Is White Meat Really the Healthiest Part of the Turkey?

Dark meat and giblets have more nutritional value than most folks give them credit for.

November 16, 2022

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It's the perpetual Thanksgiving debate: Which part of the bird should you add to your holiday plate? Turkey legs or breast meat? White or dark? We all have our taste preferences and health concerns. If you've always opted for white meat thinking it's by far the healthiest choice, the numbers might surprise you.

What to Know About White Meat

Ditching the turkey skin is the first step to a lighter meal. While tasty, poultry skin is high in calories and fat, and often drenched in butter or oil, plus hefty amounts of salt. Keep the skin intact to cook the bird (it helps retain moisture and can help impart flavor), but remove it before digging in.

Because white meat has a lower fat content, it can dry out more easily. Less fat also means more protein, but don't get too excited. The protein content of white meat is only slightly higher than dark meat containing 8.5 grams to 8 grams per ounce, respectively. Turkey breast meat is also rich in vitamins and minerals like niacin, vitamin B6, iron, zinc and selenium.

What to Know About Dark Meat

The higher fat content of the legs, wings and thighs (AKA dark meat) imparts a lot of flavor, plus helps the meat stay moist when cooked. A three-ounce portion of dark meat contains 30 additional calories and 2 grams more fat than an equal portion of white meat. The good (and often surprising) news is the type of fat; dark meat contains predominantly the mono- and polyunsaturated kinds of fat, which can actually benefit heart health. Dark meat also boasts a high mineral content, containing several B-vitamins and more iron, zinc and selenium than white meat.

What About Giblets?

Let’s not leave out the giblets! That little bag of goodies typically tucked away in your bird contains the boney neck, muscular stomach (gizzard) and organs (heart, liver and kidneys).

While the portions of giblets from one turkey is not enough to feed liver pate to your entire Thanksgiving guest list — and consuming organ meats is an acquired taste for many Americans — these flavor bombs can be simmered into stock and gravy to add incredible depth of flavor. Giblets are incredibly high in vitamins A and B12, they also contain plentiful amounts of iron, folate and riboflavin.

Bottom Line: Breast meat is the leaner choice, but only by a narrow margin.

It's good to know that dark meat is full of flavor and both dark meat and giblets have a lot more to offer than most folks give them credit for.

Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

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