Benefits of White Meat vs. Red Meat

Anna Karanina C. Tan, RN @AnnaTantrum
August 05, 2016  | Last Updated: August 10, 2017

White meat vs. red meat

I had a lengthy discussion slash debate (really more of a debate) with my health enthusiast husband about red and white meat. A lot of questions popped up, and we both realized we didn’t exactly understand the differences between the two despite having a preference – he for white meat, and I for the reds.


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Red meat has always gotten a bad rep – and for good reason. Having darker meat as a regular component in your diet has been strongly linked to potentially life-altering diseases, such as diabetes, stroke, and coronary heart disease. My main defense has always been, “I eat healthy with everything else. I think I deserve more flavor and juice in the little meat that I have.” But of course, my husband slams the winning argument on the table: Red meat may give you cancer.

Primary list of red meats:

  • Beef
  • Lamb
  • Pork

Primary list of white meats:

  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Seafood

Is this factual across the board? Most likely. Am I going to continue eating red meat on a regular basis, and wait and see? Absolutely not.

The meat industry can cry otherwise all they want, but last October 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) – the big kahuna of all “Eat this, not that” decision-making – signed off on a study from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) that places processed red meats like salami and bacon in the same carcinogenic category as tobacco smoke and diesel engine exhaust.

Fresh meats aren’t off the hook either. The IARC also blew the whistle on a widely-used herbicide called glyphosate, and classified it as “probably” cancer-causing. While it’s probably a relief to all of us that we can still have our steaks and roasts, the operative word “probably” emphasizes the need to moderate the amount of red meat one consumes. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), no one with plans to live a long, healthy life should be eating more than 18 ounces of red meat a week.

Moderating red meat consumption is definitely easier said than done, mostly because it tends to be juicier and more flavorful compared to white meat. A no-brainer alternative would be chicken breast. Even though too many of us may have had it in its overcooked, sawdust-like state too many times, trust me when I say, it is possible to not be Bobby Flay and still feast on juicy, homecooked chicken breast. 

You can either: 1) Take a kitchen mallet and tenderize the chicken before seasoning/marinating, and/or 2) get your hands on a cheap instant read thermometer and aim for an internal temperature of 160°F. (For that extra bit of juiciness, turn the heat off, don’t disturb the chicken, and let rest for another 5-10 minutes.)

Salmon and shrimp are also fantastic sources for lean protein, and they are almost too easy to prep and cook. Whether you’re reaching for a pan or preheating the oven, fish and shrimp only ever need 15 to 20 minutes. (Pro tip: Cook a bunch with basic seasoning and olive oil, and pair with literally ANYTHING for the rest of the week.)

Nutrition differences between white and red meat

If you’re still not sold on making the switch from red to white, check out this neat table I found that compares the amount of iron, fat, and cholesterol among the most commonly available meat and seafood options. The amount of fat and cholesterol in 100g portions of red meat are staggering.

Personally, I don’t think I can sit here and just flat out say I’m going to give red meat up. It is simply too delicious to quit! But, if you really think about it, eating more than 6 decks of cards worth of steak a week does sound a little disturbing if you’re not a baby tiger.

Have you made the switch – even partially? What are your go-to white meat options? Sound off in the comments section below, especially if you’ve got a cool recipe or tip to share!


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