The great debate over white meat and dark meat has been going on since the first family sat down to a roast chicken. Some people don’t like dark meat, while others extol its virtues and eat nothing else. But what is the difference between white meat and dark meat?
Without getting too scientific, myoglobin is the hemoprotein (an oxygen-carrying protein) responsible for giving dark meat its reddish colour. The more myoglobin, the darker the meat and the richer the nutrients. Myoglobin provides muscles with the oxygen they need during exercise or movement. Since chickens are flightless birds, they use their legs and thighs to get around, making them darker than the breast or wings.
With so many people watching their weight and worried about fat intake, white meat is probably the most popular choice among Canadians because it is leaner and lower in fat. A skinless chicken breast weighing 130 g contains 192 calories and 2.9 g of fat. Not only that, chicken is lower in saturated fats than salmon and leaner than sirloin steak, pot roast, hamburger, beef tenderloin, pork chops and ham. Although dark meat contains more fat than white meat, it’s not as big a difference as you might think and it’s this extra fat that gives it its juicy texture. A 100 g (3.5 ounce) skinless chicken thigh, baked or grilled, has 7 g of fat. Chicken legs and thighs can be bought skinless now and are more economical than chicken breasts. They are just as versatile and chicken legs are a favourite among kids, who love to pick up their food.
White or dark meat, chicken is nutritious and an excellent source of protein, niacin, phosphorous, B6, B12, Vitamin D, calcium, iron and zinc. A 100g serving of chicken breast contains 33% of your recommended daily intake of Vitamin B6 and 86% of your recommended daily intake of niacin. Niacin helps to build and maintain healthy skin, and aids in the digestion and absorption of food. Vitamin B6 is needed for protein metabolism and amino acid synthesis.
As good as this sounds, dark meat is richer in nutrients than white meat and contains more iron and zinc. Zinc is a trace mineral that is found in every cell of your body and is necessary for growth and reproduction. It also supports immunity, wound healing and helps maintain your sense of taste and smell. The best sources of zinc are foods of animal origin such as poultry, meat, liver and seafood. Dark meat is also rich in vitamins A, K, B6, B12, niacin, folic acid, pantothenic acid and minerals like selenium and phosphorus.
Any way you slice it, chicken is good for you. So go ahead and add a little dark meat to the menu. It’s more nutritious and not so saturated in fat and it will save you money. You can’t beat that.