Protein is an essential component of a balanced diet.

Though it can be obtained from a variety of sources, chicken and turkey are among the most popular protein-rich foods.

This article explores the protein content of turkey and chicken and discusses which may be the healthier choice.

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Most of the white meat in chicken and turkey is from the breasts and wings.

The color appears whiter compared to darker parts of the poultry due to a lower content of the protein myoglobin. Myoglobin transports and stores oxygen within the muscle and is responsible for the reddish-brown hue of darker cuts of meat (1).

Breast Meat

Breast meat is one of the most popular cuts of poultry, especially among fitness enthusiasts and dieters due to its high protein and low calorie content.

Here’s a comparison of the protein content of 1 ounce (28 grams) of roasted breast meat (2, 3):

  • Chicken breast: 9 grams
  • Turkey breast: 8 grams

Chicken takes the lead with one gram of protein more than turkey per ounce (28 grams) of meat. However, nutritionally speaking, this difference is negligible. Either choice would be a good protein boost for a meal.

Wing Meat

The white meat from the wings of both chicken and turkey is nutritionally very similar to breast meat. The protein content, in particular, is nearly the same for both birds when compared to breast meat.

Both chicken and turkey wing meat provides the same amount of protein per ounce (28 grams) — about 9 grams (4, 5).

Summary There is very little difference in the protein content of white meat cuts of chicken and turkey. Chicken breast provides 1 gram of protein more than turkey breast, but the protein content of chicken and turkey wing meat is identical.

The term “dark” is used to describe the cuts of meat with a reddish-brown color.

The cuts have this pigment because of a high concentration of the protein myoglobin (1).

As myoglobin assists in the transportation and storage of oxygen in the muscle cells, dark meat is usually found in more active muscle groups, such as the legs and thighs of chicken and turkey (1).

Leg Meat

Sometimes called a drumstick, the leg meat of both chicken and turkey provides an equal amount of protein per ounce (28 grams) — about 8 grams (6, 7).

Thigh Meat

The thigh meat of both chicken and turkey is found just above the leg. Sometimes it’s sold still attached to the leg as one cut.

Per ounce (28 grams) of meat, turkey provides one additional gram of protein compared to chicken (8, 9):

  • Chicken thigh: 7 grams
  • Turkey thigh: 8 grams

Though turkey thigh meat is technically the higher protein source in this comparison, a single gram of protein per ounce (28 grams) is unlikely to make much difference overall. Either choice would still qualify as a good source of high-quality protein.

Summary The protein content of leg and thigh meat for chicken and turkey is almost the same, though turkey thigh has one gram more protein than chicken thigh per ounce (28 grams) of meat.

Both chicken and turkey provide high-quality protein and can be a healthy component of a balanced diet. But keep in mind that too much of any single food, meat included, could have negative consequences on your health (10).

Incorporating moderate amounts of chicken or turkey into your diet can be a healthy way to meet your protein needs, although protein isn’t the only nutrient turkey and chicken provide.

When deciding which option may meet your personal nutrition needs and health goals best, the total nutrition content, including calories, fat, vitamins and minerals, should be considered alongside protein.

Calories and Fat

Paying attention to calories and fat content of foods may be necessary depending on your health goals.

Fat is an essential component of a healthy diet and poultry contains different types of healthy fats (10).

However, fat is a denser source of calories compared to protein. This means that higher-fat cuts of meat will have more calories than leaner cuts.

Overall, dark meat in both chicken and turkey has more fat than white meat. This tends to be true for other types of poultry as well.

Dark meat cuts of chicken have slightly more fat and calories than dark meat cuts of turkey. The same is true for the white meat of these two types of poultry, as turkey is slightly leaner with fewer calories than chicken.

It’s also worth noting that if you eat the skin, you’ll see a jump in both fat and calorie content of any type of poultry.

None of this means either choice is necessarily better than the other, but it may be worth considering depending on what you want to accomplish with your diet.

Vitamins and Minerals

While there is no significant difference in vitamin and mineral content between chicken and turkey, there may be some variations of these nutrients between white and dark meat in general.

For example, chicken breast contains more niacin and vitamin B6 than chicken leg, while chicken leg contains significantly more zinc than the chicken breast (2, 6).

Therefore, if you’re looking to increase your intake of zinc, the dark meat may be a better option, whereas if you want a vitamin B boost, the white meat may be more suitable.

When considering dietary options such as these, it's good to keep the big picture in mind. Eating a wide variety of foods and cuts of meat may be the best way to ensure that you get the nutrients you need.

Summary Both chicken and turkey can be a healthy part of your diet. In addition to protein, they both provide calories, fat, vitamins and minerals. You may prefer one over the other depending on your personal health goals.

Both turkey and chicken are rich in high-quality protein.

Chicken breast has slightly more protein than turkey breast, but turkey thigh is minimally higher in protein than chicken thigh. The other meat cuts provide equal amounts of protein.

Which type is healthier depends on your personal health and nutrition goals.

When deciding if a food fits into your diet, it’s always good practice to consider the whole food, including for example calories and vitamins, not just one component, such as protein.

Eating a variety of foods to ensure an adequate supply of all of the nutrients your body needs will support your health most effectively. Balance is key!