Dark Meat vs White Meat: What’s the Difference?

Is dark meat bad for you? What’s the difference between turkey and chicken meats? Which one has more calories?

Chicken Drumsticks – Dark Meat

What is Dark Meat?

Dark meats simply have more myoglobin proteins, the magic stuff that ships oxygen to the muscle cells. Muscles used more frequently, get to be dark. Chickens and Turkeys generally have dark colored drumsticks and thighs because of walking around a lot.

What is White Meat?

This is poultry tissue that is used for quick bursts of activity (such as chickens have short bursts of flight).

Breast meat is white.

Dark Meat is NOT All Bad For You

Take a look at the nutrition.

  • Most dark meats tend to contain more zinc, riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, vitamins B6 and B12, amino acids, iron than white meat.
  • Dark beef meat contains about 11 times more zinc than tuna, and about 3 times as much iron than raw spinach.
  • Chicken and Turkey dark meat contain vitamins A, K, B6, B12, niacin, folate, pantothenic acid, minerals as selenium, phosphorus and zinc.

Are you aware of the hidden salt that is in some chicken meat?

Poultry Breast – White / Light Meat

It is the higher levels of saturated fat that have given dark meat a bad name.

However, in the case of poultry, this can be removed by simply removing the skin (from drumsticks).

Calories in Dark Meat vs White Meat

Calories Carb
Total Fat
Sat. Fat
Chicken – Dark Meat
Roasted (1 Cup Diced)
249 0 32.6 12.3 3.4
Chicken – Light (White) Meat
Roasted (1 Cup Diced)
214 0 38 5.7 1.5
Turkey – Dark Meat
Roasted (1 Cup Diced)
262 0 40 10.1 3.4
Turkey – Light (White) Meat
Roasted (1 Cup Diced)
220 0 41.9 4.5 1.4


Comments now closed
  1. Dave

    Is there such a thing a side from preference where someone can not eat chicken or Turkey dark meat

    • James

      None that I’m aware of.

  2. Sherwin uy

    Why dark meat and White meat are deferent in the cooking timer.

  3. Gabriel

    There is nothing wrong with saturated fat from natural sources such as meat, poultry, full-fat organic dairy and coconut products. In fact, it’s important and beneficial to human health.

    Forget the dietary mythology of the 60s!

  4. Rosann

    which has more potassium white meat or dark meat chicken

    • Ted

      4 ounces of chicken breast has 288 mg and 4 ounces of chicken thigh has 269 mg Source: http://www.calorieking.com/

      • Borat Sagdiyev

        Unless they are make from glorious Kazakhstan chicken. Then 100% Potassium

        • Dan

          Eating pure potassium can be fatal. 😉

  5. Sarah

    Dr. Atkins died after a fall that left him comatose, so if you’re insinuating that he died from following the Atkins diet, (high fat and protein, low carbs) then that’s a pretty big fail.

  6. brendon

    “Dark meats must use myoglobins as they transfer oxygen more efficiently to the muscles than glycogen. ”

    You might want to clarify that glycogen isn’t an oxygen transporter.

  7. Ronny

    I believe people should eat what they think tastes better. Personally, I love chicken legs with the skin on. Not only do they contain more nutrients, but the extra fat makes me feel full quicker. I do not believe all the propaganda about saturated fats. If you want evidence contradicting the harmful effects of saturated fat, visit westonprice.org.

    • Gabriel

      Spot on, Ronny!

      Down with the anti-fat mythology of conventional wisdom!

  8. TT

    What’s with the anti-expert posts on this site? They’re rampant. No expert would ever say “fat is bad…cholesterol is bad, period.” They are vital to life, but too much of either eventually lead to serious vascular problems. How did Atkins die again? Hell, too many carrots are bad. Balance is what’s been lost. LDLs (bad cholesterol) and HDLs (good cholesterol) are totally different and yes, they actually do exist whether Robert thinks so or not. Nobody ever said it’s the cholesterol molecule that’s different, it’s the package it’s in and where it’s headed. Before we totally count out the people who actually study the body for a living, maybe we should learn a little about it ourselves.

  9. TT

    Wow! Is all I can say.
    We don’t oxygenate our blood by eating meat and I’m pretty sure eating a juicy steak doesn’t trigger red blood cell production. If that were true, I would have glue running through my veins right now.

  10. Bugs

    Not everyone needs more iron. Some of us have too much. However, I’m not letting that stop me from eating chicken thighs or beef. My body simply feels better when I eat dark meat or beef. I don’t do well with white meat chicken or pork. Never have. Love lamb, but it doesn’t love me. I think we’re in trouble as a nation because we listen to what the “experts” say and not our own bodies. I could easily live on good, grass-fed steak and salad (without the iceberg lettuce, please!)

  11. Jason

    “Misinformation, half truths, and misleading data abound”

    Tell me about it.
    I come here looking for information on the difference between light and dark meat and I get an advertisement for beef & chicken.

    • Charlaine Corkey

      Perhaps it has to do with your blood type, than to white meat versus dark meat. Something to consider… please research.

  12. karyn

    I find all the comments interesting and educational. They confirm what my specialist told me; that my post surgery problems with healing would get better if I would get my protein through eating red meat once a day. And I do agree with a balance in amount and types of meat that we consume.

  13. Ryan

    and Pork, forgot about that one. Lamb is a dark meat, most of turkey is dark, etc.

  14. Ryan

    Red, bud.
    Whites are generally poultry.

  15. Joey

    whats d basic difference btwn white and red meats? is mutton red or white? Joey. San Francisco

  16. robert

    People check this link out:


    It is full of correct information, if how carbs, sugars and a low fat diet will cause diabetes, obesity, inflamation and heart disease!

  17. robert

    Hahahaha, It makes me laugh how the media tries to make you believe saturated fat is bad for you.
    Carbs, and other, things are usually the culperate of bad health. People should look into information provided by Paul Chek, and Sean Croxton at Underground Wellness.com
    We evolved on saturated fat. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for meat. And why would the creater of the earth (who ever, what ever, you think that is) put bad things in our food for us to become ill from!?
    It’s like cholesterol, our liver makes around 75% of our cholesterol – why would our body do this if it was bad for us, it WOULDN’T! There is no such thing as good and bad cholesterol, cholesterol is cholesterol. It’s oxidized cholesterol that causes problems. Cholesterol is our natural anti inflammatory amongst other important things. We need it for hormones and it is what our brains are made of etc.
    But back on the subject of fat, our hormones need this too. People are made to believe if you eat fat you get fat. It isn’t true. You should look at how most people eat far too many carbs.
    Comercially farmed animals are fed that much rubbish (including sawdust, plastic etc) and given drugs, animals put fat on to protect it’s organs from the toxins put into its body. If you ate organic, grass fed and free range meats there would be no problem with dark/red meats. The problem is with animals that are farmed wrong for quick profits! People, you can research and find much nonsense that you could end up believing if you know nothing of the subject. Learn the truth through good places like youtube.com and type in Paul Chek or Sean Croxton Undergound wellness.

  18. Jane Doe

    I believe that red meat has more iron, we need iron, therefore we need to eat/consume iron. That’s why it is desperate we fufill our bodys with iron-containing meats.

  19. Jane Doe

    Especially peeling the skin off, right! EEEW

  20. Jane Doe

    Community can be misleading to. Unfortunately you can’t listen to everyone. Some people don’t know what they are saying.

  21. Jane Doe

    She must not know the grease that’s in turkey.

  22. Jane Doe

    Balance is right! You can’t rely on one type of meat to have a balanced diet!

  23. Jane Doe

    Dark meat is lean, too. You can diet with lean meat, just limit your intake and avoid grease.

  24. Jane Doe

    This is good info. I tell you lean ground beef is great for the body. Oxygenating your blood is wonderful for producing new blood cells and helps your body in motion. White meat is good, but you need less for sure. Ultimately, you only need 3-4 servings of any meat per week. Processed meats are okay, but real shaved deli meats are better. Those natural meats are even better!!!

  25. Supplements Canada

    Regardless of what this post says, I have a very hard time believing this spin that dark meat is healthier than white meat.

  26. Eileen

    Thank you so much for this post. I agree the the dangers of dark meat have been blown way out of proportion. My Chinese family never understood the American obsession with white meat! Everything in moderation, eat a little of both and get the best of both worlds. Just don’t gorge yourself.

    I appreciate that this article sheds light on the fact that the benefits of eating only white meat aren’t clear cut black and white!

    I allow myself to eat pretty much anything. I just eat smaller amounts of the high calorie foods. And if I accidentally overeat I don’t beat myself up over it, I just spend a little more time at the gym and maybe eat a little less the next day 🙂

  27. Kailash

    Brit said:
    Uh, so you’re recommending we eat sub-prime beef because of its lower fat content? Anyone who knows anything about food will realise that fat marbling is an indicator of flavour and quality in beef, which is why the “Prime” grade has more. Maybe it’s because I’m European but I’ll always go for a small well-marbled, well-hung steak over a big slab[…]

    Well, don’t forget that most people in America are eating corn-fattened beef. Yeah, that’s right – we feed our cows an unnatural diet of corn and soy, rather than allowing them the grass and hay to which they have adapted and feel best eating upon.

    So maybe it’s good for most Americans to avoid beef fat, and the associated omega-6 superfluousness. However, savvy folk like myself find grass-fed beef, even in the land of the stupid, and chew the fat like a good ‘ole boy.

    You can’t beat that for real health. And good taste.

  28. Brit

    Uh, so you’re recommending we eat sub-prime beef because of its lower fat content? Anyone who knows anything about food will realise that fat marbling is an indicator of flavour and quality in beef, which is why the “Prime” grade has more. Maybe it’s because I’m European but I’ll always go for a small well-marbled, well-hung steak over a big slab of poorer quality meat. Most Americans simply over-consume and a better way to “get healthy, get fit and live happy” would be to learn to appreciate quality more than quantity.

  29. Israel

    i just have to say i love how the community helps me understand things more. thx guys.

  30. Ryan

    High saturated fat diets work wonderfully to me. More performance in the gym, lower blood pressure, better sense of well-being, etc. Wouldn’t trade it for anything. Eat the white meat if you like retinol deficiency.

  31. Kailash

    Christine said:
    though I roasted my Thanksgiving turkey breast-side DOWN yesterday, and it was nice and moist

    Yeah, I roast a chicken a week, breast-side down, and it’s still too dry.

    So then I drizzle the drippings on it (a combination of chicken fat and stock), to get in some more flavor and savory-chickenness.

    And of course, I eat the skin too. I also craft the bones into fishhooks and sewing needles.

    Just kidding on that last one.

  32. Christine

    I’m a dark meat kinda girl; I generally find turkey and chicken breast to be on the dry side (though I roasted my Thanksgiving turkey breast-side DOWN yesterday, and it was nice and moist) and just eat what I like rather than what I “should” be eating.

  33. Charlie

    Ground beef is only bad when you add it to a box of Hamberger Helper. But dam it is good. Stay away from the processed stuff and its all good.

  34. Lydia

    Just about any diet will advise white meat over dark meat. Always the skinless chicken breast over the leg. Always turkey over the steak. Can you blame people for avoiding dark meat? It’s been drilled and drilled that it is more fatty, more caloric, and it will clog the arteries faster than Elmer’s Glue.

    I’m so sick and tired of trying to figure out what is “good” and what is “bad”. If you listen to the latest “news”, you’ll end up not eating anything. Either it will kill you because the nutritionals are bad or because it is contaminated with e coli. Sigh…

  35. Kailash

    Saturated fats are essential, healthy nutrients:

    Dr. Enig also states that saturated fats are needed for the production of hormones, the stabilization of cellular membranes, the padding around organs, and for energy. Biochemical signalling processes involving G-protein, and other, receptors make extensive use of the lauric, myristic and palmitic fatty acids, since the receptors must be “coupled with lipids in order to provide localization of function”, etc.

    And, contrary to uneducated opinion:

    Various studies have found that women who had regularly consumed the greatest amounts of saturated fats had the least amount of additional atherosclerotic plaque buildup in their arteries. Also, women who ate more saturated fat had a healthier balance of HDL and LDL cholesterol, and more desirable blood serum concentrations of triglycerides and free fatty acids.

    This is just all from the Wikipedia article:

    Basically, avoid saturated fats if you don’t like to have healthy hormonal levels, or strong cell membranes. But listen to the “government” if you want to do what’s best for Big Ag’s bottom line (suck grains).

  36. Libertate

    I will go into the cereal twigs and organic milk, again despite my concern the primary point will be lost int he background noise.

    We have heard horror stories on the meat industry for decades. We are aware of the serious concerns.

    The organic milk industry concerns, and I think to the whole organic industry concerns, are blows to a shiny new armor.

    Most people presume organic to be healthy, and expect (rightfully so) to be organic.

    Cereal twig to steak, as quiche to steak, but quiches are rarely mentioned nowadays in the food/diet/health news.

    Next time I will come up with a more apt corny parallel.

  37. Linds

    I still think white tastes better anyhow, heh.
    I would also take a bowl of “cereal twigs” over a wood-chipped (??) steak. Only I don’t like cow’s milk, organic or otherwise.

    Confusion still abounds in me over the “cereal twigs and organic milk” comment, however.
    Organic milk is an industry, yes.

    So is meat.

  38. jessiemcfarland

    Good post here. Choosing dark meat is better than white meat. Dark meat do always taste better besides the nutritional content.

  39. Libertate

    weasel! said:
    Why the gratuitous slam on organic milk at the end?[…]

    It is actually a slam on the organic milk farm industry (a la Vander Eyk, Aurora Organic Dairy), and it is an inside joke for … well, me on the organic industry.

    Don’t ever forget – it is an industry.

  40. Spectra

    I eat either skinless breasts or thighs, depending on what’s on sale. They aren’t that different in calorie content, but I do think the thighs taste a little better. It’s the skin that’ll do you in on poultry. Just take the skin off and most poultry meat is pretty identical. As for beef, I rarely eat it, but when I do, I like mine VERY lean and I don’t eat a lot of it.

    And THANK YOU for backing me up on my ground turkey debate! My husband INSISTS that ground turkey is “healthier” than ground beef because it’s turkey. But it’s 15% fat, whereas the ground sirloin I buy is something like 7% fat or less.

  41. weasel!

    Why the gratuitous slam on organic milk at the end?

    By the way, folks, dietary fat is good for you. Have you read Good Calories, Bad Calories yet?

  42. Zach

    Great article. I love it when people say I’m on a diet and they avoid eating the dark meat or lean beef. Sometimes I wonder where they get this stuff.

  43. Libertate

    I am sorry, but turkey can be as bad as a fatty steak or worse. According to the Department of Agriculture, a (Beef, ground, 90% lean meat / 10% fat, raw) compared to (Poultry food products, ground turkey, raw) are almost identical in calories, beef being a bit higher, but turkey has more cholesterol & sodium.

    As a matter of fact, there is even leaner (95%/5%) ground beef, which is definitely healthier.

    Beef also beats turkey when it comes to essential amino acids and vitamins.

    nutritiondata.com is a simple place to compare the two.

    top weight loss site said:
    It is hard to believe how much dark meat fat there is compared to light meat. When always eating turkey white meat is the healthiest choice by far. Eating leaner and less fat content meats and proteins will aid in your decreasing of calories more than most people think. Choosing light meat is always the smart way to go.[…]

  44. virg

    I love the darker meat poultry but my husband does not. So I cook a whole chicken and he gets the breast meat and I eat the succulent dark meats. I am also more overweight than he is. 🙁

  45. Never teh Bride

    I don’t eat meat now, but when I was a kid, I LOOOOVED dark meat. As I got older, however, the strong taste started to get to me, and I’d gag when biting into something like a chicken thigh. I had to switched to white meat for reasons of taste even though I’d always loved dark meat.

  46. top weight loss site

    It is hard to believe how much dark meat fat there is compared to light meat. When always eating turkey white meat is the healthiest choice by far. Eating leaner and less fat content meats and proteins will aid in your decreasing of calories more than most people think. Choosing light meat is always the smart way to go.

  47. Debbie

    It’s good to know dark meat contains all those nutrients, but I eat it because it just tastes better.

  48. Paul Young

    I think dark chicken got a bad rep when we were children. I could eat a drumstick but the thigh was a difficult piece to eat.
    I think the ease of eating and appearance had more to do with it.

  49. Princess Dieter

    I hate ground turkey. Won’t eat it. Blah. Much prefer ground beef, preferably sirloin.

    I’ve never liked dark meat. Even as a kid, I wanted the breast. I still only really eat breast and wing. The only time I can eat dark meat is if the sauce overpowers the taste of the meat, like Bourbon sauce or a strong Teriyaki. Interestingly, my mom and dad and elder sis and brother are dark meat eaters. But my middle sis and I have a sensitivity to the flavor of dark meat. We gag. Actually gag to a plain bit of dark poultry. I have no idea why that is, cause the example we got from home was that dark was BETTER…moister. Maybe it is all the extra nutrients somehow giving it a flavor that we’re sensitive to? I also sometimes gag at steak, and definitely often gag at turkey, especially reheated turkey and chicken.

    My hubby, who is a supertaster, can’t abide dark meat either. So, we just buy chicken breats here. Not for the diet purposes. Just for taste preferences.

    The Princess

  50. ayse

    I personally think that the “dangers” of saturated fat are blown out of proportion. The additives and preservatives added to already overly-processed food (not to mention HFCS, copious amounts of soybean oil, and trans fats) are much higher on my list of concerns. Would I live solely on cheese and drumsticks? Of course not. But dark meat chicken has more nutrients, is juicier AND tastes better (to me), so when I’m eating straight chicken, I’ll choose the dark meat. White meat works better for chicken salads (of which I eat a lot). It’s all about balance.

  51. Heather

    Good post. I am having the hardest time convincing this girl that my 4% extra lean ground beef patty is not worse than her ground turkey patty (not ground turkey breast, mind you– the cheaper 15% fat stuff) because she has white meat good red bad so fully engrained. Yech.