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White Meat vs. Dark Meat: Which One Is Better for You?

To choose the proper meat, whether you’re on a meat-based diet or not, you should consider the type of meat. White, dark, and red are the three most common types. The first two come from poultry and fish, and the last one from ruminant meat. Red meat aside, to choose between white meat vs. dark meat, you must learn about their nutritional profile and health benefits, and see how they align with your goals and needs.

White Meat vs. Dark Meat: Which One Is Better for You?
Highlights
  • Both white and dark meat are of the same kind and refer to different organs of poultry and fish.
  • White meat refers to the breast and wings of poultry while dark meat refers to the legs and thighs of poultry. Also, many kinds of fish, like cod and haddock, are considered white meat.
  • Dark meat contains more fat and iron, but white meat has more protein and fewer carbohydrates.
  • Dark meat has a richer flavor because of its higher fat content, but white meat is more versatile and adapted to many cooking methods.
  • Choosing whether white meat or dark meat is healthier depends on your goals and health condition.

What Is White Meat?

White meat refers to a type of meat that is pale and light in color before cooking. It includes poultry, such as chicken and turkey breast and wings, duck and geese. Some fish like tilapia, cod, and haddock are also considered white meat, even though certain types have a red color.

Generally, white meat takes less time to be cooked compared to other kinds of meat. This type of meat is healthier because it contains lower levels of unhealthy fats and high protein, making it a nutritious choice [source].

A 2015 study supported the idea that white meat, with its low fat and high protein content, can contribute to a healthy diet [source].

So, you can use chicken, turkey, or certain types of fish like salmon as white meat for a tasty and nutritious meal, as they contain various essential nutrients.

The Nutrient of White Meat

White meat like chicken breast contains nutrients essential for the body, including:

  • Fat
  • Protein
  • Niacin
  • Vitamins
  • Potassium
  • Calcium

Fat

White meat contains low levels of healthy fats, including monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These fats have a strong relationship and positive impact on reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes by promoting healthy cholesterol levels, improving blood vessel function, and enhancing insulin sensitivity [source].

Protein

White meat is a rich source of protein essential for building and repairing tissues and muscles. Protein is also involved in many bodily processes, like enzyme production, hormone regulation, and immune function [source].

Niacin

White meat is a good source of Niacin, which is essential for energy production and metabolism and also plays a key role in maintaining the health of the skin, nerves, and digestive system [source].

Vitamins

White meat is a rich source of vitamins B and D, which are involved in the production of red blood cells, normal brain development, keeping the nerve and immune system healthy, and making antibodies needed to fight viruses, infections, bacteria, etc. [source] [source].

Potassium

Another mineral in white meat is potassium, an electrolyte that regulates blood pressure and heartbeat, maintains fluid balance, and facilitates communication between muscles and the brain [source].

Calcium

Calcium is an essential mineral in white meat, which helps strengthen bones and teeth. It also positively impacts blood clotting and muscle movement and helps maintain a healthy heart and nerves [source].

The following table shows the levels of calories, fat, cholesterol, protein, and minerals in 100 grams of chicken breast, a popular white meat [source]:

CaloriesFatCholesterolCarbohydratesProteinNiacinvitaminesPotassiumCalcium
165 kcal 3.6 g 85 mg 0 g 31 g 14 mg 1.7 g 256 mg 15 mg

Consuming these nutrients can have various health benefits for our bodies.

The Health Benefits of White Meat

  • Reducing the Risk of Heart Disease: White meat is a rich source of unsaturated fats, specifically monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are healthy fats that help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol while raising HDL (good) cholesterol [source].
  • Improving Bone Health: White meat is a good source of phosphorus, a mineral supporting bone health. Phosphorus makes up about 1/3 of the mineral content of bone and is required for bone formation, growth, and repair [source].
  • Boosting Immunity: Vitamin B12 in white meat is crucial for immune function and helps produce red blood cells, which deliver oxygen and nutrients to cells throughout the body, including immune cells [source].
  • Promoting Weight Loss: White meat is a lean protein source, meaning it is low in unhealthy fats and calories. Protein is essential for satiety, the feeling of fullness that helps control appetite and prevent overeating [source].
  • Lowering the Risk of Cancer: Eating white meat, particularly chicken and fish, has been shown to reduce the risk of some types of cancer, including colon cancer [source]. This effect is mainly because of the high content of selenium, an antioxidant that helps protect cells from damage caused by free radicals [source]. Additionally, white meat contains Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA), a fatty acid with anti-cancer properties [source].

Learn More: Carnivore Diet and Cholesterol: Everything You Should Know

Another type of meat from poultry and fish is dark meat. Unlike red meat which comes from ruminants, both white and dark meats come mainly from poultry and fish, but from different animal organs.

'Meat saved our lives': These people lost 200 lbs and healed 5 common chronic diseases with Carnivore.

What Is Dark Meat?

Dark meat refers to the meat primarily found in the legs and thighs of poultry. These parts are darker in color compared to white meat parts because of the presence of a protein called myoglobin.

Myoglobin plays an important role in storing oxygen for muscle function. The higher amount of myoglobin in cells gives dark meat its reddish or darker color [source].

Generally, white meat and dark meat are similar in nutritional content, but the levels of these nutrients are different.

The Nutrient of Dark Meat

Both dark and white meats are nutritious sources of protein, but they have different nutrient profiles. Dark meat is higher in fat and iron, while white meat is lower in fat and higher in niacin and vitamin B6.

The following table shows the nutritional value of 100 grams of dark meat chicken [source]:

CaloriesFatCholesterolCarbohydratesProteinNiacinvitaminesPotassiumCalcium
214 kcal 14 g 128 mg 0.1 g 23 g 6.5 mg 2.2 g 254 mg 11 mg

This nutritional profile shows that dark meat is a good protein source with fewer carbohydrates and different benefits for the body. Let’s see what these benefits are.

The Health Benefits of Dark Meat

  • Better Oxygen Transport: Dark meat is a good source of iron, an essential mineral that helps carry oxygen through the body. Iron deficiency can lead to anemia, causing symptoms like fatigue, weakness, and shortness of breath [source].
  • Boosting Immunity: Dark meat is higher in zinc than white meat. Zinc is an important mineral that supports immune function, wound healing, and cell growth [source].
  • Better Blood Sugar and Cholesterol Control: Dark meat is higher in niacin than white meat. Niacin is a B vitamin that helps regulate blood sugar levels, lower cholesterol, and improve blood circulation [source].
  • Rich in Healthy Fats: Dark meat contains a higher proportion of healthy fats than white meat, which are good for providing sustained energy and supporting various bodily functions like hormone production and cell structure.

So, to decide which meat best suits your needs and goals - maybe even both - you can check out the table below, which summarizes the main differences between dark and white meats.

Dark Meat vs. White Meat

The difference between dark and white meat is not limited to differences in nutrients. They are different even in taste and type of cooking.

Let’s take a look at the nutritional comparison between 100 grams of white meat vs. dark meat in the following table.

Meat TypeCalories (kcal)Fat (g)Cholesterol (mg)Carbohydrates (g)Protein (g)Vitamins (g)Potassium (mg)Calcium (mg)
White Meat 165 3.6 85 0 31 1.7 256 15
Dark Meat 214 14 128 0.1 23 2.2 254 11

These differences in nutrients cause many differences in the properties, benefits, taste, and even the best cooking methods of white and black meat.

Fat Content

Dark meat contains more fat than white meat because dark meat contains more myoglobin, which is a kind of fat that adds to the flavor and texture of dark meat [source].

Iron Content

Dark meat has more iron than white meat. Iron plays a vital role in oxygen transport in the body and is crucial for maintaining energy levels, cognitive function, and overall health [source].

General Nutrient Profile

White meat is a valuable source of essential nutrients, including protein, niacin, vitamin B6, and selenium, despite its lower fat content.

Flavor and Cooking Methods

White meat can be used in many recipes and is adapted to various cooking methods. Grilling, baking, roasting, and poaching are all suitable techniques for preparing white meat.

Additionally, white meat can be used in stir-fries, salads, and creative diets, while dark meat has less diversity, and is often better for dishes that take longer to be cooked, such as stews.

Also, white and dark meats have different tastes. So, you can choose the one that best matches your preferences. 

Which Meat Tastes Better?

Generally, whether you like the taste of dark and white meat is a matter of personal preference. However, the taste of the meat can be influenced by various factors like the cut of meat, cooking methods, and seasoning [source]. 

Dark meat generally provides a richer and more flavorful taste due to its higher fat content. However, white meat tends to have a milder and more delicate flavor, as some even describe it as being bland or tasteless, which is mainly because of lower fat content and less CLA [source].

Generally, dark meat is more delicious, but white meat is more flexible for diets and recipes, so which one is better?

White vs. Dark Meat: Which Should You Choose?

Well, you should choose the meat that aligns with your preferences, goals, and specific needs.

  • If you're watching your overall fat intake, particularly saturated and unhealthy fats, white meat is a healthier choice, especially for those who have heart disease or diabetes [source].
  • If you prefer a subtle flavor in your protein dishes, white meat can be a good choice. But if you wish to boost your iron intake, dark meat is a rich source.
  • If you don’t have much time for cooking, white meat cooks faster than dark meat.

Personal choices and decisions aside, can we label any of these meats as a healthier option?

Is the White Meat healthier?

To name one of these kinds of meat healthier, you need to consider your personal goals and needs. Each type of meat has its own benefits due to its specific nutritional profile.

For those following a high-fat diet like the Carnivore diet, dark meat can be a better option. Dark meat is rich in nutrients, such as iron and zinc, which is a good option for those who lack these nutrients [source].

Also, if you’re focusing on weight loss, white meat is better as it is lower in calories, cholesterol, and carbohydrates [source].

Summary

Meat, as an important part of many diets, has various benefits. The best kinds of meat for you are the ones that align well with your goals and health condition.

You can also consult a healthcare professional or registered dietitian to ensure what type of meat helps you reach your health and fitness goals.

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