Turkey, whether it’s roasted, smoked, or fried, is the iconic centerpiece of most holiday tables. And you don’t want to skimp on it — this protein-rich food is actually one of the most nutritious things served at these indulgent meals. The protein from turkey can really help keep things in balance while you enjoy all those potato-filled sides and sugary desserts.
But you might be wondering: Should you choose white or dark meat? One must be better than the other.
“Most people go for white meat because of its reputation of being a great source of lean protein,” Dana Harrison, the nutritionist behind Eats 2 Know, LLC, told The Daily Meal in an email. “Low in calories, low in fat.”
However, she points out that this might not necessarily mean it’s the better choice.
The actual calorie differences in the two cuts of meat are pretty minimal — in a 3-ounce serving, any part of the turkey, including the breast, wing, and thigh, falls within a 160 to 190-calorie range. “There isn’t a significant enough difference to say that eating one over the other has much of an impact on our health,” Harrison said. “They’re both great options that fit into a healthy, adequate, and balanced diet.”
If you enjoy dark meat, the answer is simple: Eat the dark meat. And if you prefer white meat, then eat the white meat. It is truly that simple.
“Dark meat has almost the same amount of protein per ounce, but has gotten a bad rap due to its fat content,” she said. “It’s time to debunk that.”
Dark meat has a higher concentration of both saturated and unsaturated fat — but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. These fats could help you to feel more satiated by your meal, and they actually have a number of health benefits, as well. Dark meat is also higher in certain other nutrients, including iron, zinc, B vitamins, and selenium.
“My suggestion is to choose the option that you prefer taste-wise,” Harrison said. “There are benefits to either option.”
Harrison also recommends you don’t spend too much time and energy on these decisions. “Holidays are often centered on food, and having restrictive thoughts going into them can make them more stressful and less enjoyable,” she said. “Instead of labeling foods as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ or having feelings of guilt and thinking, ‘I shouldn’t eat this,’ focus on mindful eating. Be present when you’re eating and listen to your hunger and satiating cues.”
In the spirit of putting your health first, you might be tempted to keep close tabs on your eating or try to prevent overdoing it. “Enjoy yourself instead, and eat normally the next day,” Harrison advised. “Regardless of what you eat, how much of it you eat, if you exercised or not — don’t use the days afterwards as punishment.”
In fact, dieting before the holidays or trying to compensate for indulgent eating might actually do more harm than good — here’s why.