Beef vs Chicken meat - Health impact and Nutrition Comparison
When making a choice about our meals this question often comes up. Beef or chicken, which meat is healthier and which is the better choice overall? Here we will compare the two, their nutrition and effects on health and discuss the results.
The main difference between these meats can be noticeable to the blind eye and it is the colour. The colour of meat is decided by the amount of myoglobin, and therefore iron, contained in the muscle of the animal. Chicken is classified as poultry and is white meat, whilst beef is considered to be red meat.
Both beef and chicken can be used in many different ways in the kitchen, however the chicken meat is considered to be more versatile.
Out of all types of meat the most widely consumed meat in the world is pork, followed by poultry such as chicken, leaving beef in the third place. In the past 50 years the production of poultry has nearly tripled, whereas beef production has been cut by half (2). There are a few reasons for this drastic change in the consumption of meat, one of them being the fact that chickens are much easier to raise, demanding less feed and are, therefore, cheaper. Beef production also has a significant negative impact on the environment, causing a notable portion of greenhouse gas emissions.
Types of Meat
There are many parts of the animal’s body that can be eaten as meat, each having their own names.
The chicken is divided into three parts: the breast, the wings and the legs. The breast is the most commonly used meat in the chicken and it is also the whitest. The legs consist of the drumstick and the thigh, both being darker meats. The wing meat is lighter than the leg meat.
The meat of the cow is also classified depending on its location, like the chuck (shoulder), the brisket and shank (breast), the rib, the sirloin (hip), the short loin, the sort plate, the flake and the round (1). Each type of meat has different qualities, therefore the preparation methods also change.
In this section we will be comparing chicken meat with broiled ground beef, consisting 85% of lean meat and 15% of fat.
Beef is a little higher in fats and contains more calories, whereas chicken is richer in protein. Thus, chicken is the better option for people on low calories or low fats diets. Both chicken and beef, like most meats, do not contain a notable amount of carbohydrates.
Chicken has a much higher concentration of polyunsaturated fatty acids and a lower concentration of saturated fatty acids. Beef has more monounsaturated fatty acids.
Chicken and beef are equal in the amounts of cholesterol.
Chicken meat is richer in most vitamins: vitamin E, vitamin K, vitamin B1, vitamins B3 and B5 and especially vitamin A. The one important vitamin that beef has more of is vitamin B12.
The two meats are approximately equal in vitamin D, vitamin B2 and vitamin B5 and do not contain vitamin C and vitamin B9.
Beef easily wins in this category, containing a considerably higher amount of iron and zinc and being richer in calcium, potassium and copper. Beef also contains less sodium.
The two are roughly equal in the amounts of magnesium and phosphorus.
The American Heart Association recommends eating poultry such as chicken, instead of red meats, such as beef, pork and lamb. As red meats contain more saturated fatty acids and trans fats, they can raise your blood cholesterol and worsen underlying cardiovascular conditions (3).
However saturated fatty acids are not the only compounds within red meats that can influence the cardiovascular state. Daily consumption of red meat has been shown to triple blood levels of a chemical called trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO), that is produced in the stomach and has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease. Other products that are added in processed red meats, such as sodium, nitrates and their byproducts, may also contribute to their negative health effects. And lastly researches identified that heme iron, which is abundant in red meat, is easily absorbed into the bloodstream and may be another risk factor for cardiovascular health (4).
Lean cuts of beef and non processed meat are advised to consumers that are trying to lead a healthier lifestyle.
Latest studies suggest that higher intake of processed meat, unprocessed red meat and poultry is significantly associated with a small increased risk of incident cardiovascular diseases. Higher consumption of processed meat, unprocessed red meat, but not poultry was associated with an increased risk of all-cause mortality (5). This means that chicken, whilst being healthier for cardiovascular conditions in comparison to beef, is not devoid of its own risks on cardiovascular health.
Both red meat and poultry are associated with an increased risk of developing diabetes. Some studies suggest that people who have a high intake of red meat and poultry consumption are twice as likely to develop diabetes, compared to those who do not consume meat (6). Red meat and processed meat stand out as contributors to risk.
This increase in risk is most likely associated with the heme iron content, that is higher in red meat when compared to poultry. However, after adjusting for heme iron content in the diet, the red meat and diabetes association was still present, suggesting that other chemicals within red meat may also be responsible for the diabetes risk increase. Contrastingly, the association between poultry consumption and diabetes mellitus was lost after the adjustment, suggesting that only the heme iron content in poultry is accountable for the increased risk (7).
The risk of diabetes mellitus type 2 also increases depending on the preparation method of the meat. Recent studies suggest that frequent use of high heat cooking methods, such as broiling, barbequing or grilling and roasting, to prepare beef and chicken, increased the risk of type 2 diabetes. The exact mechanisms are unclear, however some chemicals formed during high heat cooking, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, heterocyclic aromatic amines and nitrosamines, may be potentially responsible for the effect (8).
Substituting red meat and poultry with fish and shellfish has been shown to be a healthier choice for people at risk of developing type 2 diabetes (7). For beef and chicken, cooking them at lower temperatures or at high temperatures for only a short amount of time may decrease the risk.
There have been numerous studies about the increased risk of cancer due to consumption of red and processed meats. Consumption of red meat, such as beef, increases the risk of nasopharynx, pancreas and lung cancers, whilst processed meat additionally increases the risk of esophagus and stomach cancers. Of course the preparation method also plays a role here. High heat cooking methods, such as barbequing, broiling or grilling, increases the risk of stomach cancer (9). Some studies also find an association between red meat intake and breast cancer (10).
In contrast, poultry may lead to a decreased risk of cancers, such as colorectal, esophageal and lung cancers. However one study found an association between eating chicken with the skin on and prostate cancer, potentially due to the compound formations from the high heat cooking (11). Other studies have also found eating poultry to increase the risk of non-Hodgkin lymphomas (10).
While meat allergies are quite rare, they do occur and it is important to be informed about them.
Meat allergies can develop at any point in life. A bite from the Lone Star tick can be the cause of developing meat allergies, related to the compound called alpha-gel. If you are allergic to one type of meat, the risk of being allergic to other types increases. Studies have also found that for children with milk allergies the risk of having a meat allergy is higher (12).
Symptoms are similar to most food allergies, causing an oral allergy syndrome, that includes itching, swelling and redness of the area of the mouth, as well as nausea, vomiting, stomachaches, diarrhea and other symptoms.
Beef vs Chicken Bone Broth
Bone broth is the liquid substance you get after boiling animal bones and connective tissues for a period of time. Other names for this are stock, bouillon or consomme. However there is not a single conclusive definition of what a bone broth is. What to add to this liquid is up to the person making it. So bone broth made from beef or chicken, which is better and how different are they?
Beef having thicker bones, takes a longer amount of time to be made into a broth, compared to the chicken. Chicken is a little easier to digest (13).
Nutritionally chicken and beef bone broth nutrition is similar to the meat; chicken bone broth is higher in proteins and polyunsaturated fats, whilst beef bone broth is higher in minerals. Carbohydrate and sodium concentration depends on the preparation method, additives or the brand.
Overall, both bone broths can be healthy, but it is important to remember to consume them in moderation.
Bans and Religion
Cows are famously considered to be a sacred animal in India’s majority religion Hinduism. Because of this, consumption of beef has been a controversial issue in the country for a long time. Other popular religions in India, such as Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, also prohibit the murder and consumption of cows. Legsilature surrounding cattle slaughter varies from state to state, being completely banned in some states and having no regulations in others.
For people celebrating the Christian period of Lent, all meat consumption during this period is prohibited.
For people following the Islamic law, only Halal meat is acceptable, meaning meat that has been acquired in a prescribed manner in accordance with Muslim dietary laws. Similarly for Jewish people adhering the kosher guidelines, only Kosher foods are acceptable.
In summary, beef contains more calories and fats, whilst chicken is higher in protein. The two meats are equal in the amount of cholesterol and do not contain carbohydrates. Beef is richer in most minerals, except sodium, however chicken meat wins in the vitamin category, conceding only in vitamin B12.
Both beef and chicken can have negative associations with cardiovascular health, diabetic and oncological conditions, however chicken, especially the breast meat, is the healthier choice.
Vitamin and Mineral Summary Scores
Comparison summary table
|Lower in Saturated Fat|
|Lower in price|
|Rich in vitamins|
|Lower in Sodium|
|Rich in minerals|
|Lower in Cholesterol||Equal|
|Lower in Sugars||Equal|
|Lower in glycemic index||Equal|
Which food is preferable in case of diets?
|Low Calories diet|
|Low Fats diet|
|Low Carbs diet||Equal|
|Low glycemic index diet||Equal|
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All nutrients comparison - raw data values
|Folic acid (B9)||0||0|