Chicken is a leaner bird than most other types of poultry, such as goose or duck, but some chicken parts are quite high in fat. As with many animals, organ meats contain the most fat within chicken, followed by thigh or leg meat, and then the breast meat. Breast meat, also called the white meat, is the leanest part of chicken because of its reduced function. Conversely, the organs and the thighs undergo more activity and require more fat and oxygen-carrying compounds.
Difference in Fat Content
The meatiest parts of virtually all poultry are the “flight” muscles, also called the breast meat. However, commercially raised poultry such as chicken are raised in a way that makes it almost impossible to use the breast muscles by flying or wing flapping, so far less oxygen and blood is needed in those areas. As a consequence, modern breast meat has far less oxygen-carrying myoglobin, glycogen and fat storage compared to organ and thigh meat, which are much darker in color. Interestingly, waterfowl such as geese and ducks that constantly use their flight muscles in the wild have darker breast meat than chicken and turkey.
Organ meats, especially the liver, are high in fat in all animals. For example, 1 ounce of cooked chicken liver contains about 50 calories, 2 grams of fat and about 160 milligrams of cholesterol. In other words, about 55 percent of your daily recommended amount of cholesterol is contained in just 1 ounce of chicken liver. Chicken liver is most often eaten as pate, which is typically spread on crackers or bread. Chicken liver and other organ meats usually have the richest taste due to the high fat content.
Dark meat, such as chicken thighs and drumsticks, are nearly as high in fat as organ meats, but an important factor is whether they are eaten with skin or not. For example, one chicken drumstick without skin contains about 75 calories and 3 grams of fat, but with skin it jumps to about 115 calories and 6 grams of fat. In addition, skinless chicken thighs, which are a little larger than drumsticks, contain about 115 calories and 5.5 grams of fat, but the skin adds an additional 35 calories and 4.5 grams of fat. Your cooking methods alter the fat content as well. Grilling and roasting chicken allows for the chicken fat to drip away, whereas frying often increases fat content, especially if you batter the chicken parts.
Chicken breast without skin is the least fatty part of the chicken. For comparison, half a grilled skinless breast weighing 3 ounces, which is a little larger than a typical thigh, contains about 100 calories, 3 grams of fat and 75 milligrams of cholesterol. However, fried chicken breast with the skin can easily contain twice the calories, fat and cholesterol. The trade off with eating white meat is that it’s usually not as rich in flavor or as moist as dark meat.
- Encyclopedia of Human Nutrition; Benjamin Caballero et al.
- The Nutribase Complete Book of Food Counts; Art Ulene
Sirah Dubois is currently a PhD student in food science after having completed her master's degree in nutrition at the University of Alberta. She has worked in private practice as a dietitian in Edmonton, Canada and her nutrition-related articles have appeared in The Edmonton Journal newspaper.