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What Makes Dark Meat Dark?

Have you ever seen a chicken or a turkey fly? I didn’t think so. The whole poultry family used to (ungracefully) fly short distances, until the food industry came along and killed all their fun. The chicken and turkey we eat today are fattened up and flightless. But enough of the sob story. Since these animals walk around all day instead of flying, their leg muscles are very active. What do all muscles need to make energy to move? Oxygen. A dark colored compound called myoglobin enables oxygen to transport to the muscles. The more myoglobin a muscle contains, the darker it is. The legs and thighs need the most energy, thus they’re the darkest meat.


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Let’s Look at the Numbers

Calories in a 3-oz piece, skin-on:

  • White Meat: 130 calories
  • Dark Meat: 160 calories
  • Difference: 30 calories
  • How much is 30 calories? The equivalent of three potato chips, three bites of an apple, a single bite of a McDonald’s BigMac.

Fat in a 3-oz piece, skin-on:

  • White Meat: 7 grams of total fat; 2 grams of saturated fat
  • Dark Meat: 13 grams total fat; 3 ½ grams of saturated fat (not bad, right?!)
  • Difference: 6 grams of total fat; 1 ½ grams of saturated fat
  • How much total fat is 6 grams? The equivalent of ten almonds, a little over a teaspoon of olive oil, less than a quarter of an avocado.
  • How much saturated fat is 1 ½ grams? The equivalent of one egg, one cup of 1% milk, a quarter of a slice of cheddar cheese.

There’s More to Health Than Calories and Fat

Compared with white meat, dark meat has more iron, zinc, riboflavin (vitamin B2), thiamin (vitamin B1), and vitamins B6 and B12. Your body needs iron to carry oxygen from cell to cell, and remember what oxygen is needed for? Energy (i.e. EVERYTHING). And all those B vitamins help out with energy production too.

Conclusion: Yes, dark meat contains a few more calories. Yes, dark meat contains a little more fat. But the fact is, anyone can spare the insignificant extra 30 calories and 1 ½ grams of saturated fat for a more nutritious and flavorful cut of meat.

Need some healthy ideas for your next chicken dinner? Check out these recipes!