This article examines the key differences between red and white meat and answers the question; which one is healthier?
What Is Red Meat?
The simplest definition dictates that meats which are red in their raw state are ‘red meat’.
However, we can also define red meat by its high myoglobin content.
Myoglobin is a type of protein found in meat which has a deep red color.
In fact, the red liquid you often see in a pack of meat isn’t blood; it is a combination of myoglobin and water.
Put simply; the more myoglobin a meat contains, the darker red it will be. Some examples of red meat include beef, bison, lamb, pork, and venison meat.
Steak is probably the most famous red meat of all, and when it is cooked well, it is also one of the tastiest foods.
The healthiest red meats you can eat are those in their unprocessed form, ideally raised in a natural environment.
How is Red Meat Good For You?
It’s widely accepted that red meat contains many important nutrients; specifically, protein, vitamin B12, and the minerals iron and zinc.
This is only a selection of the beneficial compounds we can find in red meat, and there are many more.
Concerns About Red Meat Consumption
There are also some worries that red meat may have negative impacts on our long-term health.
In particular, these concerns relate to findings from nutritional epidemiology that suggest higher red meat intake increases mortality.
Furthermore, red meat has been listed by the World Health Organization as a “likely carcinogen”.
Part of these concerns specifically relate to the high-heat cooking of red meat, and others are about the curing process.
We will examine the evidence behind all of these claims later in the article.
Key Point: Red meat has a higher myoglobin content and it is naturally red in its raw state. It contains many essential nutrients, but some people have concerns over negative health impacts.
What Is White Meat?
White meat refers to poultry and light-colored meats.
Sometimes this definition may also include fish, but people don’t generally consider fish as a “meat”, so for the purpose of this article we will focus on land animals.
It is also a myth that white meat doesn’t contain myoglobin. Poultry does contain this protein, but in a much lesser quantity than red meat does.
Some examples of white meat include chicken, duck, turkey, and other types of poultry.
How is White Meat Good For You?
For one thing, it does not have the health concerns that red meat does, and so we often hear it suggested as a replacement.
Additionally, leaner cuts of white meat are among the highest dietary sources of protein.
Poultry also contains a range of essential micronutrients.
Concerns About White Meat Consumption
Some people feel that white meat is a vastly inferior source of nutrition than red meat.
It is certainly true that red meat is more nutrient-dense, but is the nutritional profile of poultry really so bad?
Key Point: There are several alternate definitions of what white meat is. However, poultry meets this definition in all of them. Like all meat, white meat contains important nutrients.
In this section, we’ll look at the similarities and differences between red and white meat.
To make it fair, we will use the nutritional profiles of two red meats and two white meats;
Ground beef – 80% lean (6)
Ground lamb (7)
Chicken thighs (8)
Ground turkey (9)
Let’s now examine how these four meats contrast in terms of fat, carbohydrate, protein, vitamins, minerals, and other bioactive compounds per 100g.
All nutrition data is sourced from the USDA.
No meats contain any carbohydrate.
Beef and lamb—the red meats—tend to be higher in saturated fat and lower in polyunsaturated fats.
On the other hand, chicken and turkey are very low in saturated fat and higher in polyunsaturates.
All meats have a roughly 10:1 ratio of omega 6 to 3 except for lamb, likely because the majority of lambs are raised on pasture with a grass-based diet.
Opting for grass-fed beef or pasture-raised poultry would lower these ratios in beef and poultry respectively.
Both red and white meat is a good source of protein.
Vitamin B12 is an essential vitamin that, among other functions, is responsible for blood cell formation, neurological health and DNA synthesis.
Those suffering from a B12 deficiency (such as vegetarians and the elderly) are at greater risk for a variety of health problems.
Again, we can see that red meat provides a more significant range of minerals than white meat does.
However, all four of these meats are relatively nutrient-dense and a good source of minerals.