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Red Meat vs. White Meat

Por Eleazar Lara-Pantin, MD, MSc.* -
Red Meat vs. White Meat

For years people have been promoting the supposed health advantages of white meat over red meat. The possible differences were associated with their relative fat content. But, it turns out that things are not what they seem. This is what I would like to discuss in this article.

The difference in color is mainly due to the presence of iron in animal muscle. The initial opinions against red meat had nothing to do with its iron content, or its color. They were related to its apparent higher fat content and marked predominance of saturated fatty acids over polyunsaturated ones. The former were known to contribute to the body’s cholesterol production while the latter were considered good for you. That was because people didn’t know then what we know now. The arguments in favor of white meat were based on the lower total fat content of chicken and the fact that chicken contains three times as many polyunsaturated fatty acids as red meat.
We now have new knowledge that should make us see things differently. For chicken to really have less fat than other meats, all the skin and visible fat must be removed before cooking. Otherwise, the fat will melt during cooking, seep into the fibers, and remain there, even if we remove the skin before eating. Many people don’t realize this. They usually eat their chicken with the skin on and often prefer it fried.

What kind of fatty acids are there in meat?

Polyunsaturated fatty acids can also be bad if we eat too many of them. In large amounts, they affect the body’s capacity to protect against various diseases. The amount of these kinds of fatty acids found in chicken may not be enough to cause any harm on their own, but if we consider the additional amounts (which are also very high in polyunsaturated fats) consumed in the oils used for frying or added to salad, our total intake reaches levels that exceed what’s recommended.

When the initial analysis in favor of white meat and against red meat was made, monounsaturated fatty acids were not taken into account, and these are the only ones not associated with serious health problems. In fact, they represent the strongest argument in favor of olive oil, which is universally accepted as the best source of fat due to its monounsaturated fat content. Interestingly enough, beef contains a higher percentage of these kinds of fats than chicken. This could be a point in beef’s favor as long as all visible fat is removed.
Surprisingly, pork contains acceptable amounts of fat, as long as the visible fat is removed and we opt for loin cuts rather than chops. Not only are the fat levels of pork actually quite acceptable, the ratio between the different fatty acids in pork is actually better than in chicken.

In conclusion:
· There is no reason to condemn a certain kind of meat because of its color.
· Remove the visible fat from any kind of meat before cooking.
· Prefer meat cuts that contain less fat like the loin or the skirt in mammals and the breast in fowl.
· There will always be some fat left, even after you remove the visible fat. Choose cooking methods that do not add more to your meal.
· Always exercise moderation in serving sizes.


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