by Anita Fernandes
For centuries, chicken soup was touted as a natural cure for the flu and common cold but in the last decade, it has become a topic of hot debate. Some people say that chicken is lean meat packed with protein and nutrients but others disagree and point out that in recent years, the fat in chicken has increased while its protein content has decreased.
So, is chicken good for you? – Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer since it depends on various factors including the quality of the meat, which part you are consuming and whether antibiotics were administered to the chickens. It’s important to understand these factors so that you can decide whether you should include it in your diet and in what quantity.
What’s the typical nutritional value of chicken meat?
One portion of chicken is approximately 3 oz. (84 g) which is about the size of a deck of cards. This quantity of chicken provides 200 calories, 23 g of protein and 11 g of fat.
One portion of chicken will meet approximately 6% of your daily requirement for iron, 30% of vitamin B3, 12% of B6, 22.5% of selenium and 12% of phosphorus. Chicken also contains B5 vitamin, although only small amounts. A portion of chicken breasts will provide you with around 8% of the recommended daily value for B5.
However, the nutritional value for chicken also depends on the cut; for instance, chicken breasts have less fat and therefore have a lower calorie content than the rest of the chicken.
One portion of roasted chicken breast contains only 170 calories and 7 g of fat but one portion of chicken wings is double that with 240 calories and 16 g of fat. This means that when choosing between chicken breasts and wings, it would be better to opt for chicken breasts.
Are nutrients found in chicken good for us?
Chicken is considered to be a high-protein food as just one serving meets approximately half your daily protein requirements.
Protein is an essential nutrient which is needed by every cell in the human body. With protein, our bodies can repair damaged cells as well as make new ones. Protein is important for healthy hair and nails and our bone health. Our muscles, skin and cartilage also need protein which acts as building blocks and can help to repair the tissue.
Protein is especially important for children and teens as it plays an important role in physical and mental development.
Eating chicken to consume enough protein will contribute towards your health, as long as you are not consuming too much protein overall.
Chicken is also one of the best sources of vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) which plays a vital role in the creation of new blood cells and the conversion of proteins and carbohydrates into energy.
The rest of the vitamins and minerals found in chicken also play an important role in our bodies.
Vitamin B3 (niacin) is essential for energy production within the body and it’s important for the maintenance of a healthy nervous system. It’s also necessary for the synthesis of the sex and adrenal hormones and plays an important role in skin health.
Vitamin B6, on the other hand, is very important for a healthy immune system as it helps to protect against infection and prevents the development of cancer.
Selenium, which is also found in chicken, is an essential trace mineral which is a powerful antioxidant and protects against many cancers and age-related degenerative conditions such as heart disease and arthritis.
Finally, phosphorus is essential for the structure of bones and teeth and iron is crucial for energy production and general metabolism.
There is no doubt that chicken meat contains some really important nutrients essential for our health. But before you go rushing and stocking up on chicken, you also need to consider various parts of the chicken and the quality of meat.
Chicken skin – Is it bad or good for you?
There’s a reason why chicken wings are so popular – it’s the crunchy skin that crackles with every bite! Unfortunately, chicken skin has a high-fat content as well as high-calorie content.
Cooking a whole chicken along with the skin will increase its calorie content by 72 calories and double the total fat content from 6.6 g of fat to 13.4 g. However, it is not the high-calorie count or the total fat content that has alarmed health specialists but rather the high content of saturated fats and cholesterol.
The skin on a chicken breast contains approximately 1.2 g of saturated fat and 1 g of cholesterol. This is why dietary experts recommend that you remove the skin from chicken to reduce your intake of saturated fats and cholesterol.
Chicken skin is certainly not good for you so do try and not eat too much of it. It’s even more unhealthy when fried and when you eat chicken that hasn’t been reared well and it’s not organic (when chicken is exposed to various toxins and chemicals, these will be stored in the fat).
What’s more, eating chicken skin regularly won’t help you be healthier at all as it may cause you to gain weight and will certainly not be good for your heart due to saturated fat content.
Chicken liver – Is it good for you?
Organ meats are not very popular these days and are certainly not as popular as they used to be in the past. However, in terms of nutrition, they are much more nutritious than regular muscle meat.
Chicken liver is a great source of protein, iron, vitamin A and several B vitamins. One serving (3.5 oz.) of chicken liver contains approximately 25 g of protein which is about 40% of your required intake of this nutrient.
Chicken liver is good for those with anaemia as it has a high iron content as a single serving contains 12 mg of iron which meets 100% of your iron requirement.
One serving of chicken liver will also meet 100% of your vitamin B5 requirement and 50 to 70% of your recommended daily amount of vitamin B3.
Chicken liver is also a great source of vitamin A which helps to keep your eyes healthy and can protect against free radicals and delays the sign of ageing. Just to keep in mind that vitamin A can become toxic at high levels and is dangerous for pregnant women who are recommended to avoid concentrated sources such as liver. That’s because too much vitamin A can harm an unborn baby.
Chicken liver has a high nutritional value but it is not recommended for those at risk of heart disease as a single serving contains more than the recommended daily amount of cholesterol.
Also to keep in mind if you want to eat chicken liver, make sure you buy free-range and organic chicken liver which is of better quality and you won’t have to worry about various toxins that may have accumulated in chicken liver during chicken’s lifetime.
The bottom line is chicken liver is healthy in moderation as long as it comes from organic chickens. Pregnant women and heart patients or those with high cholesterol should avoid it.
What about chicken bone broth? Is that good for you?
Chicken bone broth has become a fad since it is part of the GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) diet and the Paleolithic diet along with several other diets. It’s often recommended as a cure for the flu as well as a variety of health issues including autism and schizophrenia.
However, some studies show that chicken bone broth (even organic!) may carry a risk of being contaminated with lead. This is because lead from the contaminated chicken feed can accumulate within the cartilage and bones of a chicken and transferred to the broth during the cooking process. So chicken bone broth may not be all that good for you at the end. If you still want to consume it, find out first how and where the chickens were raised and what was their typical daily food like.
Considering the quality of chicken meat today
The demand for chicken at cheaper prices has completely altered the industry where the focus is simply to produce more for less with little to no regard for quality. The chicken factory farm model is geared towards confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), where they are kept in crowded and unsanitary conditions. To prevent the spread of disease, chickens are routinely fed antibiotics which contributes to antibiotic resistance – which in turn increases the risk of ‘superbugs’ that are resistant to antibiotics.
How chickens are raised is very important as free-range chickens are allowed to roam around freely outdoors while caged chickens have no exercise which increases their fat content. In fact, studies show that chickens today contain more than twice as much fat as they did just 75 years ago.
Furthermore, unlike organic chicken, caged chickens are raised on feed that is grown with chemical fertilizers – these chemical contaminants accumulate within the chicken’s system and are ingested by consumers. For this reason, you should avoid chicken meat coming from caged chickens as it won’t be very good for you.
Is chicken good for you? – How you cook chicken meat does matter
Chicken is very versatile – you can have it as your main course or you can toss it into a salad or bake it in a pie. Similarly, you can boil/steam chicken, fry it or simply toss it onto the barbecue. However, your cooking method will affect the nutritional value of the meat.
Grilling and steaming are the healthiest ways to cook chicken as they require a minimum amount of oil and preserve the nutrients in the meat. Fried chicken and rotisserie chicken are very popular methods of cooking chicken but they are also the unhealthiest methods as they are high in saturated fats, cholesterol and calories.
Until a few decades ago, the chicken was a healthy food option but today, the cheap chicken that you pick up at your local supermarket is more likely to be full of antibiotics and chemical contaminants, therefore not very healthy.
If you decide to include chicken in your regular diet, look for ‘organic’ on the label as this will ensure that the chicken has been raised on organic feed and has not received any antibiotics after the second day of life. Just remember to remove the chicken’s skin before eating as it’s still unhealthy regardless whether it’s coming from organic chicken or not.
Anita Fernandes is a journalist and a writer by profession. She has been writing extensively on health and wellness related topics for a little over a decade now. Besides her professional interests, she loves a game of basketball or a good hike in her free time to fuel her spirits. “Health is wealth” is one motto of life which she lives by as well as advocates to every reader, who comes across her blogs.