The crackle of crunchy, crispy skin is something every food lover worth their salt truly appreciates. But with chicken skin getting so much bad press, anyone who is watching what they eat has become wary of consuming this gourmet pleasure. Some studies have dived into this subject so we can all breathe (and eat) easy.
Why The Bad Press?
Chicken skin with its luscious fatty layers was everything, on the surface of it, that we shouldn’t be eating ‒ high calorie and packed with animal fat. And more importantly, easily avoidable if we were calorie counting. But that’s not entirely true.
While it is true that a chicken breast without the skin has just 2 gm of fat, compared to the 8gm on a chicken breast with skin left on, that isn’t the complete story.1
Fat Content In Chicken Skin: The Good News
The Harvard School of Public Health conducted research into this delicious part of the chicken, to understand if the skin was truly bad for us. As it turns out, most of the fat found in chicken skin is actually unsaturated fat. The good news is unsaturated fats are actually beneficial to the body and can help to lower both your blood pressure levels as well as the amount of bad cholesterol in your body. Not unlike nuts, which organizations like the American Heart Association have encouraged us to eat for decades.2
As much as 55 percent of the fat contained in chicken skin is actually monounsaturated fat. Oleic acid, the form in which it is present in chicken, is not unlike what you find in olive oil.3 When you think of chicken skin in the same light as olive oil, it does change your perspective.
Another factor that makes a difference in the fat content of skin on versus off is which part of the chicken you are eating. While there is a significant difference in the amount of fat in a chicken breast with skin on versus removed, for chicken legs the difference is not as much. While chicken breasts have 75 percent of fat compared to when skin isn’t removed, chicken legs have about 50 percent of the fat of a skin on portion.4
The Benefits Of Oleic Acid In Chicken Skin
Oleic acid is known to help modulate a range of physiological functions in the body and studies have even shown its positive effects on cardiovascular, inflammatory, and autoimmune diseases, even cancer.5
One study showed that moving to a Mediterranean-inspired diet with monounsaturated fats instead of polyunsaturated could help patients with type 2 diabetes by reducing insulin resistance.6 Another study showed that by consuming more oleic acid, the inflammatory action of cytokines could be reversed in obese individuals. Negative effects of non-insulin-dependent diabetes also reduced.7
How Chicken Skin Makes Food Healthier
Surprisingly, one 12 oz portion of chicken with the skin left on contains only 2.5 gm of saturated fat. A skinless piece of chicken is also just 50 calories less. So while removing or skipping the skin can save you some calories, it is not as much as you would imagine.
Retain moisture, skip the breadcrumbs: Moisture and flavor are also better when the skin is retained. A skinless chicken breast had just 64.96 gm against the 67.47 gm if the skin were removed after the cooking process. Because the moisture is retained naturally, you don’t need to use a coating of breadcrumbs to keep the meat succulent. And that saves you more calories.8
Use less salt and seasoning: By retaining the chicken skin in the cooking process, and serving the chicken with the skin left on, you add a whole lot of flavor, naturally. The skin as it crisps up lends a delicious aroma to the lean meat beneath, so you don’t have to rely on oily, salty marinades to add to the taste. Tastier food keeps you from having cravings for more food.
Absorb less oil: The skin on the chicken also helps seal in the meat and reduce the oil absorbed by the meat. The skin forms a crusty outer layer and prevents seepage of oil into the insides.
Remove the skin after cooking to cut fat and calories: Chicken breasts cooked skinless versus those cooked with skin on and then skin removed before serving are actually higher in fat and calorie content. While cooking a 100 gm portion of chicken breast skinless results in 146 calories, retaining the skin and removing it after cooking cuts calorie content to 134. Fat levels too drop by removing skin only after cooking – from 1.73 gm to 1.37 gm.9 10
Should You Go Organic?
How much fat you consume by having chicken with the skin on can also depend on whether you are eating organic cuts or regular chicken. The skin from regular cuts is higher in fat content than organic chicken.11
Eating organic poultry also does away with another concern – that of antibiotics and hormones injected into the skin of poultry to keep mortality low and boost growth in commercially reared chicken. Chemicals injected into or fed to these birds are retained in the fat in the body. Chicken skin is high on fat and, as a result, this part of the chicken may contain more chemicals.
Whether you choose to eat organic chicken or not, watch your intake of the fatty skin. Remember that while chicken skin is not as bad you imagined, it is still high on fat and does have a few extra calories. So indulge, but once in a while.
|↑1, ↑4, ↑9, ↑11||Nutrient Analysis Report, Chicken Farmers of Canada.|
|↑2||The American Heart Association’s Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations, American Heart Associatio.|
|↑3||Feddern, Vivian, Leonor Almeida de Souza-Soares, and Xuebing Xu. “CHICKEN SKIN FAT AS RAW-MATERIAL FOR MODIFYING LIPIDS TO HIGH VALUE DIACYLGLYCEROL RICH IN PUFA.” In III Symposium on Agricultural and Agroindustrial Waste Management. 2013.|
|↑5||Sales-Campos, Helioswilton, Patricia Reis de Souza, Bethanea Crema Peghini, Joao Santana da Silva, and Cristina Ribeiro Cardoso. “An overview of the modulatory effects of oleic acid in health and disease.” Mini reviews in medicinal chemistry 13, no. 2 (2013): 201-210.|
|↑6||Ryan, M., D. McInerney, D. Owens, P. Collins, A. Johnson, and G. H. Tomkin. “Diabetes and the Mediterranean diet: a beneficial effect of oleic acid on insulin sensitivity, adipocyte glucose transport and endothelium‐dependent vasoreactivity.” Qjm 93, no. 2 (2000): 85-91.|
|↑7||Vassiliou, Evros K., Andres Gonzalez, Carlos Garcia, James H. Tadros, Goutam Chakraborty, and Jeffrey H. Toney. “Oleic acid and peanut oil high in oleic acid reverse the inhibitory effect of insulin production of the inflammatory cytokine TNF-α both in vitro and in vivo systems.” Lipids in Health and Disease 8, no. 1 (2009): 1.|
|↑8, ↑10||New Study Shows How to Cook Healthy Chicken with Skin On, Chicken.|