There has been an ongoing debate and preference among people as to the better source of meat; most tending to incline themselves to white meat as being a better option to red meat.
Red meat, referred so from its colour, comes from livestock species of comprising large ruminants like cattle, small ruminants like sheep and goats, as well as camels. Non non-ruminant species of poultry, rabbits and emerging livestock such as quail are sources of white meat, as is fish. There is no clarity on where to place pigs. On matters preference, research has shown that chicken is most preferred meat consumed in Kenya at 92%, followed by beef at 84.7%, and fish coming in third at 79.4%.
This high consumption of chicken as compared to other sources of meat could have been as a result of the myth that white meat is healthier than red meat; but research has proven otherwise. Dr Petronila Nduthu from the State Department of Livestock analyses these prevalent myths using different themes.
Myth 1 – White meat is low in cholesterol
Most people have been trying to avoid taking food that has cholesterol, instead choosing lean cuts of meat and white meat. However, studies have found out that white meat does not contain any lower amounts of cholesterol than red meat, as chicken contains as much cholesterol as beef. According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2019, an analysis of one small, grilled, skinless chicken breast was found to contains around 100 milligrams of cholesterol which is an amount that can add roughly 0.13 mmol/L (or 5 mg/dL) to your cholesterol level. Too much bad cholesterol can lead to cardiovascular disease. The study did not provide evidence for choosing white over red meat in order to reduce cardiovascular disease.
Myth 2 – White meat is a high protein, low-fat food
Although most people have considered chicken to be lean meat with less fat, this assumption was deemed incorrect from an analysis done by London Metropolitan University on chicken thigh meat from several supermarkets and organic suppliers. The findings showed that it contained more than twice as much fat, a third more calories and a third less protein. So much for it being a ‘high-protein’ food, someone eating 100 grams of chicken would get more calories from the fat than the protein that is 207 as opposed to only 64 from protein. Similarly, organic chicken was not any better as the 154 calories from fat exceeded the 74 calories from protein. The study concluded that in view of the obesity epidemic, chickens that provide several times the fat energy compared with protein seemed illogical. Therefore, there was a recommendation that chicken husbandry needs to be reviewed with regard to its implications for animal welfare and human nutrition. Further to this the team found that chicken carcass tissues contained almost a pint of fat. This shows that the myth of chicken meat being lean meat as not being true as the biggest difference between the two is fat content where white meat is a leaner source of protein, with a lower fat content than red meat.
Myth 3 – White meat does not cause cancer like processed red meat
Severally times it is argued that white meat does not cause cancer as compared to red meat. However, it has been found that thoroughly cooking white meat, including chicken, duck and turkey, can generate hazardous chemicals known as heterocyclic aromatic amines (HAAs), which are linked to cancer in humans. The HAAs form when sugars and creatine, a protein building block found mostly in muscle, are heated during cooking. Both are naturally present in meats. Some of the highest concentrations are in grilled meat like chicken which contains more than 10 times the amount in grilled beef. Frying often produces large amounts of HAAs, too. These HAAs can bind directly to human DNA, causing mutation and initiating cancer.
Myth 4 – White meat is a good choice for diabetics
Another myth is that white meat does not cause diabetes. A 2018 study published in Diabetes Care, found that cooking chicken at high temperatures such as roasting, grilling, barbecuing and frying (very common cooking methods for poultry!) can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. It is thought that some chemicals (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, heterocyclic aromatic amines and nitrosamines) formed during cooking may “spur an inflammatory response, interfere with the normal production of insulin, or promote insulin resistance in which the body cannot use insulin properly to regulate blood sugar levels”, according to the researchers from Harvard University. This shows that chicken can cause diabetes depending on the way it is cooked.
Myth 5 – White meat is cleaner than red meat
This statement is also not true. The issue of contamination could be as a result of poor handling of meat in unhygienic ways or from the animals eating plant feeds contaminated with animal excreta, human sewerage or handled by someone with dirty hands. Many cases go unrecognized and unreported and it may be that one in every four people experience food poisoning every year in the UK.
Myth 6 – White meat does not contain antibiotics
This was proved as not being true as the antibiotics in meat depends on the management of the farm animals. Globally, around three-quarters of all antibiotics are given to farmed animals, primarily pigs and poultry. The overuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture, has led to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant ‘superbugs’ and is yet another global health disaster in the making. According to a study in Clinical Microbiology and Infection: “This massive use of antibiotics amplifies and accelerates the emergence and spread of drug-resistant bacteria and ultimately leads to transmission of resistant bacteria from animals to humans through the food chain.” One of the most common superbugs is extra intestinal pathogenic Escherichia coli which causes bladder and urinary tract infections. This study states that poultry is “a major food animal reservoir for urinary tract infection” and this is supported by studies which have shown that those who eat more chicken, are more likely to have antibiotic-resistant bladder and urinary tract infections.
7 – Men need meat
There have been myths that meat affects the health balance of hormones. However, it was found that Phthalates (a group of chemicals called plasticizers used in the production of plastics such as PVC and vinyl to make them more pliable) causes contamination to our food bringing negative health outcomes in men. A 2008 study found that male children of women with high levels of phthalate in their blood while pregnant were more likely to have adverse health outcomes. They noted that the presence of one phthalate metabolite, MEHP, was associated with smaller penis size. Further, a 2009 study found that the presence of MEHP was associated with lower testosterone levels in men. Therefore, these studies did not prove that effect came from meat but it came from contamination from Phthalates.
In conclusion, the perception of both white and red meat is not true as the red colour meats simply have more myoglobin, which are the cells that transport oxygen to muscles in the bloodstream. Active muscles used more frequently are darker. This is why chicken and turkey legs are slightly darker than breast. In fact flying birds wings have high levels of hymoglobin and could be classified as red meat.
Therefore, if you opt to eat meat, it is a good idea to include small amounts of both in your diet. Opt for leaner cuts of red meat, like those that end in loin. Further, trim visible fat around the edges to reduce fat intake and avoid charring while cooking. Therefore, the production of all livestock species should be given emphasis and promoted.