White Meat Versus Dark Meat: Which Is Healthier?

By:    Published: January 29, 2012

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For many people the choice between white meat and dark meat is simply a matter of taste. For others, however, they are more concerned with the health indications of this meat choice. Though there are some differences in the health benefits of each of these types of meat, the disparity may not be as significant as most people believe. In this article, you can determine whether white or dark meat is a healthier choice to help steer you in the right direction when deciding which type of meat you should eat in the future.

White Meat: Pros and Cons

White meat (or "light meat") generally refers to the lighter-colored portions of the meat when it comes to poultry, such as chicken or turkey. The white meat is found mostly in the breasts of the birds. The reason white meat has its lighter color is based on the meat-darkening myoglobin in this portion of the bird. Myoglobin is needed for the muscles to get oxygen consistently when used over longer periods of time. Because the breast area is associated with shorts bursts of energy rather than endurance, it contains very little myoglobin.

Many people are staunch proponents of white meat's health benefits, and with good reason. Among the many benefits of eating white meat are:

  • Fewer calories. The Department of Agriculture asserts that a boneless, skinless turkey breast contains only 46 calories, while a boneless, skinless thigh (dark meat) contains 50 calories.
  • Less fat. The same breast and thigh compared contain 1 and 2 grams of fat, respectively.
  • Less cholesterol. According to FitSugar.com, white meat contains lower levels of cholesterol than dark meat.

In addition, many people prefer the taste of white meat to dark meat (some people find the taste of dark meat to be too "gamy"). Since white meat is popular for its taste and widely regarded as the "healthier" type of poultry meat, it is often touted in restaurants and grocery stores offering "all white meat" products.

Dark Meat: Pros and Cons

Dark meat refers to the darker-colored portions of poultry meat. It is generally found in the legs and the thighs of the bird. Since the most commonly eaten birds (chicken and turkey) are basically flightless, these are the parts of the body used for endurance. This leads the legs and thighs to contain more of the meat-darkening myoglobin needed to provide a considerable flow of oxygen for endurance activities.

As explained above, white meat does have fewer calories and fat grams than dark meat. However, those differences are relatively small. In fact, even though it contains a few more calories and fat grams than white meat, dark meat offers many more nutrients than its light-colored counterpart. Some of the nutrients that are found in higher concentrations in dark meat rather than white meat are:

Although many people prefer white meat for its taste, there are certainly some people who also prefer dark meat. These individuals usually find that the dark meat is much juicier and flavorful than the areas of white meat.

The Verdict

Overall, both white and dark meat are relatively good for you, with dark meat offering up a wealth of great nutrients for your body and white meat providing fewer calories and grams of fat. In addition, dark poultry meat is still lower in fat than most cuts of red meat, according to the New York Times. Therefore, eating poultry for protein is an all-around better choice regardless of whether you choose light or dark meat.

If you're concerned about getting the maximum health benefits from your meat, consider the following tips:

  • Eat a combination of both white and dark meat. This is a good way to control calorie and fat intake and cholesterol levels while also getting the great nutrients from dark meat into your diet.
  • Always remove the skin from any white or dark meat that you eat. The skin increases the saturated fat content of a piece of meat considerably.
  • Cut out any significant areas of fat while preparing your poultry meat. This will further reduce the fat content of your meal, regardless of whether it consists mainly of light or dark meat.
  • Look for free-range, organic poultry. Because these animals were raised in a natural setting, the meats won't contain harmful antibiotics, hormones or pesticides.
  • Make sure the meat is cooked thoroughly. One problem many people encounter is the difference in cooking times for white and dark meat since dark meat takes longer to cook. Ensure that every portion of meat has been cooked thoroughly to remove the risk of E.coli and other food-borne illnesses.

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