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  • Writer's pictureAntonella Volpicelli

White Meat vs. Dark Meat: Which is Healthier?

There has been some confusion on whether white meat (or light meat) or dark meat is the “healthier” option. The good news, both of these types, either white or dark meat, provide good nutritional value and great taste.

While both light meat and dark meat are nutritionally sound options, the benefits they provide vary. Know the benefits of light vs. dark meat and how to identify them to decide which kind of meat (if not both) best serves your personal health needs.

A plate with cuts of both white and dark meat, sourced from turkey, all together in a plate.

Which is the healthiest type of meat?

Think of this: a chicken walking around the farm. The legs are the most active part of the chicken. The chicken’s leg muscle is going to require more oxygen to support this movement than a less active part of the chicken, right? The different parts of a bird's body have different functions. This is why different cuts of meat have different colors.

Dark meat, such as the meat found on a chicken leg, has more myoglobin, a type of protein that supplies the active muscles by giving them more oxygen. Myoglobin is dark red in color. This is how dark meat found in chicken legs and thighs gets its color.

Light meat, such as the meat found on a chicken breast, has less myoglobin and is therefore lighter in color.

Beyond affecting color, the differences in myoglobin content between dark and light meat also influence nutritional content. Dark meat has higher levels of zinc and iron. Yes, this may leave you thinking - so is dark meat now healthier than light meat? or vice versa?

Light meat is often perceived as healthier because it has less fat, which leads to fewer calories. Dark meat, on the other hand, has a slightly higher fat content, which is what makes it so much juicier. You’ll find that compared to light meat, dark meat has about 3 more grams of fat and slightly less protein (22 grams vs. 26 grams in light meat). However, the difference in caloric content between dark and light meat is relatively minor. While three ounces of light meat from turkey has 125 calories, the same serving of dark meat has 134 calories — just 9 calories higher! That difference is negligible in the grand scheme of your daily intake.

While light meat may be considered “healthier” than dark meat largely due to its slightly lower fat content, both light and dark meat are good sources of protein and have near equivalent calorie content.

Why light meat is “healthier” than dark meat?

You may still wonder, why is light meat considered the healthier option?

It simplifies in one word: fattier - this is the reason why dark meat is not seen as “healthy.” But it is important to note that the amount of fat in each type of meat is not so different.

For example, a chicken breast (light meat) has around 5 grams of fat. On the other hand, a chicken drumstick with skin (dark meat; skin increases fat content) has about 8 grams of fat. Of course, there is a difference, but it is not enough to make dark meat automatically “less healthy.”

And while the total fat content is an important measure, what’s even more important is that dark meat is higher in unsaturated fat, making the myth of dark meat not being as healthy even less credible. Research shows that swapping saturated fat intake with unsaturated fat decreases heart disease risk factors.

Both light meat and dark meat supply you with energy, nutrients, tons of protein, and good flavor. This should be enough reason to consider both of types of meat healthy, right?

It all comes down to what you prefer and what texture you are looking for.

What pieces of chicken are dark meat and what are light meat?

Chicken includes both dark and light meat - so where do you find each?

Light meat is found in the:

  • Chicken Breast

  • Chicken Wings

On the other hand, dark meat is found in the:

  • Chicken Thighs

  • Chicken Drumsticks

  • Chicken Back

You can find white and dark meat located in the same part of the body for any poultry meat, such as turkey, quail, ducks, and geese.

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