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Is white meat poultry actually healthier?

Tracy Woolrich's picture
Both white and dark meat is relatively good sources of protein

For many, the choice between white meat and dark meat poultry is a matter of taste. For some however, it is more a matter of nutrition. There are some slight health benefit differences between the two. Read on and determine which protein is the right choice for you.

What are proteins
Proteins are basically combinations of amino acids which are the body’s building blocks. During the process of digestion, protein is broken down into individual amino acids. These acids help to build and maintain body tissue, supply energy for the body when carbohydrates are lacking, and synthesize enzymes and hormones.

Amino Acids
They are classified as either essential or nonessential. That does not mean that some are more important than others. All it means is that your body is able to make nonessential amino acids but not essential ones. Those are the ones that you have to obtain through diet.

The nine essential amino acids include:

  • Histidine – Assists in repairing tissue, producing gastric acid, helps with nerve conduction and white blood cell production.
  • Isoleucine- BCAA Branched chain amino acid. Helps with mental disorders, assists with tissue rebuilding, energy, and helps to maintain hemoglobin.
  • Leucine - BCAA Branched chain amino acid. Helps to maintain blood sugar, increases human growth hormone and is important for protein synthesis.
  • Lysine - Conserves calcium, reduces Herpes symptoms, reduces cholesterol and triglycerides, and increases immune system.
  • Methionine – Antioxidant, helps with Parkinson’s, increases collagen, is an antioxidant, reduces depression and is good for hair, skin and nails,
  • Phenylalanine – Helps increase endorphins, reduces menstrual cramps, reduces migraines.
  • Threonine – Helps with protein balance, improves immune system, increases collagen, balances blood sugar, and assists in wound healing.
  • Tryptophan – Helps reduce anxiety, depression, insomnia, migraines and assists with niacin production.
  • Valine BCAA Branched chain amino acid. Assists with emotional disorders, and helps with alcohol and drug recovery.

White meat poultry versus dark
White meat refers to the lighter colored meat. It is found primarily in the breasts of the birds. It is lighter in color because it has less myoglobin in the muscle. Myoglobin is higher in the thighs and legs because it is needed for the muscles to get oxygen during movement. The breast area requires less endurance, and therefore contains very little myoglobin.

The Department of Agriculture says that a boneless, skinless portion of turkey breast contains only 46 calories, while a boneless, skinless thigh contains 50 calories. That is hardly a difference there. That same portion of breast contains 1 GM of fat in comparison to the thigh which has 2 GMs of fat.
As you see the basic nutritional differences between white and dark meat poultry is very small.

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Dark meat however does appear to offer more nutrients than white which includes more:

  • Iron – Is an essential part of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen. Helps to support the immune system. Assists in brain development.
  • Riboflavin - Helps produce intracellular energy. Helps to change the amino acid tryptophan into the vitamin niacin.
  • Thiamine- Helps convert carbohydrates into energy.
  • Vitamin B6- Helps to change the amino acid tryptophan into niacin and also into serotonin; Assists the body to produce nonessential amino acids.
  • Vitamin B 12 - Helps produce red blood cells. Assists the body to use fatty acids and also some amino acids.
  • Zinc- Crucial for proper growth. Assists the body in using proteins, fats and carbohydrates, proteins, and fats properly. Helps with tissue growth and repair.

Take home message:
Both white and dark meat is relatively good sources of protein. Dark meat offers up more nutrients for your body, while white meat provides a bit fewer calories and fat.

Consider the following tips for optimum nutrition:

  • Eat a combination of both.
  • Remove the skin. This decreases the fat content considerably.
  • Look for birds that were raised in a natural setting. These meats will most likely not contain harmful antibiotics or hormones.
  • Since dark meat takes longer to cook, ensure that every portion of meat has been cooked thoroughly to remove the risk of food-borne illnesses.



Poultry nutrition facts

American Meat Institute