White Meat vs Red Meat: Which is Healthier?
Is it true that red meat should be avoided, while white meat encouraged? Bonnie Lau, an Australian-trained dietitian, counselling patients on GlycoLeap, answers. Here, we compare the pros and cons of both and helps you decide which type of meat you should eat in the future.
Meat is a great source of protein and lots of vitamins and minerals. But there are claims that red meat (mutton, lamb, beef, pork) should generally be avoided, while white meat (chicken, duck, fish) is encouraged. We look at this closer and compare pros and cons of white meat vs red meat.
Nutritional benefits of eating white meat vs red meat are:
- Fewer calories.
- Less fat.
- Less saturated fat.
140 g of chicken breast contains 130kcal, 2.6g fat (0.7g saturated fat) and 66mg cholesterol.
In comparison, for the same amount of pork (lean cut), it contains 240kcal, 7g fat (2.5g saturated fat), and 125mg cholesterol.
Similarly, 140g of beef (lean cut) has 250kcal, 9g fat (4g saturated fat), and 105mg cholesterol.
That’s almost twice the calories, and more than twice the amount of fat, saturated fat and cholesterol than white meat.
However, if you eat poultry with skin, then it contains 260kcal, 10g fat (3g saturated fat). This is almost the same calorie and fat content as red meat.
So it is still recommended to remove the skin and fat from white meat to get the benefits.
There are some nutritional benefits of eating red meat. Some micronutrients are found in higher concentrations in red meat rather than white meat. These include zinc, iron, vitamin B6 and B12, thiamine and riboflavin. These are important minerals and vitamins which can help prevent deficiencies like anaemia. Someone who is vegetarian or only eats white meat will need to be careful in planning their diet in order to get adequate amounts of these nutrients, especially iron.
The cons of red meat are that it is higher in fat (especially saturated fat). Too much saturated fat can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. Excessive intake of red meat has also been correlated with increased risk of colorectal cancer. High-temperature cooking of red meat, like grilling, can form carcinogenic (cancer-causing) substances, especially if it’s charred.
How Much Red Meat Do I Need to Limit Myself to?
Red meat has its advantages, however, too much may increase the risk of some cancers, especially risk of colorectal cancer. The Heart Foundations of Singapore and America do not mention specific limits of red meat to consume, but do choose lean cuts and moderate intake. However, the Australian Heart Foundation recommends eating no more than 455g red meat per week to reduce the risk of cancer. The World Cancer Research Fund recommends that to reduce the risk of cancer, eat no more than 18 ounces (510g) of cooked red meat (e.g. beef, pork, and mutton) per week, and avoid processed meats (e.g. hot dogs, ham, bak kwa and lap cheong). Studies show we can eat up to 510g red meat a week without raising cancer risk, but that cancer risk starts to increase with any portion of processed meat.
Based on these recommendations, it would be wise to stick to no more than 5 servings (each serving being 90-100g or about 1 palm-size portion) of lean red meat each week. If you are overweight or have heart disease / risk factors (e.g. diabetes or high cholesterol), you may want to follow a stricter guideline of capping your frequency to 1-2 times a week.
So What Should I Choose: White Meat Vs Red Meat?
Both white and red meats have their pros and cons. If you eat meat, it’s a good idea to include small portions of both as part of a balanced diet. Aim for white meat more often than red meat, but enjoy a variety to reap benefits of both.
Whether it is white meat or red meat, avoid charring when cooking. Also, choose leaner cuts of meat (e.g. for red meats, choose cuts that end in “–loin”) and trim off visible fat and skin. The exception is fish, which is high in omega-3 fatty acids and low in saturated fats, hence it’s ideal to leave it on the fish to obtain the full benefits. Enjoy 2–3 serving of fish (including oily fish) per week as part of a heart-healthy diet. Each serving is 100g cooked, 1 palm-size or ¾ cup flaked fish.
If you’re vegetarian (or even if you’re not!), plant-based proteins like tofu, low fat dairy or dal (lentils) are great alternatives to meat. Plant-based proteins have been linked to lower risk of chronic disease and are sustainable for the environment too. Remember eggs are also perfect proteins as long as you stick to 6-7 yolks per week. Look out for deliciously healthy recipes from PatientsEngage free eBook of healthy recipes!
Bonnie Lau is an Australian-trained dietician with 4 years of experience. She has worked at SGH and TTSH prior to joining GlycoLeap. She believes in empowering clients to take greater control of their own health and achieve nutritional goals while enjoying food. She is a foodie and is passionate about balancing health and enjoying Singapore’s amazing food scene.