whitemeat vs darkmeat

White meat versus dark meat. Is there a difference nutritionally?

Dark meat versus white meat; people tend to fall into one of two camps. When it comes to choosing one over the other, it usually boils down to taste and texture preferences, but is there more than meets the eye?

For years, through the lens of cardiac health, dieticians, nutritionists, and other professionals have often recommended white meat over dark meat because white meat has less fat, saturated fat, and therefore calories compared to dark meat, but what about the other nutrients in chicken?

Fast forward to today where the war of fat has tempered; fat and saturated fat are not the dietary villains we once thought they were. With that, a more comprehensive comparison between white meat and dark meat is possible. 

Beyond the differences in fat and calories, there are several other differences in the amount of micronutrients – vitamins and minerals – between the two cuts of meat. 

 

Nutrients

Nutritional Comparison – White vs. Dark Meat

100 g serving

Chicken Thighs

(Skinless)

Chicken Legs

(Skinless)

Chicken Breast

(Skinless)

Calories

175 kcal

155 kcal

146 kcal

Fat

8.43 g

6.59 g

1.73 g

Saturated fat

2.60 g

1.90 g

0.59

Protein

25.95 g

23.84 g

32.58 g

B1

0.14 mg

0.13 mg

0.09 mg

B2

0.25 mg

0.30 mg

0.11 mg

B3

8.2 mg

6.3 mg

17.1 mg

B12

0.84 mcg

1.20 mcg

0.27 mcg

Iron

0.95 mg

0.93 mg

0.48 mg

Zinc

2.23 mg

2.28 mg

0.97 mg

Phosphorus

207 mg

202 mg

269 mg

Potassium

307 mg

323 mg

430 mg

At first glance, it seems like there’s a large difference between the calorie and fat content of white and dark meat. Chicken breast has 146 calories per 100 g serving compared to chicken legs and chicken thighs with 155 and 175 calories respectively; similarly with total and saturated fat. Looking at the absolute numbers for example, there is more fat in chicken thighs, 8.43 g, compared to chicken breast with 1.73 g, but keeping the picture in mind, this difference will not make a big impact on one’s diet over the course of the day, weeks and months. When it comes to healthy eating, the primary focus should be on choosing minimally-processed nutritious foods such as fresh meats and poultry, fish, fruits, vegetables and whole grains with an eye on portions versus absolute calories-counting. This recipe uses thighs for a Quick Chicken Parikash and provides one-fifth of the recommended daily intake of iron. Thighs have almost twice as much iron as breast meat.

Chicken Breasts 

Our Cranberry & Chevre Stuffed Chicken Breasts provides 14% of the recommended intact of zinc – and that’s not even one of breast meat’s best attributes! Given the physiological differences in the muscle tissue between breast meat and the legs and thighs, there are some differences in the vitamin and mineral content of each cut. Breast meat has fewer B vitamins, zinc and iron, but more phosphorus and potassium. Most people think of vegetables and fruit, especially bananas, as being the best sources of potassium, but meats such has chicken are excellent sources as well, containing as much potassium as a medium banana. Chicken breast meat also provides more protein per 100 g serving than either legs or thighs do. In this case, the differences are meaningful; chicken breast has over 8 more grams of protein than legs do and over 6 more grams than thighs. These differences can add up for those with smaller appetites such as young kids or the elderly; it can be easier for individuals in both of these age groups to get full before meeting their protein requirements. While the total amount of protein for children doesn’t seem like a lot, they need more than adults on a body-weight basis. 

Total protein requirements for children aged 1–3, 4–8 and 9–13 years of age are 13 g, 19 g, and 34 g respectively. Those over 70 years of age require 46 g of protein per day. 

With 28 g of protein per 85 g, or 3 oz portion, chicken breasts, with more protein on a per serving basis, can help to make every bite count.  Here’s another recipe for Chicken Breast in Parchment which provides over 60 g of protein per serving.

Chicken Thighs and Legs 

Dark cuts have more B vitamins such as B1, B2, B3, and B12, as well as, more zinc and iron; two minerals that are essential for growth, maintenance of repair. Our recipe, Coyote Roast Chicken with Chile Cinnamon Rub, provides 52% of the recommended requirement of vitamin B6, and 61% of zinc. This one for Chicken Mediterranean provides 50% of the daily requirement of vitamin B12. 

According to the Canadian Community Health Survey, about 18% of adults between the ages of 19 to 50 fail to meet the minimum recommended requirement for zinc and for those over the age of 71, another 22% miss the mark. It’s a similar story for iron; just over 20% of adults between the ages of 19 to 50 are not getting enough iron. Dark meat chicken contains both of these minerals. Chicken thighs are high in, and chicken legs are an excellent source of, zinc. Both chicken thighs and legs are a source of iron. 

Whether it’s white meat or dark, chicken is a nutritious and relatively-inexpensive food. Both cuts can easily be a part of a healthy diet; each providing versatility to recipes and meeting the preferences of all members of the family. There’s no need to lose sight of the forest for the trees and think that white meat is the only way to go because it is a little lower in fat and calories. Dark meat is nutritious and both dark and white meat make up a balanced and varied diet.

DRI – protein

www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/nutrition/reference/table/ref_macronutr_tbl-eng.php

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