From fish to bacon, a ranking of animal proteins in order of healthfulness

As an average consumer, you probably have a vague awareness of the nutritional value of your animal proteins — fish being better than red meat, for example. The issue can be complicated, because all animal proteins have pros and cons, research can come up with conflicting results, and studies can surprise us. For example, research suggests that in terms of cholesterol alone, eating white meat chicken is as bad for you as eating beef.

Still, there’s a generally agreed upon hierarchy of nutritional value when it comes to animal protein and small shifts in your diet might have greater effects than you realize. In a study of the Danish population, researchers found that Danes could gain more than 7,000 years of healthy life annually if they ate the recommended quantity (12 ounces per week) of fish, while at the same time replacing red and processed meats in their diet.

“It’s important to note that there is no one-size-fits-all healthier diet or meat per se,” said Janese Laster, a physician nutrition specialist in the District. Also crucial? “There are differences in farming practices, so throughout the United States, each person is getting different risks and benefits from the meats.” Keeping that in mind, here are some conclusions that can be made about different categories of animal protein, starting with the good.