There is a lot of discourse about red meat being unhealthy and white meat being a preferred protein source. Truthfully, there are nutritional benefits that come from consuming both white and red meat. If consuming either white or red meat, or both, is what works for your body, this article will help you see what nutritional benefits come from eating both types of meat through specific animals.
It would definitely help to point out the difference between white meat and red meat before going into the nutritional benefits of different types of meat. Scientifically speaking, when it comes to explaining the difference between white and red meat, there is one term that is key: myoglobin. “Myoglobin is a protein in muscle tissue that binds to oxygen so that it can be used for energy. In meat, myoglobin becomes the main pigment responsible for its color, as it produces a bright red tone when it comes into contact with oxygen.” As you may have guessed, red meat contains more myoglobin than white meat, hence its incredibly appropriate name.
Now that’s settled, what are the nutritional benefits of white and red meat?
For the purposes of not being too broad, the white meat focused on in this article is chicken, and the red meat being focused on is beef.
Chicken is a white meat, and it is also one of the most consumed meats throughout the world. Since it is one of the most consumed meats, it would be great to know what it provides, nutritionally.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, “one 3-ounce (85-gram) serving of chicken breast contains:
● Calories: 122 [about 40 calories per
● Protein: 24 grams
● Fat: 3 grams
● Carbs: 0 grams
● Niacin: 51% of the Daily Value (DV)
● Selenium: 36% of the DV
● Phosphorus: 17% of the DV
● Vitamin B6: 16% of the DV
● Vitamin B12: 10% of the DV
● Riboflavin: 9% of the DV
● Zinc: 7% of the DV
● Thiamine: 6% of the DV
● Potassium: 5% of the DV
● Copper: 4% of the DV”
Before explaining how some of these nutrients benefit you, let’s take a look at the nutritional value of beef.
According to the USDA, “a 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of broiled, ground beef with 10% fat content [contains]:
● Calories: 217 [62 calories per ounce]
● Water: 61%
● Protein: 26.1 grams
● Carbs: 0 grams
● Sugar: 0 grams
● Fiber: 0 grams
● Fat: 11.8 grams”
And significant amounts of:
● Vitamin B12
● Vitamin B6
If we do a quick comparison, we see that even lean beef has a higher caloric content per ounce than chicken breast. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as higher calorie foods are beneficial to some individuals and their health goals, just as lower calorie foods are beneficial to others. If someone was planning to lose weight, or if they wanted to get more of their calories from other food groups, chicken breast would be a great option for them. However, if someone was looking to gain weight, or if they wanted to get more of their calories from meat, ground beef may be a better choice for them. Already, we can conclude that white and red meat, or chicken and beef for our purposes, both have nutritional benefits, and their benefits don’t stop at weight management or preferred caloric intake.
Chicken and beef, and other cuts of white and red meat, have a lot of the vitamins and minerals our bodies need to stay healthy. Some major vitamins and minerals provided by both chicken and beef are:
● Vitamin B12
● Vitamin B6
How do these vitamins and minerals benefit us, though?
● Vitamin B12 - This vitamin is also known as Cobalamin, and it is found only in animal products, like white meat and red meat. This vitamin is “part of an enzyme needed for making new cells [...] [and it is] important to nerve function.”
● Zinc - This nutrient is an essential mineral found in meats like chicken and beef, and it can also be found in fortified cereals. It is important to understand how your body functions, specifically for your immune system and metabolism. It also plays a role in protein synthesis, wound healing, DNA synthesis, and cell division.
● Selenium- This essential nutrient can be found in foods like red meat and poultry (beef and chicken), and it can also be found in breads, grains, fish, and eggs. [It] “is a constituent of more than two dozen selenoproteins that play critical roles in reproduction, thyroid hormone metabolism, DNA synthesis, and protection from oxidative damage and infection.”
● Niacin - This nutrient is also known as Vitamin B3, and it is found in animal and plant products, alike. This vitamin is “part of an enzyme needed for energy metabolism [...] [and it is] important for [the] nervous system, [the] digestive system, and skin health.”
● Vitamin B6 - This vitamin is also referred to as Pyridoxine, and it can be found in both animal and plant products. This vitamin is “part of an enzyme needed for protein metabolism [...] [and it] helps make red blood cells.”
● Phosphorus - This essential mineral can be found in many foods like dairy products, meat and poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, legumes, vegetables, and grains. “Phosphorus plays key roles in regulation of gene transcription, activation of enzymes, maintenance of normal pH in extracellular fluid, and intracellular energy storage.”
● Iron - This nutrient is an essential mineral for the body. Iron is found in foods like lean cuts of red meat, white meat, seafood, fortified cereals and breads, some beans, lentils, peas, nuts and dried fruits. “Your body uses iron to make hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to all parts of the body, and myoglobin, a protein that provides oxygen to muscles. Your body also needs iron to make some hormones.”
Vitamin B12, Niacin, and Vitamin B6 are all water soluble vitamins, which means they “travel freely through the body, and excess amounts usually are excreted by the kidneys.”
This means that you don’t have to worry too much about intaking a lot of these vitamins since your body will likely get rid of the excess amounts itself. It is important to be aware of how much of the other nutrients you are consuming and to follow the daily recommended amounts for your specific age/weight group to make sure you are not overconsuming any nutrients.
Over-consuming some nutrients, like iron for example, can result in feelings of discomfort like nausea or abdominal pain.
Beef and chicken, white and red meat, alike, both have many nutritional benefits.
The lower calorie intake from chicken might appeal more to those who still want to build muscle but lose weight at the same time. The slightly higher calories found in different cuts of beef or other red meat is also great for building muscle mass, reducing fatigue, and improving performance during exercises like weight training.
What’s also important to your health is how you prepare the foods you eat. Meat that is baked, grilled, or steamed is healthier than meat that is fried, which is also a good thing to keep in mind if your goals revolve around losing/maintaining weight and building muscle. Whether your diet preferences or health necessities require white meat or red meat, you can trust that you will be able to get essential nutrients from both.
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5. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2021, March 26). Office of dietary supplements - zinc. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-healthprofessional/.
6. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2021, March 26). Office of dietary supplements - selenium. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements.
7. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2021, March 26). Office of dietary supplements - phosphorus. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Phosphorus-HealthProfessional/.
8. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2021, March 22). Office of dietary supplements - iron. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-Consumer/.
Author: Lauryn Agron
Editor: Anum Khan
Public Health scientist: LaCher E-W MPH