most visited website on the internet when it comes to "Healthiest Foods" and "Healthiest Recipes" and comes up #1 on a Google search for these phrases.

Over 100 Quick &
Easy Recipes

Our Recipe Assistant will help you find the recipe that suits your personal needs. The majority of recipes we offer can be both prepared and cooked in 20 minutes or less from start to finish; a whole meal can be prepared in 30 minutes. A number of them can also be prepared ahead of time and enjoyed later.

World's Healthiest
is expanded

What's in our new book:
  • 180 more pages
  • Smart Menu
  • Nutrient-Rich Cooking
  • 300 New Recipes
  • New Nutrient Articles and Profiles
  • New Photos and Design
privacy policy and visitor agreement | who we are | site map | what's new
For education only, consult a healthcare practitioner for any health problems.
© 2001-2015 The George Mateljan Foundation, All Rights Reserved