Possible sources of protein in our diet include white meat, red meat, and plant-based food. Red meat consumption has been largely associated with a high risk of cardiovascular problems as well as cancer and dementia. However, there is no such association with white meat and with plant-based protein sources, and it is said to be cardioprotective. But is white meat really healthier?
Health benefits of white meat vs red meat
White meat contains less myoglobin than red meat, which is a protein responsible for the colour of the meat. White meat is considered to be poultry and fish. However, some consider pork to be white meat as well.
White meat has been shown to be good for controlling cholesterol levels as it has a high concentration of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids such as omega-3 and omega-6. The fatty acids help balance out the low-density lipid (LDL) and high-density lipid (HDL) cholesterol. White meat is also associated with high levels of vitamin B groups such as B3 and B12, which are good for brain and blood function. Vitamin B12 is important for the production of healthy red blood cells and also for a functioning central nervous system. Vitamin B3 (Niacin) works in the body as a coenzyme and helps with multiple reactions such as converting nutrients into energy, repairing DNA, and exerting antioxidant effects. Chicken is the most commonly consumed white meat and it contains vitamin D, which helps with calcium and phosphorus absorption, which plays a vital role for the bone and teeth structures, blood pH, and metabolic reactions. Other white meat types such as turkey, duck, and goose are high in protein, zinc, iron, vitamin B, and magnesium.
Similar to white meat, red meat is high in protein and nutrients such as vitamins B and D, zinc, and iron. Red meat, especially beef, has higher iron levels and is lower in sodium (salt) than white meat. However, red meat is high in saturated fat and regular consumption can lead to high cholesterol levels and heart diseases. Given that, it is important to choose lean-cut red meat and balance the diet well, so that red meat consumption is not on a daily basis.
A plant-based diet is based on proteins that come from plants including vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and fruits. The plant-based diet can contain all of the nutrients when it comes to the benefits of a meat diet such as protein, vitamins D, B3 and B12, zinc, iron, and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. However, they might be less dense in plant-sourced foods especially when you exclude all animal products from your diet. Vitamin B12 is only available in animal products such as meat, eggs, and dairy. Vegans have to supplement vitamin B12 through fortified foods and supplements. The huge benefit of the plant-based diet is low levels of saturated fatty acids, as these fatty acids can lead to heart diseases.
Which are the healthiest meats?
With all the given information, all of the meats have some benefits and disadvantages. Meats low in saturated fats will also have lower levels of iron or other nutrients. Looking to choose the skinniest meat would be chicken breast. It is difficult to rule out which meat is the healthiest to consume. The best thing to do is balance the diet with all sorts of meats and sources of protein (plant-based too).
White and red meat have similar nutrient benefits; red meat has higher levels of iron but also higher saturated fats, whereas white meat has unsaturated fats that are extremely healthy but lower iron levels. The plant-based diet has unsaturated fats but could be lacking vitamin B12. It is vital to have a balanced diet and include all types of food
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- Harvard College School of Public Health. Niacin – Vitamin B3 [Internet]. The Nutrition Source. 2020. Available from: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/niacin-vitamin-b3/
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