Numerous health authority has long advocated choosing dark and white meat when it comes to eating poultry such as turkey, chicken and duck for its lower fat content and fewer calories. Notwithstanding, in general, if not for cholesterol concerns, more people seem to prefer dark meat coming from thighs, legs and wings for their full-bodied flavor.
So, looking out for dark meat lovers, a logical question can be proposed: If white meat enjoys its heart-healthy status, is it possible that dark meat has its own very real health benefits too?
What’s the Difference?
There is a difference between dark and white meat other than just their colors. Dark meat comes from the bird parts that do more work, such as the thighs, legs and wings. This meat contains the compound “myoglobin,” which is what gives its dark hue. Myoglobin helps transport oxygen to the muscles so that they can function and, as a result, probably accounts for the rich taste.
On the other hand, white meat comes from parts of the body that do little work, have very little myoglobin, and have a pale pink color. When cooked, the proteins in white meat coagulate, rendering the flesh whitish in color, dryer and often less tasty. This accounts for why, oftentimes, those who prefer white meat make up for its savory quality by adding gravy or sauces to replace what they would have found in the dark meat.
In comparative terms of calories by weight consumed, in reality, there is not a huge difference between white and dark meat. Case in point: If one compares 100 grams of boneless, skinless chicken breast to that of boneless, skinless chicken thigh, the breast has 114 calories while thigh has 125 calories. In terms of other factors, to determine if white or dark meat is the better option, there are some surprising nutritional facts.
In the table that follows, the serving size for this analysis is a three and a half ounce portion (about the size of a deck of cards) of skinless turkey meat.
- Content White Meat | Dark Meat
- Calories 161 | 192
- Fat 4g | 8g
- Protein 30g | 28g
- Iron 1.57mg | 2.4mg
- Zinc 2.08mg | 4.3mg
- Thiamine .04mg | .05mg
- Riboflavin .13mg | .24mg
- Selenium 32.10mcg | 40.90mcg
- Folate .01mcg | 10mcg
In addition to the preceding nutritional values, both types of poultry meat contain operative amino acids, which serve as the building blocks of proteins (Amino acids can link together in varying sequences to form a vast variety of proteins).
Taurine as a Heart Protector?
A nutrient found in the dark meat of poultry may provide protection against coronary heart disease (CHD) in women with high cholesterol, according to a study by researchers at NYU’s Langone Medical Center. Another study, published in the European Journal of Nutrition, evaluated the effects of “Taurine,” a naturally occurring amino acid found in poultry meat but most prevalent in dark meat in relation to CHD.
It revealed that the higher taurine intake was associated with a significantly lower CHD risk among women with high total cholesterol levels. Taurine is also found in some fish shellfish.
Taurine was found to exhibit diverse biological actions, including protection against insufficient blood flow in the circulatory system, modulation of antioxidants within the cells of the body, and blood calcium concentration as well as blood pressure-lowering effects. Moreover, a recent review by the US National Institutes of Health address the potential beneficial actions of taurine in congestive heart failure, hypertension, atherosclerosis and weakening of heart muscles.
There is a wealth of experimental information and some clinical evidence available in much of the literature suggesting that taurine could be of benefit in averting cardiovascular disease of different origins.
However, long term clinical trials are still needed before Taurine can be “unequivocally” recommended as a nutritional intervention for the prevention and/or treatment of cardiovascular heart disease. “There is very little information available about Taurine,” said principal investigator Yu Chen, PhD, MPH, associate professor of epidemiology at New York University NYU School of Medicine, a part of NYU Langone Medical Center.
According to her, while there have been some animal studies that indicate taurine may be beneficial against cardiovascular disease, there are only initials, published prospective studies to look at serum taurine and CHD in humans in a limited group of subjects.
One study comprised of women only and, therefor, the results may not at this time be applicable to both genders. Nevertheless, the findings were very interesting in that taurine (at least in its natural form) does seem to have a significant protective effect in women with high cholesterol. The study team said that future studies should be conducted on the male population as well.
Thinking of it This Way
Since both have basically similar health benefits, perhaps it is time to stop worrying about white versus dark meat when eating poultry. For a protein to muscles and tissue repair, white poultry meat is a good source, while the dark meat (despite its much maligned saturated fat) can provide more B vitamins and minerals. Why not opt for a little of each? It’s just like eggs and their yolks. Eat just the protein rich whites and miss out on all the great vitamins and antioxidants in the yolks.
The parts aren’t complete without each other. In effect, an individual’s concern should be more about how much of both meats lands on the plate. As one serving of meat of any kind is three or four ounces for adults, it may be a palatable idea to split the amount of dark and white meat. In this way, an individual can get all the nutrient benefits from the fowl of their culinary choice without sacrificing taste.
The emergence of the dark meat as a healthy choice is positive on several fronts. Besides its nutritious properties, it is tastier and therefore, the breading, saucing, liberal use of flavor enhancers and fats in cooking that the bland taste and texture of white meat needs in order to provide more flavor can be skipped. It will be interesting to learn if these findings are confirmed or found to be conclusive beneficial for both men and women one day. Then, we all may be able to enjoy more sumptuous and palatable poultry, including its dark meat.
Author: Guadalupe Hilario