Is White Meat Healthier Than Dark Meat?

Drumstick or breast? You may have a flavour preference, but how does eating white meat vs. dark meat impact your health?

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The benefits of eating white or dark meat poultry aren’t as clear as black and white. Unfortuantely, there are many myths surrounding the colour of meat that are still pervasive.

Let’s dive deeper into the white meat vs. dark meat debate.

The Case For White Meat

There are several compelling reasons for dieters to choose white meat over dark meat. First of all, white meat has fewer calories per ounce when compared with dark meat. A 3.5-ounce serving of roasted light meat chicken contains 173 calories, while the same portion of dark meat chicken contains 205 calories. If you’re using caloric restriction as your weight loss method, this difference in caloric density should be enough to have you sticking to breast meat at your next turkey dinner.

In addition to being lower in calories, white meat also contains more protein than dark meat. A 3.5-ounce portion of cooked light meat chicken will provide you with 31 grams of protein, while the same size serving of dark meat will only deliver 27 grams of protein. Four grams of protein may not sound significant, but for many dieters, getting in enough protein is a daily struggle. If you’re trying to lose fat while holding onto your hard-earned muscle mass, meeting your daily protein need can be a critical piece of the puzzle.

The Case For Dark Meat

Calories and protein might be a priority if your goal is getting lean. However, there are other nutritional aspects to consider when selecting a cut of meat. The vitamin and mineral content in dark meat and white meat isn’t the same.

Farmed chickens and turkeys walk, but they don’t fly. Thus, their breast and wing meat isn’t as muscular as their leg and thigh meat. Wild game poultry like ducks and geese fly and walk, so most of their meat is dark.

The dark meat gets its colour from myoglobin, an iron-rich substance found in muscle cells. Therefore, dark meat is a better source of iron, a mineral that many of us are deficient in. Compared to white meat chicken, dark meat contains more zinc, selenium, and B vitamins: riboflavin, thiamine, vitamins B6 and B12.

On the other hand, white meat chicken is a better source of the B vitamin niacin and magnesium, another mineral many Americans don’t get enough of.

A closer look at the nutrient content of white and dark meat indicates that both provide vital nutrients. If you’re focused on improving your health through a balanced diet, consider consuming a mix of both white and dark meat, or simply choose the one you like best.

The Truth About Dark Meat And Heart Disease

In the past, nutrition and health experts have advised patients avoid dark meat because it has a higher saturated fat content. For example, 3.5 ounces of cooked white meat chicken contains 4.5 grams total fat and 1.2 grams saturated fat, while the same amount of cooked dark meat chicken contains 9.7 grams total fat and 2.7 grams saturated fat. But it turns out avoiding dark meat may not do much to thwart heart disease.

The hypothesis that linked saturated fat consumption to an increased risk of heart disease isn’t fully supported by scientific research. Rather, it leans heavily on observational data and animal studies. In fact, a review of 21 individual scientific studies published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests there’s no link between heart disease and saturated fat in the diet.

Not only does it seem that dark meat is not linked to heart disease, it might even reduce some risk factors for heart disease. A study by researchers at the New York University School of Medicine discovered that dark meat poultry is a good source of the heart disease-fighting nutrient taurine.

Taurine is a known anti-inflammatory nutrient that it is involved in blood pressure regulation, nerve function and bile acid production, which breaks down fat. The researchers found that taurine was linked to a lowered risk of coronary heart disease in women with high cholesterol. While this study wasn’t conclusive, it’s encouraging news for those of us who love drumsticks!

Furthermore, because its higher in fat, dark meat is commonly thought to taste better and makes for thicker, more flavourful stocks.

Bottom Line

Both white and dark meat are valuable sources of protein, minerals and vitamins. Whether you should choose white or dark meat depends on your health history and goals, but first and foremost, on your taste preferences.

Eating dark meat won’t make you gain more weight than if you eat white meat. The real culprits of weight gain in the case of eating poultry are actually the heavy sauces, gravies, breading and other unhealthy accoutrements we add to our dishes.

Choose your favourite meat, avoid processed or sugary sauces, and fill the rest of your plate with healthy fats, veggies and complex carbs. You’ll be well on your way to excellent health — regardless of which part of the bird you like best.