In an age when people are becoming conscious of their diets and the impact of saturated fats on the arteries and overall cardiac health, there has been a shift from eating more red meat to eating white meat. More and more medical practitioners are recommending it to their patients for the low fat levels that it has to offer.
White meat is any animal flesh that has a low fat myoglobin content, giving it its typical white colour. Myoglobin is an iron containing protein that transfers oxygen from the blood to the muscles of the animal.
 Why should I be aware about it?
White meat, basically chicken, fish and turkey provides glycogen, a polysaccharide which plays an important role in the glucose cycle. It is a source of lean proteins for people with heart and cholesterol problems and those who are trying to lose weight.
It is very important to be conscious about where one sources white meat from. The several bird flu epidemics have taken their toll on poultry consumption. The threat of bird flu still looms large and birds from the South East Asian countries are known carriers of this disease, yet sale and consumption of livestock continues to thrive.
Commercial poultry farms today are basically animal factories where birds are bred and raised in captivity, never to be let out of their cages. They are fed on diets of chemicals and hormones to make them grow unnaturally fast, and unnaturally large. Livestock breeding grounds are often well below standards of health and hygiene; chickens are given genetically modified feed and even toxins to fluff them up to make them heavier and fleshier. Commercially grown livestock contain toxins that do not wash off with water and find their way to human blood streams. So in addition to the negative effects of killing, there are also toxins to be regarded while eating poultry.
At the end of the day, a conscious consumer needs to ask -- are the commercially bred chickens inferior in quality than their farm bred counterparts, ie, is their meat healthier? Are lean red meats comparable to chicken lean cuts in terms of nutritional content?
 All about white meat
Chicken, turkey, rabbit and fish are sources of white meat. The component myoglobin is a storehouse of iron atoms which reacts with oxygen to provide a whole lot of energy to the muscular structures as well as provide energy to the animal for its activities. Chickens and turkeys as also rabbits, do not require so much of energy as such and are able to do with short bursts of energy from the stored glycogen in the muscles. Other bigger animals that come under ‘red meat’ need more energy and support and thus have more of inbuilt myoglobin. The difference in the proportion of myoglobin is what sets the two meats apart.
Poultry is one of the rare breeds that have a mix of red and white meat. Pig meat is usually red in colour once cooked and white in the raw making it an exception rather than a rule. Pig meat also contains myoglobin though in far lesser amounts than beef. Pork suppliers contest that pork is ‘white meat’ and not red meat. Such facts are circulated for commercial reasons and are not based on nutritional fatcs.
 White meat and health
The Chicago Centre for Clinical Research and its Centre for Nutrition and Metabolism conducted a research on 200 people to study the comparative effects of lean white and lean red meat. The subjects chosen were those with high cholesterol levels. Half of the subjects were asked to have red meat (lean) while the other half were asked to have white meat (lean). The prescribed quantity was to be around 180grams per day over 5 days in a week at least. The subjects were educated in how to choose areas that were low on fat, how to cook it in a particular manner so as to keep other conditions same during the test trials. Fish was also included in the diet of white meat users.
The results reported were that there was not much significant difference between lean cut red meat and lean cut white meat, which essentially means that if one is not open to eating chicken or fish, then lean red meat is an alternative that can be taken recourse to.
Experts advise consumers to eat whatever the want, but keep it ‘lean’ and the quantity, ‘moderate’.
 Taking advantage of the goodness of white meat
Any kind of meat is a super food in terms of protein, iron, zinc and vitamin, especially B12 which cannot be sourced from any plant derivatives. However red meat is not very friendly to human consumption patterns, in the sense, it also raises the levels of cholesterol, fat, uric acid, hormonal secretion and other such things. Red meat also allows the body to become an open ground for a variety of cancer – cancer of the colon, stomach, intestine, pancreas and even the breast. Red meat is also supposed to be a contributory to joint ailments like arthritis, especially due to high levels of uric acids that increase with consumption of red meat. Hence the good effects of red meat are offset by the ill effects.
White meat is far safer in this respect. It has been founds by medical practitioners that white meat, especially the lean variety does not have too high levels of fat and so does not contribute to increased levels of cholesterol and subsequently cardio vascular diseases. White meat is a well packed dose of protein, iron and zinc, without the side effects of extra fats. In other words, it is just the correct food that enhances immunity levels.
White meat in the form of fish is excellent for those with heart ailments. Fish contains Omega-3 fatty acids and is also a source of the very nourishing cod liver oil which gives strength to bones and muscular structures. This is why even little children can benefit from white meat of this variety.
 An all white meat diet? Not enough!
Does it all mean that the presence of white meat alone can allay fears of an unhealthy diet and impending disorders? The answer is a categorical No. There are researches that also tend to conclude that white meat too can cause colon cancer. If one were to disregard even this bit of information, then too the inclusion of white meat in the diet does not ensure that the diet is good, balanced and adequate for the body. The body needs all kinds of food; not just for the taste factor, but primarily because a variety of food gives the body a wholesome blend of essential nurtrients.
Also important is the method of cooking, especially the amount of oil and spices that are used to create a dish. Both need to be used judiciously and with prudence. For example, grilling will not be useful at all if one chooses to baste the meat with loads of oil. Even baking will rob the white meat of its value and utility if it is stuffed with high calorie food as buttered potatoes. So chicken fry is not such a great idea while roast chicken or turkey, stuffed with apples and an appropriate sauce would be an ideal meal which will provide the goodness of the white meat along with the goodness of the fruits; in addition there is very little use of oil, making the dish not only appetizing, but also packed choc-a-bloc with the natural goodness of meat and fruits.
Another good option is chicken soup with seasonal vegetables, lots of ginger, garlic, tomatoes and perhaps some herbs as thyme, oregano or basil not only gives it a good taste and texture ( creamy with the inclusion of potatoes and carrots), but the garlic and ginger are known cleaners of blocked nasal passages and relieve sinusitis. Without the use of butter, this dish is ideal for in between meal snacks especially for those on a diet or are old and infirm. Even for ravenous children who require protein for their growth, such a dish is likely to be devoured with ease making it an ideal way of packing in essential nutrients (of both white meat and the vegetables).
 White meat and the environment
This brings us to the most important health issue: most of the chickens and other birds are grown on farms in conditions that are far from hygienic. In fact one look at the chicken breeding grounds can be enough to turn a person vegetarian. Not only is there a huge shortage of space, but the birds are also kept in unsanitary conditions, fed on a diet of antibiotics, growth hormones and other poisonous substances which make them bigger and heavier. When these birds are eaten, much of the toxins do find their way into the blood stream of humans making them open to cancer and other ailments. Hardly a thing one ought to opt for when one opts for the goodness of white meat. In addition there is also the incidence of bird flue that spreads among humans from the dirty and dingy surroundings where chickens are bred for commercial purposes.
What could be the alternatives to battle the aforementioned problems? The obvious answer would be to go that extra bit more for the right kind of food that does more good than harm. Source free range poultry that are raised on organic feeds, minus the hormones and other such diets. Chickens and other birds depend on insects for their food. They search for the same in waste heaps and field, making them akin to scavengers. This is precisely why most cultures ban the use of chicken in religious ceremonies. However it is this breed of birds that are packed with more nutrients as iron, protein and zinc making it worth the extra effort.
 What can I do about it?
 Choosing the Right Colour
White meat has a translucent, almost glassy appearance in the raw which gradually turns to an opaque white when cooked. Most of the people living in the Asian countries prefer the darker coloured chicken meat. Those in the western region eat more of the white chicken. This is a cultural preference on display. However is there more to it or is it just a food bias at work here? Which kind of coloured meat is better?
Those who are looking to lose weight should ideally eat more of white chicken as it is 25 % less in the calorific count, is twice higher in terms of fat and cholesterol content. Of course this can be rectified by removing the skin of the chicken that holds most of the unsaturated fats. This would give double benefits: one, it would rid the chicken of the unwanted fats that promote bad cholesterol, and two, it would help in removing most of the toxins that the chicken may have ingested in the farm.
In case one chooses to overlook issues of weight, cholesterol and fat, then the dark meat chicken, mainly portions from the thigh and leg that has a higher myoglobin count, is tastier, retains more of the moisture and does not become tough and dry. This is due to the presence of collagen which melts during the cooking process and renders the meat soft, moist and rich in flavour and texture.
 Choosing the right vendor
When the bird flu epidemic spread through parts of Asia in 2006, much of it was because of the improper handling of infected birds. This underscored an issue that few had considered till then -- how important is it to know where the poultry is housed and how it is butchered?
- Always ask the butcher where the birds have come from. In many countries like Ireland, every packet of meat one buys from the supermarket has to declare the source of meat.
- Buy fresh meat, wherever possible, instead of frozen.
- Ensure that the workspace at the butcher shop is clean.
- All the essential nutrients in meat are found in the lean parts.
- The white meat is generally preferred in the United States while other countries choose the dark meat.
- A 15-pound turkey typically has about 70 percent white meat and 30 percent dark meat.
- The two types of meat differ nutritionally. White meat has fewer calories and less fat than dark meat.
- In January 2008, the rocketing price of more conventional meats due to bird flu quarantines and world oil prices doubled the market price of rat meat in Cambodia. Rats are just another source of white meat protein.
- Cambodians in certain provinces have long caught rats as a protein source when rodent numbers reach a peak during the rice harvest and enjoy the meat roasted or dried as a snack while drinking.
- The New York Times
- Rat - the other white meat