First, what makes the meat white or red? Red meats simply have more myoglobin, which are the cells that transport oxygen to muscles in the bloodstream. Muscles used more frequently are darker. This is why chicken and turkey legs are slightly darker than breast meat - because legs are used more, more myoglobin is present, creating a darker appearance. Although it can depend on the culture or cuisine, white meat is generally classified as poultry (chicken and turkey), while red meat typically refers to beef, pork, and lamb.
The biggest difference between the two is fat content. White meat is a leaner source of protein, with a lower fat content. Red meat contains higher levels of fat, but also contains higher levels of vitamins like iron, zinc and B vitamins. The iron present in red meat is a type called heme iron, which is more easily absorbed by the body compared to iron found in plant sources. Because red meat is high in these vitamins, vegetarians and vegans are often found to be deficient, especially B vitamins.
Although it may contain more vitamins and minerals, high consumption of red meat has been correlated with increased incidence of certain cancers, specifically colorectal cancer.
High-temperature cooking, like grilling, can form carcinogenic (cancer-causing) compounds in the meat. This is especially true for charred meats.
Both white and red meat have benefits; if you eat meat, it's a good idea to include small amount of both in your diet. Opt for leaner cuts of red meat, like those that end in "-loin" (sirloin, tenderloin, etc). Further, trim visible fat around the edges to reduce fat intake and avoid charring while cooking. In this way, you can try to reduce the disadvantages of eating red meat.
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Carolyn McAnlis, RDN, is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who has a special interest in preventing chronic disease through nutrition. She graduated from Syracuse University with a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition Science & Dietetics and a minor in Psychology. After completing a full-time dietetic internship at the University of Virginia Health System, she has developed a passion for convincing others that healthy food can be delicious through her blog A Dietitian in the Kitchen.