Beef vs. Chicken meat — Health Impact and Nutrition Comparison
In summary, beef contains more calories and fats, while chicken meat is higher in protein. The two types of meat are equal in 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 B9 and vitamin B12.
Both beef and chicken can have negative associations with cardiovascular health, diabetes, and oncological conditions; however, chicken, especially breast meat, is the healthier choice.
Table of contents
When choosing our meals, this question often comes up. Which meat is healthier and which is the better choice for, beef or chicken? Here we will compare beef and chicken meat, their nutrition and effects on health, and discuss the results.
The main difference in appearance between these meats is readily apparent; it is the color. The amount of myoglobin decides the color of meat, and therefore iron, contained in the animal’s muscle. Chicken is considered poultry and white meat, while beef is red meat.
Both beef and chicken can be used in many different ways in the kitchen; however, chicken meat is considered more versatile.
Of all types of meat, the most widely consumed meat in the world is pork, followed by poultry such as chicken, leaving beef in third place. In the past 50 years, poultry production has nearly tripled, whereas beef production has been cut by half (2). There are a few reasons for this drastic change in meat consumption: chickens are much easier to raise, demand less feed, and are, therefore, cheaper to produce. Beef production also has a significantly larger negative impact on the environment, causing a notable portion of greenhouse gas emissions.
Types of Meat
Many parts of the animal’s body can be used as food, each having its name.
The chicken is divided into three parts: the breast, the wings, and the legs. The breast is the most commonly used meat in chicken, and it is also the lightest in color. The legs consist of the drumstick and the thigh, both darker types of meat. 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 sorting 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 roasted chicken meat and skin with broiled ground beef, consisting of 85% lean meat and 15% fat.
Both chicken and beef, like most meats, do not contain a notable amount of carbohydrates and have a glycemic index of 0. Beef is slightly higher in fats and contains more calories, whereas chicken is richer in protein. Thus, chicken is the better option for people on low-calorie or low-fat diets.
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 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 two essential vitamins that beef has more of are vitamin B12 and folate.
The two types of meat are approximately equal in vitamin D, vitamin B2, and vitamin B5 and do not contain vitamin C.
Beef easily wins in this category, containing a considerably higher amount of iron and zinc and is 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 influence the cardiovascular state. Daily consumption of red meat has been shown to triple blood levels of a chemical called trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO), produced in the stomach and linked to an increased risk of heart disease. Other products added to processed red meats, such as sodium, nitrates, and their byproducts, may also contribute to their adverse health effects. And lastly, researchers identified that heme iron, 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 trying to lead a healthier lifestyle.
Latest studies suggest that a 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 while being healthier for cardiovascular conditions than beef, is not devoid of its risks to cardiovascular health.
Both red meat and poultry are associated with an increased risk of developing diabetes. Some studies suggest that people with high red meat and poultry intake 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 the risk.
This increase in risk is most likely associated with the heme iron content, which 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, barbecuing, or grilling and roasting, to prepare beef and chicken increases 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 responsible for the effect (8).
Substituting red meat and poultry with fish and shellfish has been studied to be a healthier choice for people at risk of developing type 2 diabetes (7). Cooking beef and chicken at lower temperatures or high temperatures for only a short time may decrease the risk.
Numerous studies have shown the increased risk of cancer due to the consumption of red and processed meats. Consumption of red meat, such as beef, increases the risk of nasopharynx, pancreas, and lung cancers, while 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 barbecuing, broiling, or grilling, increase the risk of stomach cancer (9). Some studies also find an association between red meat intake and breast cancer (10).
In contrast, poultry may decrease the risk of cancers, such as colorectal, esophageal, and lung cancers. However, one study found an association between eating chicken with the skin and prostate cancer, potentially due to the compound formations from the high heat cooking (11). Other studies have also found eating poultry increases the risk of non-Hodgkin lymphomas (10).
While meat allergies are rare, they occur especially red meat allergies. Hence, it is essential to be informed about them.
Meat allergies can develop at any point in life. A bite from the Lone Star tick can cause developing meat allergies related to the compound 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, including itching, swelling, and redness of the mouth area, as well as nausea, vomiting, stomachaches, diarrhea, and other symptoms.
Beef vs. Chicken Bone Broth
Bone broth is the liquid after boiling animal bones and connective tissues. 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 chicken. Chicken broth is a little easier to digest.
Nutritionally chicken and beef bone broth are similar to the meat’s nutrition; chicken bone broth is higher in proteins and polyunsaturated fats, while beef bone broth is higher in minerals. Carbohydrate and sodium concentration depends on the preparation method, additives, or brand.
Bone broths can be healthy, but it is essential to remember to consume them in moderation.
Bans and Religion
Cows are famously considered sacred animals in India’s majority religion - Hinduism. Because of this, beef consumption has been a controversial issue in the country for a long time. Other religions in India, such as Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism, also prohibit the murder and consumption of cows. Legislature 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 Islamic law, only Halal meat is acceptable, meaning meat acquired in a prescribed manner by Muslim dietary laws. Similarly, for Jewish people adhering to the kosher guidelines, only Kosher foods are acceptable.
Fat Type Comparison
Comparison summary table
|Lower in Saturated Fat|
|Lower in price|
|Rich in vitamins|
|Lower in Sodium|
|Lower in Sugar||Equal|
|Lower in Cholesterol||Equal|
|Lower in Glycemic Index||Equal|
|Rich in minerals||Equal|
All nutrients comparison - raw data values
|Vitamin A RAE||3µg||48µg|
|Omega-3 - DHA||0.001g||0.04g|
|Omega-3 - EPA||0.003g||0.01g|
|Omega-3 - DPA||0.016g||0.02g|
|Omega-6 - Gamma-linoleic acid||0.012g|
|Omega-3 - ALA||0.044g|
Which food is preferable for your diet?
|Low Fats diet|
|Low Carbs diet||Equal|
|Low Calories diet|
|Low Glycemic Index diet||Equal|