"The darker the *meat* the richer the taste?" - Seaweed, Hairspray. Dark chocolate, deep red wine, dark roast black coffee, Seaweed said it right, darker tastes better. On Thanksgiving, one of the biggest decisions you have to make is whether to reach for that drumstick or take a slice of breast meat, and although we all have our meat preferences, I am confident that some of you have based this decision on those turkey stereotypes you read about in that diet magazine.
When you opt for that white meat because you're trying to be healthier, do you really know why? Well, I've got you covered — here's everything you need to know about white meat vs. dark meat.
You know how some people avoid fat like the plague and how low-calorie options seem to make guilty snacking less guilty, but aren't really rooted in nutritional information? Somehow, dark meat has been sucked into this dangerously incorrect category of unhealthy foods. I'm telling you, here and now, an avocado won't hurt you, Splenda actually messes with your body's ability to digest sugar, and dark meat is not bad for you.
So, what even is dark meat, you ask? Before we start, remember that eating meat = eating muscle tissue from animals. The meat is dark simply due to its high concentration of a protein called myoglobin. This is a transporter for oxygen, meaning it brings oxygen to muscle cells in order to give them energy to do work. All muscles need oxygen in order to contract, but white and dark meat have different activity levels, and thus, they have different myoglobin levels.Chickens and turkeys don't fly, but rather they move mostly by using their legs, and leg muscles require more oxygen and have higher myoglobin levels to deliver to the body. Their breast muscles only help them fly in rare situations, like during predator attacks, so the white meat is used less frequently and for quicker bouts of activity. Make sense? It seems pretty straightforward yet someone decided to dub myoglobin unhealthy. Take, for example, yourself. I'm guessing you use your boob muscles less than your quads. Do you like your boob muscles more? Which seems "healthier"?
In addition to the differences in oxygen need between the different muscles, dark meat actually contains several added health benefits that white meat lacks. In most animals, their busier muscles provide more zinc, riboflavin, niacin, amino acids, iron, and vitamins B6 and B12. With your dark meat turkey drumstick on Thanksgiving, you're even gaining additional folate, pantothenic acid, selenium, phosphorous, and vitamins K and A (which are good for digestion, meaning they're super helpful in demolishing that plate).
What about all the extra fat and calories?
Okay, if there's one thing I want you to take out of this, it's to remember that when you think "fat and calories", you shouldn't always think "bad". As explained by the Department of Agriculture, an ounce of skinless turkey breast comes in at a mere four calories and 1 gram of fat less than an ounce of skinless turkey thigh. A little bit more fat builds around the more utilized muscle tissue, but the fat plus the extra minerals and vitamins in the dark meat give it much more flavor.
Additionally, forget about what you've heard about the saturated fat. Lots of people freak over the high saturated fat in dark meat, but that's really due to the skin, so if you're concerned, skin away. Eating a breast with skin would have some saturated fat, too.
Which do you pick?
So, white meat versus dark meat should be a matter of flavor preference — not nutritional concerns. However, in terms of preparation, cooking white meat takes less time because it's thinner. Therefore, it tends to overcook and dry out while the dark meat on your turkey finishes, but, listen, I'm not trying to push turkey politics on you. Make your own choices this Thanksgiving.
Though I'm no dietician, I hope that you hear me loud and clear when I tell you that your Turkey Day should be enjoyable, and not full of unnecessary food guilt. Live your life, grab the hunk of meat that fits your tastes, and enjoy the day of thanks.