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Food Fight: Dark Meat vs. White Meat Turkey

Illustration by Flickr user tengrrl

By Heather Ashare, MPH for

In response to the fear of fat that has been driven into all of us, this Thanksgiving we may shun the dark turkey meat and instead pile our plates high with the white meat. But in our attempts to shave off a few calories, are we missing out on some key nutrients? We decided to compare dark meat and white meat turkey and determine once and for all if the drumstick or the breast is the better option. Some surprising facts presented themselves in our research… *Note: The serving size for our analysis is for a 3.5-ounce serving of turkey meat without skin—about the size of a deck of cards.

Round One: Nutrition

  •  Calories: White meat = 161 calories. Dark meat = 192 calories.
  •  Fat: White meat = 4g. Dark meat = 8g.
  •  Protein: White meat = 30g. Dark meat = 28g.
  •  Iron: White meat = 1.57 mg. Dark meat = 2.4 mg.
  •  Zinc: White meat = 2.08 mg. Dark meat = 4.3 mg.
  •  Folate: White meat = .01 mcg. Dark meat = 10 mcg.

Round Two: Taste and Leftover Potential When it comes to taste, dark turkey meat offers an undeniably richer taste than white meat, but its higher fat content also lends itself to tasting a bit more on the slimy side, which may detract those who are sensitive to their food’s texture, or prefer lighter-tasting eats. In regards to cooking with leftover turkey, dark meat’s higher fat content gives it a juicier flavor and therefore protects it from suffering from the dry taste that accompanies white meat turkey once it has sat in the refrigerator for a few days. Therefore, for a sandwich, salad or soup protein-punch, dark turkey meat is the clear winner. But if you’re looking to undo some of the gluttonous Thanksgiving Day damage, then you might want to reach for the white meat to save a few calories and fat.

Post-Match Commentary Drumstick-lovers rejoice! Dark turkey meat delivers a much more nutrient-dense wallop than white turkey meat. With greater amounts of vitamin B like riboflavin, thiamine and folate and minerals like iron and zinc, dark turkey meat’s sullied reputation for being too high in fat deserves to be overturned considering these impressive nutrition numbers.

When it comes to calories and fat, the difference between the two is negligible. In fact, dark turkey meat contains a mere 30 calories more than white meat and just an additional four grams of fat. Place your fork down just one bite shy of finishing off that slice of pumpkin pie and you will have balanced out any extra calories you consumed by choosing dark meat over white. To reap the powerful nutrition benefits of the centerpiece of your Thanksgiving meal, whichever kind of meat you select, just make sure to remove the skin and go easy on the gravy. These two items pile on the calories, so you’ll keep your dinner on the leaner side without them.

More from Diets in Review: Infographic: How Many Calories are in a Thanksgiving Dinner?