In culinary terms, white meat is meat which is pale in color before and after cooking. In traditional gastronomy, white meat also includes rabbit, the flesh of milk-fed young mammals (in particular veal and lamb), and sometimes pork. In ecotrophology and nutritional studies, white meat includes poultry and fish, but excludes all mammal flesh, which is considered red meat.
Various factors have resulted in debate centering on the definition of white and red meat. Dark meat is used to describe darker-colored flesh. A common example is the lighter-colored meat of poultry (white meat), coming from the breast, as contrasted with darker-colored meat from the legs (dark meat). Certain types of poultry that are sometimes grouped as white meat are red when raw, such as duck and goose. Some types of fish, such as tuna, sometimes are red when raw and turn white when cooked.
The terms white, red, light and dark applied to meat have varied and inconsistent meanings in different contexts. The term white meat in particular has caused confusion from oversimplification in scientific publications, misuse of the term in the popular press, and evolution of the term over decades. Some writers suggest avoiding the terms "red" and "white" altogether, instead classifying meat by objective characteristics such as myoglobin or heme iron content, lipid profile, fatty acid composition, cholesterol content, etc.
In nutritional studies, white meat may also include amphibians like frogs and land snails. Mammal flesh (eg; beef, pork, goat, lamb, doe, rabbit) is excluded and considered to be red meat. Periodically some researchers allow lean cuts of rabbit to be an outlier and categorize it into the “white meat” category because it shares certain nutritional similarities with poultry. Otherwise, nutritional studies and social studies popularly define "red meat" as coming from any mammal, "seafood" as coming from fish and shellfish, and "white meat" coming from birds and other animals. Some entomologists have referred to edible insects as "the next white meat".
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) typically classifies red meat, poultry, and seafood as their own separate categories. The USDA considers all livestock animals (including beef, veal, pork) to be "red meat” because their muscles contain enough myoglobin that their fresh meat is deep red in color prior to being cooked. Poultry and seafood are not considered to be red meats because they contain less myoglobin. The term white meat is used to describe poultry in particular; while this includes duck and geese, they are considered to be a dark meat. Seafood is treated as a distinct product and not included as a type of meat by the USDA's FSIS. The World Health Organization (WHO) makes a distinction between white meat and seafood.
Within poultry, there are two types of meats—white and dark. The different colours are based on the different locations and uses of the muscles. White meat can be found within the breast of a chicken or turkey. Dark muscles are fit to develop endurance or long-term use, and contain more myoglobin than white muscles, allowing the muscle to use oxygen more efficiently for aerobic respiration. White meat contains large amounts of protein.
Dark meat contains 2.64 times more saturated fat than white meat, per gram of protein. One commentator wrote that dark meat contains more vitamins, while a New York Times columnist has stated the two meats are nearly identical in nutritional value, especially when compared with typical red meat. For ground-based birds like chicken and turkeys, dark meats occur in the legs, which are used to support the weight of the animals while they move. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 28 grams (1 oz) of boneless, skinless turkey breast contains about one gram of fat, compared with roughly two grams of fat for 28 g (1 oz) of boneless, skinless thigh. The numbers go up when the skin is kept in: a chicken thigh, with skin intact, has 13 grams of total fat and 3.5 grams of saturated fat per 85 g (3 oz) serving; this is about 20 percent of the recommended maximum daily intake. Birds which use their chest muscles for sustained flight (such as geese and ducks) have dark meat throughout their bodies.
Because of health concerns, meat producers have positioned pork as "white meat", taking advantage of the traditional gastronomic definition. The United States National Pork Board has marketed their product as "Pork. The Other White Meat".
The health effects that correlate with white meat consumption have been studied as compared to red meat and vegetarian diets. There is a decreased incidence of stroke. There is no association with obesity or insulin resistance. White meat appears to have a neutral or favorable effect on blood coagulation profiles. There is additional evidence that myoglobin promotes carcinogenesis in colorectal models and therefore epidemiologic evidence supports reduced prevalence of colon cancer in those who consume white meat as opposed to red meat.
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