Arianna Foster
Published by Arianna Foster
Last Updated On: November 11, 2022

As a strict carnivore lifestyle follower, I often get asked if white meat is healthier than dark meat.

To get to the bottom of this, I spent the past month studying research on white meat vs. dark meat. I also talked to my dietician and local butcher to determine if picking one over the other is worth its weight in gold.

Read on to find out.

Quick Summary

  • Dark meat has more fats and cholesterol than white meat.
  • White meat has more proteins and fewer calories than dark meat, which is suitable for weight loss.
  • The darker color of dark meat is due to the strong myoglobin and iron in the muscle fibers.
  • White meat is tougher when cooked because it runs dry when prepared under high heat.

What is Dark Meat?

A close up image of chicken leg

Dark meat, like thighs and drumsticks, is meat derived from the tougher poultry muscles rich in red fibers.

The primary energy source for these muscles is fat, which is more enduring than glycogen (for long-standing and running movements).

The different proteins and lipids involved in turning fat into energy for the muscles give dark meat its deeper color.

Dark meat has a bolder, more game-like taste than white meat. This is because those muscles work rigorously, causing various chemicals, proteins, and lipids to accumulate in the muscle tissue [1].

When cooking, dark meat can withstand heat and is quite forgiving. So you might want to cook dark meat until it is succulent and tender by roasting, braising, or frying.

Cook your meat to a safe internal temperature of 165 degrees; you can check this using a meat thermometer.

What is White Meat?

White meat is lean light meat, including chicken wings and breasts, dominated by white muscle fibers or fast-twitch fiber.

These muscle fibers predominantly use a carbohydrate called glycogen as fuel and don't need as much oxygen from the blood [2]. Glycogen is helpful for brief spurts of movement, such as short-distance flying.

White meat chicken is more popular than dark meat since it is less expensive, tastier, and readily accessible.

Also, I believe white meat is highly kitchen-versatile because you can cook, bake, or bread, depending on what floats your boat.

But because most white meat tends to dry up under high heat, I advise broiling, sautéing, or stir-frying.

3 Differences Between White Meat and Dark Meat

A top view image of chicken leg on a glass bowl

Let's take a closer look at the differences between white and dark meat in terms of flavor, color, and texture.

1. Flavor

In my experience, cooking white meat takes a shorter time and has a subtler flavor than darker meat.

White meats tend to be juicier when cooked correctly under the right heat temperatures.

I find that it combines nicely with various tastes and sauces. Darker steaks, on the other hand, are fattier and cook for longer, so they are juicier, but this meat has a more robust gamey flavor.

2. Texture

An image of chicken breast on a wooden board

White meat is a bit tougher and rubbery in texture than dark meat.

Because white meat, like chicken breast, is made up of woody-like fibers, it tends to toughen up when cooked openly on the pan or grill. Under high heat, white meat drains most of the moisture, leaving you with a dry meat dish.

On the other hand, dark meats have more fatty fibers that protect the meat from drying out under high heat. This is why most chicken thighs or drumsticks are juicer and easily peel off when cooked.

Also, because of the thick fatty skin, most dark meats crisp up on the outside but leave a moist fleshy interior.

3. Color

Dark meat is darker than white meat.

Different cuts of turkey or chicken flesh come from various muscles, reflected in the color variances between the white and dark meat.

As we saw earlier, dark meat is derived from rigid muscles necessary for walking and standing, typically thighs and drumsticks.

These muscles consume more oxygen and have more iron and fat content. Myoglobin is a protein that contains iron in the muscles and is responsible for the deeper hue of black meat.

On the other hand, white meat comes from muscles that are utilized less often and for brief periods.

These muscles don't require as much oxygen since they predominantly use a carbohydrate known as glycogen for fuel. White meat is whiter because these muscles have less myoglobin and iron.

White vs. Dark Meat Nutrition Comparison

Even though dark meat appears to have more nutritional value than white meat, the gap is negligible. Here's a nutritional breakdown of the two types of meat per the USDA.

Calories

100g of dark meat has roughly 175 calories, while white meat of the same serving has only 155 calories.

Fat

An image of raw chicken thighs

Dark chicken meat has more fat, although much is found between muscles. And because leg meat (chicken thighs and drumsticks) is composed of many muscles, it contains more fat than white meat (chicken breast).

Furthermore, fat surrounding the breast meat cut, essentially a single muscle, is easier to trim than fat between the leg muscles.

100g of dark meat has 8.73g of fat, 2.6g of which is saturated fat, whereas white meat has 1.73g of total fat with only 0.5 saturated fat.

To compare even further, one grilled chicken thigh has 8.5 grams of fat, 2.8 grams of which are saturated. The equal amount of grilled chicken breast contains roughly 4g of fat, 1.2 g of which is saturated.

Note that the bulk of fat in both dark and white meat is unsaturated, with monounsaturated fats being the most abundant.

I recommend that you avoid dark meat chicken if you’re at risk of cardiac diseases due to its high-fat content.

Protein

An image of grilled chicken breasts

Dark meat has fewer proteins than white meat, even though white meat, like chicken breasts, is lean meat.

Per 100g serving, grilled chicken drumsticks have 25.95g of protein, while white meat has 32.5g of the same.

Dark meat is abundant in calories and has less protein, whereas white meat provides high-quality lean protein and fewer calories.

Hence I recommend skinless chicken breast if you're looking to lose weight or are on a calorie-deficit routine.

When you eat dark meat, you get more calories, healthy fats, and necessary vitamins and minerals [3].

These include:

  • Iron
  • Zinc
  • Niacin
  • Vitamins B2
  • Vitamin B3
  • Vitamin B12

"Dark meat has iron that is more easily absorbed than plant iron."
- Meme Inge, Registered Dietician

Because both types of chicken meat are healthful, albeit, in different ways, I always try to consume a balanced mix of dark and white meat recipes.

Overall:

  • The darker the meat, the lesser the protein content.
  • The whiter the meat, the lesser the cholesterol and fat content.
  • Skinless white meat (chicken breast) and dark meat (chicken legs) have fewer calories and fat quantities.

Other Meat-Related Articles:

FAQs

Is Dark Meat Healthier Than White Meat?

Yes, dark meat is healthier than white meat because it contains a higher concentration of essential nutrients than white meat.

Is Dark Meat Unhealthy?

No, dark meat is not unhealthy because it has healthy fats and is packed with essential minerals and vitamins.

Why Does Dark Meat Chicken Taste Better Than White Meat Chicken?

Dark meat chicken tastes better than white meat chicken because of its higher fat content and richer muscle fibers.

Dark Meat Vs. White Meat: Which is Better?

Both dark meat and white are delicious as each contains a unique set of nutrients and is also handy in various delectable recipes. Because white meat has fewer calories and fats, it's more suitable if you're watching weight or want to shed a couple of extra pounds.

If you're on the search for an authentic place to source your dark and white meats, here's my honest roundup of reliable meat delivery services you can try today.

I've been using these websites for four years to buy fresh, organic poultry meat, and I can attest that their meats are top-tier quality, without any antibiotics or hormones.


References:

  1. https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/the_color_of_meat_depends_on_myoglobin_part_1
  2. https://www.exploratorium.edu/cooking/meat/INT-what-meat-color.html
  3. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/277346801
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