Duck Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits

cooked duck served on a platter

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In This Article

Duck, while often associated with a high fat content, is more nutrient-dense than you might think. It contains mostly healthy unsaturated fat, yet still has a rich, meaty flavor. Most cooking methods involve preparing the duck so that the majority of the fat is rendered off, leaving crispy skin and lean meat. The rendered duck fat can be used as a healthier alternative to butter or other animal fats used in cooking.

Duck meat is extremely flavorful and nutrient dense. It's an excellent source of protein and healthy fat as well as micronutrients including selenium, iron, and niacin. Duck eggs are also nutrient dense with a similar nutrient profile to chicken eggs (with higher amounts per egg because duck eggs are larger than chicken eggs.)

Duck Nutrition Facts

This nutrition information, for one 3-ounce (85g) roasted skinless Pekin duck breast, is provided by the USDA. The Pekin breed is the most commonly consumed type of duck in the U.S. 

  • Calories: 119
  • Fat: 2g
  • Sodium: 89mg
  • Carbohydrates: 0g
  • Fiber: 0g
  • Sugars: 0g
  • Protein: 23.5g

Carbs

Duck alone does not contain any carbohydrates (which means it does not have any fiber or sugar).

Fats

Duck contains a lot of fat between the skin and meat, but it doesn't contain marbled fat throughout the muscle like beef. This visible fat has given duck a reputation for being high in fat. However, the amount of overall fat content will vary significantly based on whether or not duck is cooked and consumed with or without the skin.

In fact, without skin and visible fat, duck meat has less fat than roasted skinless chicken breasts. For example, skinless duck breast provides only 2g total fat (0.5g of which is saturated fat) per 3-ounce portion. The same portion of roasted skinless chicken breast provides 3g total fat (1g of which is saturated fat). As with chicken, duck legs and thighs have slightly more total fat (a 3-ounce portion of skinless duck legs contains 5g total fat), but duck legs still contain less fat than skinless chicken thighs.

Moreover, the majority of the fat is healthy unsaturated fat, including a high amount of monounsaturated fat and a combination of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

Even if consumed with skin, the fat content of duck will vary depending on how much fat was rendered off during the cooking process. For example, a duck breast pan-seared for 13 minutes and then roasted will have less fat than the same piece of duck seared for a shorter amount of time. 

Protein

Duck meat provides high-quality protein with a variety of non-essential and essential amino acids. 

Vitamins and Minerals

Duck contains a variety of micronutrients, including iron, selenium, and a small amount of vitamin C. It contains a variety of B vitamins but is particularly high in niacin and B-12.  Like other B vitamins, niacin plays an important role in converting carbohydrates into glucose and metabolizing fats and proteins. B-12 is essential for nerve function, red blood cell formation, and DNA synthesis. 

Health Benefits

Duck is an animal protein that provides some of the beneficial nutrients common in red meat (such as iron), without as much saturated fat as red meat.

Boosts the Immune System

Duck (along with Brazil nuts, fish, and other animal proteins) is a good source of selenium, an important antioxidant that can help prevent cell damage and fight inflammation, both of which support the body's immune system.

Supports Thyroid Health

Consuming an adequate amount of selenium is also important for thyroid health. A 3-ounce portion of Pekin duck meat provides over 50% of the daily value for selenium.

Protects Bones

Some research shows that consuming animal protein, including duck, may improve bone density and strength—as long as calcium intake is also sufficient.

Reduces Heart Disease Risk

While oily fish is considered a top source of omega-3 fatty acids, duck also contains these heart-healthy acids. Eating duck (and other forms of poultry) in place of steak and other meats high in saturated fat also has the potential for some positive health outcomes related to the risk of cardiovascular disease. Plus, duck provides about as much iron as red meat, significantly more than you get from chicken.

Substitutes for Butter and Other Animal Fats

Duck fat is not necessarily healthier than olive oil or other fats that are liquid at room temperature. While duck fat contains a high percentage of unsaturated fats, it still contains more saturated fat than olive oil and does not contain all of the beneficial polyphenols in extra virgin olive oil.

However, in terms of saturated fat, duck fat is healthier than butter, pork fat (lard), or beef fat (tallow) and can be used in many similar applications. Keep in mind that unlike butter, it does have a pronounced flavor that tastes more like animal fat.

Allergies

There are no allergies or intolerances associated specifically with duck. People with other meat allergies may also react to duck. 

Varieties

There are two main breeds of duck raised for consumption: Pekin and Muscovy. About 90% of duck meat produced in the U.S. is Pekin. Ducks raised for meat can not typically be treated with antibiotics or hormones.

According to the USDA, "no hormones are allowed in U.S. duck or goose production [and] very few drugs have been approved for ducks...antibiotics are not routinely given and are not useful for feed efficiency. If a drug is given—usually, through the feed—to cure illness, for example, a 'withdrawal' period of days is required from the time it is administered until it is legal to slaughter the bird. This is so residues can exit the bird's system."

Storage and Food Safety

While many chefs prefer to serve duck medium-rare, the USDA recommends cooking duck to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F, as you would with any poultry.

If you render duck fat, strain it through a cheesecloth to filter out any particles that may have come off of the meat. Let it cool and then store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 6 months or in the freezer for up to a year.

How to Prepare

As game meat, duck has a uniquely rich and strong flavor that is a combination of savory and sweet. It has some backbone of flavor similar to dark meat chicken or turkey, but is actually closer in flavor to red meat and has a texture and appearance more similar to steak.

There are myriad ways to prepare duck including roasted whole duck, pan-seared and roasted duck breast, classic duck leg confit (where duck legs are cooked low and slow in duck fat), duck sausage, and even duck "bacon." Use rendered duck fat in duck fat fries or duck fat roasted potatoes. Note that some parts are healthier than others. For example, duck liver from a fattened duck (known as foie gras) is much less healthy than the duck meat from the breast or leg.

Duck meat pairs particularly well with fruits and vegetables that have natural sweetness such as cherries, pomegranate, and apricots as well as winter squash and sweet potato. Its flavor is versatile and duck also goes perfectly well with many other savory kinds of produce. 

To prepare duck breasts, start by rendering the fat and crisping up the skin. Score the skin through the fat, then cook, slowly, skin-side down to render the fat (this could take 10 minutes or more). Pour the rendered fat into a glass jar to either reserve for another use or discard, and then transfer the duck breasts to a preheated oven to finish cooking to your desired temperature.

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