Confused about what makes white meat “white” and dark meat “dark?" You’re not alone. Misleading data about the good and bad sides of white and dark meat abound. Finally, here is the real truth about the meat you eat.
Simply speaking, dark meats are dark because the muscles are used more (think drumsticks vs. breast meat). They have more myoglobin proteins, which help ship oxygen to your muscle cells.
When dark meat is cooked, the myoglobins turn into metmyoglobins, which are very high in iron.
White meat contains glycogen, which is a polysaccharide of glucose, an animal starch. Animal starch is stored in your liver, then broken down into glucose when it’s needed by the white muscle.
Dark meat contains more zinc, riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, vitamins B6 and B12, amino acids, and iron than white meat. Dark meats also contain more saturated fats, along with omega-3 and omega-6 fats.
USDA Gradings: What do They Mean?
Outside of white and dark meat, there’s also “red” meat, which is typically beef. When choosing red meat, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grades them based on the marbling (the fat between the muscle tissue). Here is a breakdown of what the gradings mean:
- Kobe Beef: 20%-25% fat content
- USDA Prime: above 8% fat content
- USDA Choice: 4%-8% fat content
- USDA Select: 3%-4% fat content
- USDA Standard: below 3% fat content
People usually have a strong preference when it comes to white and dark meat. You probably either love dark meat, or hate it. Well, this is a giant clue to whether your nutritional type is protein, carb, or mixed.
Carb nutritional types thrive on white-meat chicken or turkey, while protein types definitely need dark-meat chicken or turkey, or red meat. Protein types prefer the dark meat because it has more fat and heavier purine-type amino acids while carb types prefer the lighter white meat.
Mixed types can usually do a mix of the two.
Keep in mind that dark meat has been wrongly vilified for having a lot of saturated fat. Saturated fat is not as unhealthy as you have consistently been led to believe, and the public health guidelines that advise people to avoid all saturated fats will result in serious health consequences.
Choosing Healthy White, Dark, and Red Meat
When you find out your nutritional type, you should stick to the protein sources that are best for you (they range from eggs to steak). But there is more to it than that.
You probably know I strongly recommend the use of organic foods. If you can’t afford to purchase most of your food organically, it would be best to purchase at least your meat products organic. They tend to have up to 20 times the amount of pesticides as produce due to the fact that they bioaccumulate over time through the food the animals eat.
However, when it comes to beef, grass-fed tends to be more important than organic as typically most grass-fed beef are virtually as pesticide- and hormone-free as organic, even if they aren’t certified. You would need to evaluate the farmer but that has been my experience.
The way most meat is raised today, in factory farms, makes it essential that you pay attention to where you meat comes from. Ideally, you should find a local farmer who will sell you organic, cage-free, chicken and turkey, and grass-fed beef.
Your next best option is to find these items in your health food store, however be aware that some food producers call their beef grass-fed, even though it was raised on grains for a few months prior to being processed. You need to talk to the meat’s producer to find out for sure.
Fortunately, the USDA recently announced new standards that will, for the first time, allow meat to be labeled as grass-fed only if it came from animals that ate nothing but grass after being weaned.
This will help, but the standards do not restrict the use of antibiotics and hormones and do not require grass-fed animals to live on pastures year round, so there is still much room for improvement.
Now, depending on your nutritional type, it would be perfectly healthy for you to choose a type of meat with a higher fat content. However, if you are buying your meat from a typical, conventional grocery store, you should only buy the leanest cuts of beef, such as flank steak or round steak.
Why? Most of the toxins from hormones and antibiotics will settle in fattier tissue, so the fattier cuts tend to have more toxins.
Alternatively, you can ask your butcher to order bison. In general, bison are raised much more naturally than other livestock, which means they're not given antibiotics or hormones and the meat is very lean. If you haven't ever tried it, I suggest you give it a try as in my opinion it's one of the best tasting of all meats. Its flavor is similar to prime beef, but sweeter and more tender.
So please don’t fall for all the hype that white meat is always better than dark. Instead, simply choose the variety that you crave. As long as the meat is from a healthy source, and you listen to your body, you can’t go wrong.