Chicken 101: Nutrition, Benefits and Risks | All You Need to Know

Chicken 101: Nutrition, Benefits and Risks | All You Need to Know

Chicken is the number one choice when it comes to white meat. Chicken breast is highly nutritious, containing high amounts of lean protein and low amounts of fat. It is included in many weight-loss diets, and it is used in global and regional cuisines. 

Chicken can be baked, boiled, grilled, fried, stewed, steamed, etc. Compared to other types of meat, chicken doesn't have a strong flavor. It is versatile, as it can be part of all kinds of recipes that contain an assortment of condiments, seasonings, sauces, side dishes, etc.

Chicken breast became very popular worldwide because chicken is low maintenance, and because lean cuts of breast don't pose as many health risks as red meat.  

Keep on reading to find out more about the protein content of different cuts of chicken, health benefits and risks, diets that include chicken, engaging facts, and more. 



How Much Protein Does Chicken Breast Have?

Here are the nutrition facts for 100 g of roasted chicken breast, meat only.

Calories: 165
Carbs: 0g
Fat: 3.6g, out of which saturated fats: 1g
Protein: 31g
Omega-3 fatty acids: 70.0mg
Omega-6 fatty acids: 590mg
Phosphorus: 23% of RDA
Potassium: 7% of RDA
Magnesium: 7% of RDA
Zinc: 7% of RDA
Iron: 6% of RDA
Selenium: 39% of RDA
Vitamin B6: 30% of RDA
Niacin: 69% of RDA
Pantothenic Acid: 10% of RDA

In proportion with the amount of protein, chicken breast has few calories. There are so many snacks that don't satisfy your hunger but contain double the calories. For example, 100g of potato chips contains 559 calories and 4.5g of protein. That's triple the calories! And the list could go on. 

Chicken breast also contains minerals, vitamins, and fatty acids. It's a zero carb food, which makes it suitable for people who want to lose weight or follow a low-carb diet. 



Which Cuts of Chicken Have The Most Protein?

Chicken Breast

As previously mentioned, the chicken breast is one of the best sources of protein. Only around 20% of the calories come from fat, 0% from carbohydrates, and 80% from protein, making it the top choice for those who want to build muscle mass or shed some pounds. 

Skinless Drumsticks

This cut of meat, the lower part of the chicken leg, contains almost the same amount of protein as chicken breast. The only issue is that people usually eat it with the skin on. The best thing to do is to buy skinless drumsticks from the supermarket or ask your local butcher to remove the skin. 100g of roasted chicken drumsticks (meat only) has:

Calories: 172
Fat: 5.7g, out of which saturated fats: 1.5g
Carbs: 0g
Protein: 28.3g

30% of the calories come from fat, and the rest come from protein. Compared to chicken breast, the ratio of protein to fat is lower but close enough, as long as the skin is removed. If the skin stays on, the fat content will double, while the protein content will decrease.

Skinless Chicken Thighs

This cut of chicken is very delicious compared to chicken breast. However, the ratio of protein to fat is much lower in this case. If you eat skinless chicken thighs, you'll get 43% calories from fat and 57% calories from protein. Nonetheless, chicken thighs are on the high protein food list. 100g of roasted chicken thighs (meat only) has:

Calories: 209
Fat: 10.9g, out of which saturated fats: 3g
Protein: 25.9g

Chicken Wings

This cut of meat contains the most amount of fat and the least amount of protein for one reason only; it is usually eaten with the skin on. If you manage to get skinless wings, you'll get 30.5g of protein with only 8.1g of fat. However, in most cases, chicken wings are cooked with the skin on. Here are the nutrition facts for 100g of roasted chicken wings. 

Calories: 290
Fat: 19.5g, out of which saturated fats: 5.5g 
Carbs: 0g
Protein: 26.9g

Yes, they contain a lot of protein. But, if you eat them in a restaurant, the nutrition facts will change completely. The extra ingredients might be high in carbohydrates and added sugars. They might also contain processed sauces and other unhealthy foods.



Why Chicken Is Good For You

Chicken without skin contains lean, high-quality protein. High-quality protein, or complete protein, nurtures your body with all the essential amino acids. The biological value is high, and it doesn't cause digestive issues. Most types of meats, including poultry, have high-quality protein. 

Chicken is easy to prepare, inexpensive, and a good option for both healthy and malnourished people. Here are 6 reasons why chicken should be included in your diet.

  • Chicken Has An Up to The Mark Nutritional Profile. It contains complete protein, low amounts of saturated fats, optimal amounts of unsaturated fats, minerals, and vitamins. It can be part of anyone's diet, regardless of age or sex. Apart from that, it can help children, pregnant women, and the elderly reach the recommended daily protein intake easier. 
  • Chicken Helps Maintain And Build Muscle Mass. Animal protein has an anabolic effect on the body. Studies related to sports nutrition show a link between post-workout meals rich in protein and muscle recovery. Active individuals are required to consume more protein to achieve healthy muscle function. If you want to gain lean body mass, you will need to make sure that you have enough protein in your diet. High-quality animal protein helps the body maintain healthy muscle and bone tissue, especially in older people
  • Chicken Helps With Weight Loss. Studies show that consuming more protein and reducing fat intake helps with weight loss. The results were an increase in leptin (hormone that regulates satiety) sensitivity for those who followed an ad libitum diet, consisting of 30% protein, 20% fat, and 50% carbohydrates. Regardless of why you want to lose weight, including lean cuts of chicken in your diet might help you reach that goal. This is very helpful for obese people because their overall condition can lead to numerous chronic diseases, including diabetes and cardiovascular health issues.   
  • Chicken Can Increase Serotonin Levels. Humans need serotonin to regulate behavior and mood. Our senses, feelings, appetite, memory, sexuality, attention, and so many other neuropsychological processes depend on serotonin. Poultry contains tryptophan, an essential amino acid, which helps boosts your serotonin levels. 
  • Chicken Can Reduce PMS Symptoms. Poultry contains both magnesium and vitamin B6. Magnesium helps neurotransmitters work properly, and it relaxes the muscles. Both vitamin B6 and magnesium have a positive impact on the nervous system; therefore, they can improve the mood and reduce irritability caused by PMS. 
  • Chicken Can Improve Your Overall Health. Apart from the benefits mentioned above, chicken also contains other nutrients that have positive effects on the human body. Chicken is rich in selenium, which boosts your immune system, metabolism, and thyroid health. It also contains plenty of niacin. This is a type of vitamin B that plays a crucial role in proper neuronal development and function. 



Why Chicken is Bad for You

Chicken does have some drawbacks. First of all, too much meat or protein in your diet isn't recommended. Eating a lot of chicken can lead to digestive issues, increased cancer risk, kidney problems, and poor bone health. So the question is: 

How Much Protein Can You Eat? 

The RDA of protein can be calculated according to your body weight. 

The recommended amount is 0.8g/kg of body weight for sedentary, healthy adults. However, here is the RDA of protein for different groups of people. 

  • Athletes need between 1.2g and 1.8g/kg of body weight, depending on the type of physical activity they are performing.  
  • The elderly need between 1g and 1.3g/kg of body weight.   
  • Pregnant women need between 1.2g and 1.52g/kg of body weight (somewhere between 75g and 110g/day), depending on the gestation stage. During the last semester, they need more protein to support the growth of fetal tissue and proper development. 
  • Those who had a traumatic injury need more protein, and some experts consider that 1.5g/kg of body weight is sufficient. However, the RDA of protein depends on age, injury type, and body composition.

Diets high in protein that last for long periods can lead to digestive, renal, vascular abnormalities, and other health issues. Healthy adults can go up to 3.5g/kg of body weight, but no one should consume more than 2g/kg of body weight regularly. 

Apart from this, regular chicken consumption can lead to undesired symptoms and long term complications. Here are the most common side effects of poultry. 

  • Food Poisoning. Eating contaminated chicken can infect you with Salmonella. One study shows that chicken consumption from grill restaurants is linked to salmonellosis. The CDC states that infection with Salmonella bacteria is common, and it can lead to around "1.35 million illnesses, 26,500 hospitalizations, and 420 deaths in the United States every year". The main symptoms of salmonella infection include diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps. You could experience these anytime between six hours and six days after the contamination, and they can last up to one week or several weeks in severe cases. To prevent salmonella infection, you should avoid eating raw or undercooked chicken. Besides, you should practice proper hygiene while handling the meat. This includes: 
    • Washing your hands before and after handling chicken meat, or live chicken
    • Using separate kitchen utensils when handling both cooked and raw meat, especially when grilling it
    • Storing cooked chicken in the fridge in an airtight container or freezer bag
  • Antibiotic Resistance. Since the 50s, antibiotics and other types of drugs have been given to chicken to prevent potential diseases. When too many birds are kept in the same place, there is a high chance that they will get sick, resulting in tragic losses to the poultry industry. However, antibiotic feeding might have negative impacts on human health. Further research is necessary, but it is highly recommended to purchase antibiotic and hormone-free chicken meat. 
  • Arsenic Exposure. Research has shown links between poultry consumption and higher levels of urine total arsenic. The WHO states that poultry contains lower levels of arsenic than contaminated water, food, and tobacco. However, even if the amounts of arsenic found in chicken meat alone will not lead to serious health issues, you might want to take some precautions. For instance, you should avoid purchasing meat from places where the chickens were fed arsenic.  
  • Source Of Dietary Cholesterol. Most people resort to chicken because they think it contains less cholesterol than red meat. However, even if the skin is removed, 100g of roasted chicken breast contains 85mg of cholesterol (more or less the same amount of cholesterol found in a lean cut of beef). The only difference between lean red meat and lean chicken is the saturated fat content. 



What is the Pollotarian Diet?

Those who follow the pollotarian diet do not eat red meat or fish. Moreover, they try to avoid fast-food as much as possible, including fried chicken. 

Pollotarians do not eat chicken in high quantities. Their diet consists of whole grains and grain products, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, poultry (turkey, chicken, duck), healthy fats, and non-dairy products. Some choose to include eggs and dairy products, but these foods are optional. 

People choose this diet for various reasons. Those who want to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle, but can't stop meat suddenly, opt to follow the pollotarian diet in the beginning. Other people are concerned about the side effects of red meat on the environment, so they decide to stop supporting those who sell it. However, some people choose it just because they consider it healthier. 

There isn't enough research to support the health benefits or risks of the pollotarian diet. Nonetheless, it is similar to a vegetarian diet. Therefore, as long as you don't consume processed foods, going pollotarian might help reduce the risk of heart diseasediabetesobesity, and certain cancers.

The only problem that you might encounter when embracing semi-vegetarianism is a lack of nutrients. Pollotarians have a lower nutrient deficiency risk than vegetarians or vegans. But, they still have to monitor their iron, zinc, calcium, and vitamin B12 levels. They might also experience lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids because they do not eat eggs or fish. 

In conclusion, the pollotarian diet is a more sustainable diet and lifestyle for non-meat eaters. It contains high-quality protein, it is beneficial for the environment, and it is rich in vitamins and minerals. 



Storage Tips: How Long Can I Keep Chicken in the Fridge?

According to Food Safety Charts, you can store raw chicken or turkey for up to 2 days in the refrigerator. Cooked poultry lasts up to 4 days. 

Make sure that the container or the food bag in which it was stored, does not leak. If the raw chicken or its juice comes into contact with other unsealed foods from your fridge, you will need to throw them. 

Before storing chicken or any meat in your refrigerator, check the temperature setting. It should be between 0 and 5 degrees Celsius (32 to 41 F). 

You can also store raw chicken in the freezer. However, you will need to wrap it well in freezer wrap. Another proper way to freeze it is by placing it in freezer bags, then press out all the air out before closing the bag. This will prevent freezer burns. 

If you are not planning on cooking it within a couple of weeks, label it. Raw chicken lasts indefinitely in the freezer. However, if you want to preserve taste, freshness, and nutrients, consume it within nine months. You can also freeze cooked chicken leftovers for up to four months. 



FAQ About Chicken

Which Chicken Lay Purple, Blue, or Green Eggs?

If you are bored with white or brown eggs, you could always opt for eggs with different shades of blue, purple, or green. The color of the eggshell is influenced by the breed of the hens; their genetics matters a lot. For example, the Araucana and Cream Legber chickens lay blue-tinted eggs. The Marans and Penedesenca chickens lay dark-brown eggs, and the Easter Eggers can lay green-tinted eggs. 

Can Chickens Fly?

You will never see flocks of chicken up in the sky, but they can fly. Chickens have become domesticated birds. Humans raise them for meat and eggs, and their physical features allow them to do better on the ground than in the air. Their ancestors weren't as big as the modern chickens, and they were able to fly easier. Nonetheless, if they smell danger, they will take off, even if for a short distance. 

Why Chicken Pox?

The virus, varicella-zoster, can cause flu-like symptoms. The term's origins aren't clear, but there are a couple of theories. What's sure is that chickens don't get infected with this virus. 

The term chickenpox is used to make the difference between a mild illness and a lethal one (smallpox). Another explanation would be that the lesions look like chickpeas or chicken pecks.

The word pox comes from the Old English pock, which means pustule (blister or pimple containing pus). "Pocks" is the plural of "pock"

Should You Wash Chicken Meat Before Cooking It?

The answer is NO. Some people think that if they wash the chicken before cooking it, they will remove bacteria and eat clean chicken. However, it is the exact opposite.

The USDA states that you are actually increasing the risk of foodborne illness. When you wash poultry, you spread bacteria everywhere. It can reach kitchen counters, sinks, and it can contaminate other foods. 

Washing chicken with antibacterial products or soap is the same as washing it with plain water. Some bacteria are so stubborn that nothing can make them go away, except for thoroughly cooking it. If you want to make sure that all the bacteria are destroyed, use a food thermometer to measure the internal temperature of the chicken; it is safe to eat at 74ºC (165º F). 

Can You Catch H5N1 (Bird Flu) From Chickens?

Yes. The virus H5N1 made its first victim in 1997, in Hong Kong. The epidemic started because someone caught it after handling infected poultry. 

The bird flu can affect wildfowl, but it can be easily transmitted to chickens. If humans come into contact with infected bird feces or secretions from the nose, mouth, or eyes, they will most likely get sick. 

Avian influenza can cause diarrhea, respiratory difficulties, high fever, runny nose, sore throat, and other flu-like symptoms. To diagnose the bird flu, it only takes a blood test. The test was approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the doctors can know the results within 4 hours. The only problem is that the test is not available worldwide. 

You can reduce the risk of infection by practicing proper hygiene. Also, be careful when going to public food markets, try to avoid contact with infected birds, and don't eat undercooked poultry. 


Did You Know…

  • Mother hens turn their eggs almost 50 times per day to assure that it reaches optimal temperature. 
  • Hens can lay more than 300 eggs per year.
  • Chickens can't taste sweet foods, but they can tell if a food is salty.
  • The longest recorded flight by a chicken was 13 seconds at a total distance of 301 feet.
  • Chickens' heart rates are between 220 and 400 beats per minute.
  • If they are still hungry, chicken can eat their own eggs.
  • Some people are scared of chickens. They have Alektorophobia. 
  • When you cut off the head of a chicken, you need to aim below its eyes. If you miss the jugular vein, you will end up with a live chicken. Miracle Mike lived without its head for 18 months.