Dark meat chicken can actually be a healthier choice than white meat — here's why you shouldn't be afraid to order it

moonlightbulb/FlickrThere are some common misconceptions about dark meat chicken.
  • Skinless dark meat chicken has twice as much fat as light meat chicken – but not all fat is bad for you.
  • Human bodies need a certain amount of fat every day for regular healthy functions.
  • Dark meat chicken contains twice as much healthy unsaturated fat as light meat chicken – although it does also contain twice as much saturated fat, the number is still small.
  • When it comes to all parts of the chicken, it’s the skin that’s the least healthy thing to eat since it’s full of saturated fat.

For years, dark meat chicken has had a bad reputation in America. Plenty of people around the world love it – to the point that for decades, we’ve shipped our dark meat overseas because we’re so busy eating our beloved chicken breasts.

You may have a taste preference for dark or light meat, of course – but it turns out that health fears about dark meat have largely been blown out of all proportion to reality. Here are the facts.

Here are the health stats on chicken thighs

Grilled chicken with meat thermometerJon Beard/ShutterstockIt also depends on how you cook the chicken.

According to the USDA, three ounces of roasted chicken thigh contains 210 total calories and 120 calories of fat – or 13 grams, which is 20% of your recommended daily value for total fat consumption.

Breaking it down further, only 3.5 grams are saturated fat – which is 18% of your recommended daily value in that category. That means most of the fat in chicken thighs is the healthy unsaturated kind.

Eating a certain amount of fat on the daily is necessary and healthy – but we have to pay attention to what kind of fat it is

Health-conscious people love to hear about all the vitamins and minerals we should have in our diet to stay healthy – but it’s equally important to know that some of those nutrients can’t absorb into your body properly without fat.

Harvard Medical School had this to say about the role that healthy fats play in our bodies throughout our lives:

“[Fat is] a major source of energy. It helps you absorb some vitamins and minerals. Fat is needed to build cell membranes, the vital exterior of each cell, and the sheaths surrounding nerves. It is essential for blood clotting, muscle movement, and inflammation.”

HMS went on to add that “replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat may indeed reduce the risk of heart disease.”

Now that you know about chicken thighs and their fat content, here’s how they stack up against chicken breasts

According to the USDA, a 3-ounce portion of roasted chicken breast contains 170 calories, of which 60 are from total fat. That’s 7 grams of fat or 10% of your recommended daily value. Saturated fat content is 2 grams or 9% of your RDV for that fat subcategory.

Taking these numbers into account, it’s pretty clear that chicken thighs contain twice as much fat as chicken breasts – but the majority of the fat is unsaturated, so they contain twice as much of that more heart-healthy fat, as well.

There are other nutritional benefits to choosing thighs over breasts, as well.

National Chicken Council representative Tom Super told the Takeout that when it comes to chicken, “dark meat contains more iron, zinc, riboflavin, thiamine, and vitamins B6 and B12.”

How you cook any type of chicken – and whether or not it has the skin on – is a bigger fat concern than light or dark meat

Of course, we all have our favourites when it comes to chicken recipes – and a lot of times, we crave what we’re already familiar with because it tastes like home. Those memories of meals past often influence what we choose to eat – and buy at the grocery store – today.

But it turns out that can actually be a big benefit of dark meat chicken,Marisa Moore, R.D.N. told Women’s Health. Dark meat can typically stand on its own without extra breading or oil.

“It’s more succulent and full of flavour, which allows it to easily stand on its own without being smothered in sugary, salty sauces,” says Moore. “Dark meat will also stand up to broiling without drying out.”

How you cook your chicken also matters – consistently deep-frying or using huge amounts of cheese and butter in your dishes will make the benefits of your other ingredient choices not matter as much. All of those things can be enjoyed in moderation if you’re otherwise healthy – but as always, check with your doctor for any specific health concerns you may have regarding your individual dietary needs.

Registered dietitian Dana Angelo White told the Food Network, the biggest chicken culprit you need to look out for if you’re avoiding saturated fat is the skin. That goes for breasts, thighs, and any other part of the chicken you want to eat. There’s no denying that perfectly crispy skin is delicious – but unfortunately, it’s actually the worst for you.

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