Should You Be Eating More Dark Meat?
By Christine Yu; Photograph by
We asked experts to settle the debate once and for all.
Light meat or dark meat? While everyone may have their personal favourite cut of chicken, you’ve probably heard that white meat is the healthier pick—fewer kilojoules and less fat—while dark meat gets a bum rap as the bad-for-you choice.
The difference between white and dark meat has to do with more than just fat and kilojoules though. It actually depends on the type of muscle the meat contains. The more myoglobin (the oxygen-binding and transporting protein found in muscle tissue), the darker the colour of the meat.
Since chickens and turkeys run and walk, their leg and thigh muscles work harder and need more oxygen. That means, they have more myoglobin, says Meme Inge, registered dietician. On the flip side, white meat can be found in breast, breast tenderloin, and wings.
However, how does the colour difference truly translate nutrition-wise? Dark meat does indeed have more kilojoules and more than double the saturated fat compared to white meat, according to registered dietician Marisa Moore. To compare, one roasted chicken thigh has 8.6 grams of fat, 2.7 grams of which are saturated fat. The equivalent amount of roasted breast meat has about four grams of fat, 1.1 grams of which are saturated fats. (Meanwhile, just one tablespoon of coconut oil has 11 grams of saturated fat—half of your daily limit). “It’s important to note that the majority of fat in both white and dark meat is unsaturated, with monounsaturated fats being the highest,” Moore says. So even though dark meat has more saturated fat (and more fat overall) than white meat, both are still primarily made up of healthier monounsaturated fats.
But like white meat, dark meat is also a vitamin and mineral powerhouse. According to Inge, it’s an excellent source of vitamin B6, zinc, niacin, selenium, and phosphorus in addition to iron, riboflavin, and pantothenic acid, which your body needs to synthesise and metabolise protein, carbs, and fat. In fact, one roasted chicken thigh without skin has the same amount of iron (1.1 mg) as an equivalent amount of roasted chicken breast without skin, according to the USDA. “The iron in dark meat is more easily absorbed than the iron found in plants,” she says.
And let’s face it: Dark meat generally has a richer, juicier flavour, while white meat tends to be drier when cooked. “It’s more succulent and full of flavour, which allows it to easily stand on it’s own without being smothered in sugary, salty sauces,” says Moore. “Dark meat will also stand up to broiling without drying out.” Plus, the extra fat can be more satisfying, helping you stay full longer.
So…can we start digging into dark meat on the reg? There’s no reason you shouldn’t pick a drumstick or chicken thighs if you enjoy it. But remember, too much of anything isn’t good either. “I’d recommend eating dark meat up to a few times per week,” says Inge. ”Varying your protein sources is the key to a sustainable and nourishing diet. Balancing dark meats with extra plants is a great way to increase the nutritional value of dark meat.” Inge says to try mixing chopped mushrooms with ground meat to increase flavour, fibre, and B vitamins. “You might use a combination of shredded white and dark meat in soup or stew, chopped into a salad, or as filling for lettuce wraps or tacos,” says Moore. But if you have heart disease or your health care provider told you to limit the saturated fat in your diet, it’s best to listen to your doctor’s recommendations or consult with a registered dietitian before going too crazy with your dark meat.
The bottom line? “Like all things, think balance. Variety is key. You wouldn’t want to eat it every single day for many reasons,” says Moore.
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