The 5 Healthiest Poultry to Eat, According to a Dietitian – Health.com

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Poultry, encompassing birds such as chicken and turkey, is a vital part of numerous diets worldwide. Defined as any domesticated bird raised for consumption, poultry is a rich source of essential nutrients, notably protein. Protein, a fundamental building block found in every cell of the human body, is needed to build and maintain bones, muscles, and skin.

Choosing lean poultry options like skinless chicken provides you with protein that is lower in fat than other alternatives, which is crucial considering that all animal meats contain saturated fat. Excessive consumption of saturated fat can elevate cholesterol levels, leading to an increased risk of heart disease. Therefore, opting for leaner protein sources is recommended.

This article explores the healthiest poultry choices, nutritionist-approved, to help you with your protein choices.

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Skinless poultry in general is lower in fat compared to their skin-on counterparts. Widely available at many grocery stores, a 100-gram (3.5-ounce) portion of skinless chicken breast offers 106 calories, 22.5 grams (g) of protein, and just 1.93 grams of fat.

Chicken also provides other nutrients. A 100-gram serving of skinless chicken breast supplies 17% of the recommended intake or daily value (DV) for phosphorus. A mineral found in every body cell, phosphorus is needed to make energy and support bone and dental health.

Chicken drumsticks are another lean part of the chicken, providing 116 calories, 19.4 grams of protein, and 3.71 grams of fat in a 100-gram serving.

Chicken in general offers B vitamins like niacin or vitamin B3. Niacin plays a role in metabolic function and energy production. A 100-gram portion of skinless chicken drumstick provides 33% of the DV for niacin.

An easy way to cook chicken for a complete meal is to oven-roast with vegetables. Season the chicken with herbs and spices, then roast alongside chopped vegetables like potatoes, carrots, and onions. Roast until tender and cooked through, aiming for an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, as with all poultry.


Turkey is a versatile protein choice suitable year-round, beyond holiday occasions. Similar to chicken, it boasts a lean and high-protein profile, with a 100-gram (3.5-ounce) portion of skinless turkey breast providing 114 calories, 23.7 grams of protein, and 1.48 grams of fat.

Other lean turkey parts include the back, wings, and drumstick, offering less than 3 grams of fat in a 100-gram serving.

Like other poultry and meats, turkey is rich in B vitamins, phosphorus, as well as selenium, an important nutrient for reproduction and the thyroid (a gland that regulates body temperature and metabolism, among other functions). Selenium also helps protect the body from germs and harmful free radicals. A 100-gram serving of turkey breast supplies 41% of the DV for selenium.

A quick way to incorporate turkey into your diet is by adding sliced turkey breast to salads, wraps, or sandwiches for a protein-rich and flavorful meal on the go.

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Cornish game hen, also known as Rock Cornish game hen, is an immature chicken, younger than five weeks old, of either sex. Cornish game hens are small and are sold whole and served as an individual bird per person. Because they are butchered young, some find the taste of Cornish Game Hen to be more tender compared to regular chicken.

Cornish game hens are fairly lean, with half of a hen (120 grams or about 4 ounces), meat only, providing 139 calories, 24 grams of protein, and 4 grams of fat.

The same serving size of Cornish game hen supplies 14% of the DV for zinc. Animal meats in general are a good source of zinc. Zinc supports the immune system and is required for proper growth and development. It also helps with wound healing and a proper sense of taste.

To cook Cornish game hen, start by rubbing it with salt and seasonings like lemon pepper and basil. Then stuff the cavity with vegetables like onion, bell pepper, and celery. Roast the hen for about an hour until it reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

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Quail is a small game bird that has a flavor similar to chicken but with a slightly richer, tender, and more pronounced gamey taste. It’s also fairly lean, with a 100-gram (3.5-ounce) serving, meat only, providing 134 calories, 21.8 grams of protein, and 4.53 grams of fat.

Like other poultry and animal meats, quail provides several vitamins and minerals, including those already mentioned such as B vitamins, zinc, and phosphorus.

Quail is especially rich in iron, providing 25% of the nutrient in a 3.5-ounce serving, more than chicken and turkey typically offer. Iron is a key component of hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that transports oxygen from the lungs to tissues throughout the body. It’s also involved in making hormones.

Quail is usually sold whole or in pieces like breast fillets and legs. Some stores offer marinated or seasoned quail ready for cooking.

Quail can be roasted, grilled, or pan-seared much like chicken. However, quail typically requires less cooking time than chicken due to its smaller size and delicacy.

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Rich and earthy in taste compared to chicken, pheasant is another lean poultry worth mentioning. The pheasant is a large bird that originated from Asia, though you can find it in the U.S. at online retailers and at some butcher shops and upscale grocery stores.

A 100-gram (3.5-ounce) portion of pheasant, meat only, provides 133 calories, 23.6 grams of protein, and 3.64 grams of fat. Pheasant is a good source of nutrients. It’s especially high in selenium (29% of the DV), niacin (42% of the DV), and vitamin B12 (35% of the DV).

You can roast stuffed pheasant, similar to how you would roast a turkey. Slow cooking is another popular cooking method. Slow-cook pheasant with seasonings and vegetables like carrots and onions in flavorful liquids like wine, broth, or cider.

Recommendations for protein, carbohydrates, and fat vary widely and depend on factors like age, weight, physical activity, and medical conditions.

As for protein recommendations, 10-35% of calories is recommended and a daily intake of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (g/kg) is the minimum to prevent deficiencies. However, research shows that a daily intake of 1.2 g/kg slows down age-related muscle and bone loss, also known as sarcopenia. Other studies report that healthy adults can tolerate a daily intake of 2 g/kg or more. Consult a healthcare provider or registered dietitian for personalized and professional nutrition advice.

For optimal health, meet your dietary protein needs with a variety of lean sources to access a spectrum of essential nutrients and alleviate mealtime monotony. Include a mix of plant proteins as well as they provide fiber and antioxidants. In addition to skinless poultry, other examples of lean protein sources include:

  • 93% lean ground beef
  • Lean beef and pork cuts like round, top sirloin, and tenderloin (fat trimmed)
  • Seafood
  • Eggs
  • Low-fat or non-fat dairy
  • Soy products like edamame and soy milk
  • Legumes (beans, lentils, and peas)
  • Nuts
  • Seeds

Dietary guidelines advocate for substituting processed or high-fat meats with lean protein choices due to their lower sodium and saturated fat content, which are often overconsumed. Excessive intake of sodium and saturated fats can elevate blood pressure and cholesterol levels, heightening the risk of heart disease. Avoid high-fat or processed meats like hot dogs, sausage, and bacon to promote heart health and overall well-being and replace them with lean proteins.

Making an informed choice about the kind of protein you consume is vital for your overall health. By opting for lean protein options and avoiding processed or high-fat meats, you can mitigate the risks associated with excessive sodium and saturated fat intake. Prioritizing a balanced diet rich in lean proteins not only supports overall health but also ensures a diverse array of essential nutrients.

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