Chicken Dinner

White Meat vs. Dark Meat: Which is better?

The whole dark meat vs. white meat debate always comes up during the holidays. Some people prefer white meat while others swear by dark meat. But which is better for you? We weigh in whether dark meat really deserves the bad rap or if white meat really is better for you.

Dark Meat


Most of the dark meat on a chicken or turkey can be found in the thighs and legs. Dark meat gets its color from a protein called Myoglobin. It’s an iron- and oxygen- binding protein found in muscle meat. Myoglobin provides muscles with the oxygen they need for movement. Since chickens and turkeys are flightless birds, their legs and thigh muscles get a lot of work. The more myoglobin, the darker the meat looks. Majority of the dark meat in a chicken or turkey can be found in the drumstick and thigh areas. On the other hand, in ducks, the dark meat can be found in the breast area because they use that area for prolonged periods of flight.

One cup of dark meat (chicken) has:

  • 287 calories
  • 38 g of protein
  • 14 g of fat
  • 5 g of Monounsaturated fats
  • 3 g of Polyunsaturated fats
  • 2 g of Saturated fats
  • 9.2 mg of Niacin (46% of your RDA)
  • 1.9 mg of Iron (17% of your RDA)
  • as well as Selenium, Zinc, Potassium, and Phosphorus.


Dark meat has slightly more iron. In addition, the extra fat in dark meat (turkey or chicken) raises your levels of Cholecystokinin or CCK. CCK is a hormone that makes you feel full longer so you’ll less likely to overeat when you eat dark meat.

White Meat


White meat is a favorite amongst dieters. Typically steamed, grilled or baked with the skin off, one cup of chopped chicken breast has 242 calories and only 6 grams of fat. It's a great way to get your protein without much fat (unless of course you eat the skin!). Compare that to one cup of ground lean beef with 19 grams of fat or one cup of salmon steak with 17 grams of fat.

White meat and dark meat are both great sources of protein. For people looking to lose weight, protein has a key role in many aspects of weight regulation and weight loss.

Protein reduces the levels of a “hunger hormone” called Ghrelin. Ghrelin stimulates your appetite, increases your food intake and affects fat storage. Protein also boosts your body’s appetite-reducing hormones.

One cup of white meat has:

  • 242 calories
  • 6 g of fat
  • 43 g of protein
  • 2 grams of Monounsaturated fats
  • 1 g of Polyunsaturated fats
  • 4 g of Saturated fats
  • 1.5 mg of Iron
  • 17.4 mg of Niacin (67% of your RDA)
  • as well as Selenium, Zinc, Potassium, and Pantothenic Acid.


In terms of flavor, white meat is a blank canvas and is great with marinades, rubs and sauces. As long as white meat is cooked with very little fat and consumed without the skin, its a very lean source of protein.

White Meat vs. Dark Meat: Which is better?

Which is better depends on what you need. White meat is great when you’re trying to lose weight but you don’t get as much of the nutrients that you get with dark meat.

Dark meat has more flavor and doesn’t dry out as easily compared to white meat.

In terms of calories, the difference isn’t a lot. The major difference is fat content with dark meat having more than twice the grams of fat as white meat and twice the amount of saturated fat (the bad kind).

Bottom-line is, even if you’re dieting you can still have both. Just be sure to use a cooking method that doesn’t use any or too much fat and remove the skin. A thigh piece without the skin has 90 calories while with skin its 140 calories. A drumstick without the skin has 66 calories while with skin its 97 calories. A chicken wing without the skin has 42 calories but that number jumps to 86 calories with skin on!

Calories in Chicken (With Skin and Skinless)
   Chicken Parts    With Skin    Without Skin
   Thigh    140 calories    90 calories
   Drumstick    97 calories    66 calories
   Wings    86 calories    42 calories



"White Meat vs. Dark Meat" -
"Chicken (Dark Meat)" - Men's Health, January 14, 2015
"What’s the difference between white and dark chicken?" - Best Food Facts, February 7, 2017
"Chicken (White Meat)" - Men's Health, January 14, 2015
"Ghrelin" - You and Your Hormones
"Protein, weight management, and satiety" - The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, May 1, 2008
"How Protein Can Help You Lose Weight Naturally" - Healthline, May 29, 2017
"The Claim: White Meat Is Healthier Than Dark Meat" - New York Times, November 20, 2007
"Calorie and Nutrition Facts for Different Parts of a Chicken" - Very Well Fit, July 9, 2018
"Salmon Steak - 1 cup" - Nutritionix
"Calories in 1cup Cooked Extra Lean Ground Beef,: Ground Sirloin; Ground Round; Meatballs or Patty" - My FitnessPal