Most Americans eat more chicken than beef according to research tracking the amount of poultry, beef and pork Americans eat. Researchers found in 2012 the amount of chicken consumed surpassed beef for the first time since in over 100 years.
There are many reasons why people are eating more chicken. Cost is a big factor with the cost of beef rising, chicken is usually the cheaper protein alternative. With health concerns over eating red meat and cancer risk, chicken also is chosen as a likely healthier protein option.
In fact, the American Institute for Cancer Research (1) recommends limiting consumption of red meat and processed meats.
Even though chicken is shed in a positive light, keep in mind different parts of the chicken can vary nutritionally.
Wings and darker meat are higher in calories and fat compared to the leaner white chicken breast.
How you cook your chicken can also greatly vary the nutrition of chicken. Frying and leaving the skin on increase the energy density, but taking the skin off and roasting chicken can provide lower energy density.
Leanest part of the chicken
Skinless boneless chicken breast is considered the leanest part of the chicken. Buying bone in cuts of meat can be a cheaper option, and according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (2) eating bone in chicken doesn’t affect nutrition value and may actually help you eat smaller portions.
According to the National Chicken Council (3), a 3.5 ounce of skinless chicken breast provides about 165 calories from 31 grams of protein and about 3.5 grams of fat. Keeping the skin on the breast bumps the calories up to just under 200 calories.
Thigh meat without the skin provides just over 200 calories with higher fat content at about 11 grams. Leaving the skin on the thigh bumps the calories up to about 230 calories.
The highest calorie density cut of chicken is wings with the skin on. A 3.5 ounce serving provides about 290 calories and 19.5 grams of fat.
See Also: What is considered lean meat?
Nutrients in chicken
Chicken breast is a concentrated source of protein, low in calories and also a source of many vitamins and minerals. A 3.5 ounce serving of chicken provides between 1-2 mg of iron. Female adults between 19 and 50 years old should get 18 mg of iron per day, and women over 5q years old and adult men should get 8 mg of iron per day.
Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies worldwide. Eating foods high in iron, like meats, can be recommended for people who need to get more dietary iron.
Chicken is also a good source of the mineral selenium. Adults need 55 micrograms of selenium daily.
A 3 ounce serving of chicken provides about 26 micrograms (4). Selenium acts like an antioxidant in the body and may have a role in lowering risk for chronic diseases.
A cup of diced chicken can provide about 30% Daily Value (DV) for vitamin B6. Vitamin B6 (5) is needed to make neurotransmitters, help with brain function and can keep homocysteine levels in check which is beneficial for heart health.
Another nutrient in chicken is potassium. Fruits and vegetables are often associated with being rich sources of potassium, but poultry also provides a source of potassium.
Chicken without added salt has more potassium than sodium.
A one cup serving of diced chicken provides about 8% DV potassium and only 4% DV sodium.
Most Americans get too much sodium and not enough potassium, so eating foods that are naturally higher in potassium can be beneficial.
Potassium helps regulate fluid balance in the body, muscles contract and send nerve signals through the body.
Best way to cook chicken
No matter what piece of chicken you are eating, how you cook it can vastly impact the nutritional value of chicken. Breading and frying chicken, even lean chicken breast, can greatly increase the calorie content.
Lower calorie cooking methods can be roasting, baking, lightly sautéing or grilling. These cooking methods can keep the chicken tasty without adding a lot of additional fat.
Adding a little heart healthy olive oil, with some herbs and vegetables to chicken can be a simple, easy, nutritious meal. Adding lean chicken to a stew is also an easy healthy cooking method that can leave leaner cuts of chicken still juicy.
One concern with grilling any meats is the formation of carcinogenic heterocyclic amines (HCAs). The American Institute for Cancer Research (6) suggests to cook chicken at lower temperatures and marinating chicken before grilling.
Safe food handling
Chicken, like all meats, is a potentially hazardous food for foodborne illness. Therefore, it is very important to cook chicken to the proper temperature to limit risk from potential pathogens from raw or undercooked chicken.
It is recommended (7) to cook chicken to at least 165°Farenheit to kill harmful bacteria.
More and more people are consuming chicken compared to other red meat proteins because of cost and health concerns. Taking the skin off is one easy way to cut out some fat and extra calories from chicken. Breast meat is the leanest then followed by darker thigh meat.
Chicken is a source of many nutrients including protein, iron, potassium, selenium and vitamin B6.
Cooking the chicken can greatly influence the nutritional value. Avoid frying in oil and cook without the skin.
Cooking methods like roasting, adding chicken to a stew or lightly sautéing in heart healthy oil with vegetables can be healthy cooking methods.
No matter what way you cook chicken, make sure you cook it until it is no longer pink and reaches the correct internal temperature. This will lower risk for foodborne illness from chicken.