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All About White Meat | Healthy Eating Series

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You’ve probably heard that white meat is better for you than red meat. And while this is true, there are different types of white meat. And like everything else, not all white meat is equal. Some are better for you than others, depending on food safety concerns, food sources and nutritional content.

So, keep reading to find out which white meats are best for you and your family.

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White meat versus red meat

White meat, like red meat, is a good source of protein – one of the three macronutrients we need, along with carbohydrates and fat. But what makes white meat different from red? And what kind of meat are we actually talking about here?

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Some sources say red meat is red because of the myoglobin in the muscle. Myoglobin is a protein that has a deep red color. This, in turn, determines how red the meat is, or not.

(Even though chicken meat isn’t red, it still contains myoglobin, but just a smaller amount than red meats do.)

Others say what makes meat red or white is the color it is when it’s raw. For example, red meat is red when it’s raw, while white meat is white in its raw state.

Common sources of red meat include beef, lamb, bison, and pork. In some cultures, even horse is consumed as a type of red meat.

As for white meats, common sources include seafood including shrimp, tuna, salmon, and clams. But white meat also includes land animals, like turkey, chicken, duck and other types of protein. In this article, we will focus on turkey and chicken.

What’s wrong with red meat?

One reason why white meat is a favorite among health experts is that it’s not red meat, which has been shown to contribute to some serious health problems.

Research has tied red meat with a shorter lifespan, and an increased risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and certain cancers. For example, this study found that red meat and processed red meat increase the risk for the fourth most common cancer in the world – colorectal cancer – by 20 to 30 percent.

Some argue that the cooking methods for red meat may increase harmful compounds in it, thereby increasing one’s risk for cancer and other illnesses.

Ethics also come into play when people choose to avoid red meat. Farming practices, animal rights, global warming and other important issues can deter people from eating red meat.

Needless to say, red meat is controversial and for people who still want meat in their diet, white meat seems like a good alternative. But what’s so special about white meat?

White meat contains lower levels of saturated fat and cholesterol

According to the American Heart Association, white meat contains less cholesterol and saturated fat than red meats, such as beef, pork, and lamb. And for this reason, they recommend eating white meats like chicken and fish.

However, it’s important to bear in mind that just because white meat contains less fat, this doesn’t mean it’s fat-free.

For example, chicken and turkey contain about half as much saturated fat, monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat as beef and lamb.

White meat is a good source of protein

White meat is carbohydrate-free. Instead, it’s comprised of both fat and protein.

If you consume a lean cut of white meat, you’re getting a great source of animal protein, but without the health concerns of red meat.

White meat is full of nutrients

Red meat may have more nutrients than white meat. However, that’s not to say that white meat isn’t good for you, too. It still contains small amounts of Vitamin E, Vitamin K, and folate.

However, white meat is incredibly low in all the B vitamins, which red meat is full of. For example, 100 grams of beef contains 45 percent of Vitamin B12, while that same amount of chicken contains just three percent, and turkey only six percent of Vitamin B12.

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As for minerals, red meat contains a higher percentage of important minerals like calcium, iron, zinc, and selenium. However, that’s not to say these same minerals are not present in white meat. They are, just in a much smaller amount.

That being said, it’s important to not rely on white meat for your Vitamin B and many key minerals. However, as a low fat and protein-dense food, white meat is a great choice.

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What is better: chicken or turkey?

Chicken is definitely a more readily available option, while turkey is much popular around holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. But is one better for you than the other? Let’s compare the two.

Chicken

Chicken is definitely less expensive than both beef and turkey, and it’s a great source of protein, too. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), chicken is responsible for 12 percent of all food-borne illness outbreaks in the US – E. coli being one of them.

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The spread of E. coli may be attributed to poor farming practices, poor handling, and packaging methods, as well as bad kitchen hygiene. Therefore, always look for good quality chicken and be sure to prepare the meat carefully and wash all utensils and cookware thoroughly to prevent the spread of E. coli or any other harmful bacteria.

Turkey

Turkey is much more flavorful than chicken, and it also contains less fat than it’s poultry counterpart. When it comes to its nutrient profile, turkey generally contains more minerals than chicken.

For example, 100 grams of chicken contains 24 percent of selenium, while turkey contains up to 53 percent. Turkey also contains more iron, phosphorous, Vitamin B12, and Vitamin B6 than chicken, making it a better choice from a nutritional standpoint.

What about food-borne illnesses associated with turkey? Unfortunately, turkey can carry microorganisms that lead to food poisoning, including E. coli and salmonella.

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Safe practices, including thawing, handling, cooking and appropriate hygiene can help you prevent these harmful organisms from spreading and causing painful food poisoning symptoms.

White meat is a good alternative to red meat if you’re looking for an animal source of protein. It’s not as mineral- and vitamin-rich as red meat, but it still has a good nutritional profile.

Just be sure to eat a balanced meal to get key minerals and crucial B vitamins. Finally, be sure to get the highest quality white meat you can find, and follow safe handling and cooking practices.

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