In France, the Muscovy duck, which in the case of the male is noted for having a large amount of lean breast meat, has gained wide popularity in recent decades. In China, Beijing (Peking) ducking is a very popular item in restaurants in the larger cities. Beijing duck is also enjoyed in other areas of China, but the native Maya (house duck or Sparrow duck) is more popular in the countryside. Many or perhaps most Chinese prefer more mature ducks (Beijing ducks are usually slaughtered at 7-8 weeks of age). In Taiwan, Mule ducks, which are also noted for having a high proportion of lean meat, are very popular, both in restaurants and at home.
Among people who have never tried duck, or those who rarely eat it, there appears to be at least two concerns. One concern seems to be a lack of knowledge of how to properly prepare duck. Actually cooking duck is not too different from cooking other meats and once a few basic principles are mastered, most anyone can become a master duck chef. Information on cooking duck is available from sources such as the Duckling Counsel. The other concern among the uninitiated appears to be the somewhat higher fat content of duck, which is true of whole duck but not of leg meat or skinless breast. It is a well documented fact that problems associated with over-consumption of calories and fat have increased as the economies of many nations around the world improved during the latter half of the past century. Food has become more plentiful and affordable and the amount of physical labor required to earn a living has decreased. Concern over excessive calorie and fat intake is a very legitimate one and making intelligent food choices is essential to everyone's good health today.
One of the best kept nutritional secrets today, however, is that duck, as well as most foods, can be included in a nutritionally well-balanced healthy diet. As any competent nutritionist knows it is the actual intake of nutrients on a daily (or a period of a few days) basis that is important. Maintaining an adequate intake of the nutrients we need and avoiding excessive consumption of calories, fat and cholesterol, requires making intelligent choices with regard to the particular foods, and especially the amount of each food consumed. This is true whether duck is a part of one's diet or not. When duck ( or any of a long list of other foods) is included in the menu, some adjustments in the amounts of other items on the menu may be necessary. As demonstrated in the example below, however, these adjustments need not be burdensome. In contrast to the "good food/bad food" rationale (total avoidance of "bad" foods, eat only "healthy" foods) made popular by advertising and other media, many people can and do regularly eat a balanced diet made up of a variety of foods, including some foods mislabeled as "bad foods" by the "search and destroy" food gurus of our time. The fact that duck is usually consumed less frequently than meats such as chicken, beef or pork, makes it relatively simple to add duck to a weekly menu and at the same time adhere to the dietary guidelines of nutritional authorities such as the National Research Council, Food and Nutrition Board, which publishes Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA's), and without exceeding the intake of total calories, total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol recommended by the American Heart Association (AHA). The choice of duck leg or duck breast without skin (see below) makes it even easier to meet nutritional standards with minimal sacrifices of other foods included in the weekly menu.
Basic to good meal planning is reliable data on the composition of the foods included in the diet plan. Fortunately extensive data on the composition of foods, including duck, is available from the US Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, on the website: http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/search/index.html. Some of the nutritional values for duck have been summarized in Tables 1-5 below. Like other meats, duck is an excellent source of high quality protein containing a well-balanced array of amino acids. Duck also contains generous amounts of iron, phosphorus, zinc, copper, selenium, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, and lesser amounts of Potassium, Magnesium, Vitamin E, Vitamin A, Vitamin C and folic acid. See Table 2 for the percentages of Recommended Daily Allowances (RDA's) supplied by duck.
When compared on a "lean to lean" basis, duck is very similar in nutrient composition to other meats, as can be observed from the data in Tables 3-5. Duck leg meat (thigh + drumstick), with or without skin (Tables 3 and 4) or duck breast without skin (Table 5) contain relatively low levels of fat and calories, and compare favorably, even to chicken and turkey. These duck parts can be incorporated into the menu of the most diet conscious consumers without difficulty. Table 6 presents an example of how roast whole duck (including skin) can be incorporated into a menu for a day without exceeding limits on calories, total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol recommended by AHA, and meeting nutritional requirements of humans according to RDA guidelines. The diet presented is for 70 kg (154 lb) adult males, 23-50 years, of age in physically light occupations. AHA guidelines limit fat intake to 30% of calories, saturated fat intake to 10% of calories and cholesterol intake to 300 mg. In this example, all these guidelines are met within a single day. Actually most nutrition authorities, including AHA, do not require that limits be met every single day so long as the limits over several days, such as a week, are not exceeded. It is obvious from examination of the menu that one does not have to "starve" at breakfast and lunch in order to enjoy duck for dinner.