If you’ve been trying to build muscle or cut down on fat, you must have been pointed toward chicken as the best source of lean protein. Maybe, chicken is your go-to for all the protein you need in a day. But much as we’d like to believe that chicken is a really healthy food, we can’t treat it as the healthiest option on the shelves. Is it better than processed meats? Yes. Is it better than some fatty red meats? Yes. Is it the best option for your daily dinner and lunch? Maybe, maybe not.
Limit the total intake of lean meat, including skinless chicken and fish, to a combined amount of 6 ounces or less each day.1
That’s not to say chicken doesn’t have a lot of goodness in it. With nutrients like vitamins B, C, and folate, as well as selenium, calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium, it is a good lean-protein option for those who need their fix of meat.2 But it may not be healthier than certain fish or a great option if eaten at the expense of your daily dose of fresh vegetables and fruits.
Plus there are these side effects of eating chicken. Some of these are directly linked to broiler chicken, while the others are linked to wrong cooking techniques.
1. Food Poisoning From Broiler Chicken
Food poisoning from Salmonella, Campylobacter spp., and other bacteria and germs in chicken remains a very real possibility. The United States has the highest per capita consumption of chicken in the world. And 1 in 6 Americans has at least one bout of food poisoning or contracts food-borne illnesses every year.3 4
Studies have been conducted in Europe, the UK, and on American shores to check samples of chicken sold by various brands at retail outlets. The results have been worrying, with some reports finding harmful bacteria in as much as 97% of all sampled chicken.5
- Cook the chicken to at least 165 °F to kill any germs and bacteria.
- Don’t let raw chicken come in contact with your salads or fruits.
- Keep a chopping board exclusively to prepare raw chicken.
Broiler chickens often end up contaminated with fecal matter in their congested breeding quarters and harbor the notorious Escherichia coli or E. coli bacteria. If the food is improperly prepared, this bacteria causes bouts of diarrhea.
Apart from tummy bugs, it could also cause a urinary tract infection and pneumonia or respiratory illness.6 While processing takes care of rinsing, there may still be traces on the birds.
Moreover, research has found that it isn’t just regular E.coli but antibiotic-resistant strains that are increasingly common across different kinds of chicken – regular chicken, kosher, organic, and even chicken that are meant to be raised without antibiotics!7
2. Risk Of Antibiotic-Resistant Bacterial Infection From Broiler Chicken
Antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria are a problem that the medical community is still grappling with. And mass-produced broiler chicken isn’t helping the cause. The widespread use of antibiotics given to chickens to help keep off infections is adding to this problem.
Choose organic or free-range chickens when you can.
There is also some concern around the possible impact on human gut flora of consumption of food with possible traces of antibiotics. However, further research in this area is needed.8
Meanwhile, there is news on antibiotic-resistant strains of Salmonella not responding to conventional treatment of food poisoning caused by contaminated chicken.9
3. High Cholesterol Content In Chicken Meat Even Without Skin
Yes, chicken eaten without the skin on may have less cholesterol than a similar portion of lamb or veal. But it isn’t the lowest on the cholesterol charts as compared to all other types of meat.
Beef sirloin and chicken are nearly the same as far as cholesterol levels are concerned. While beef sirloin packs in about 89 mg of cholesterol in a 3.5 oz portion, a similar serving of chicken without skin has about 85 mg.
- Have more vegetarian protein like beans and tofu, which have no cholesterol, and more fiber.
- Have tuna, salmon, or halibut, which have less cholesterol than chicken (3.5 oz tuna has just 30 mg) and a lot of healthy omega-3 fatty acids.10
The other thing that can work against chicken is the way you eat it. Surely, you love your fried chicken. And if you’re having deep fried food, especially when it’s cooked in an animal fat or reused oil, you end up consuming trans fats and high levels of saturated fats. But you’re better off with a gently roasted piece of lean beef.
4. Risk Of Cancer From Deep Fried Or Grilled Chicken
Research indicates a reduced risk of cancer, by as much as 40%, in vegetarians when compared to meat eaters. Why? Because consuming a diet that’s very high on animal protein and low on fruit and vegetables could up your risk of cancer. So no matter how lean the chicken is or how well you prepare it, if you skip your vegetables to make room for more chicken, you could be setting yourself up for a fall.11
Balance your protein intake by eating more vegetable proteins and less meat and chicken.
Because poultry has to be cooked at high temperatures, it can form heterocyclic amines (HCA), carcinogenic compounds that increase your risk of cancer. Grilling or frying chicken ups the levels of these carcinogens, making it worse than most other meats when it comes to HCAs.12 So frying your chicken is the worst you could be doing to yourself. You could increase the risk of breast cancer, among other conditions.13
Grilling or pan-frying chicken at high temperature creates cancer-causing chemicals. These particularly affect areas of the body sensitive to estrogen, such as the breasts. Roast the chicken whole or stew it.
A particular research found that frying food at a very high temperature can double your risk of colon cancer and increase the risk of rectal cancer by as much as 60%. This was attributed to the HCAs in the meat and not the red meat itself, as usually assumed.
So chicken, previously considered less harmful, could be just as problematic if cooked incorrectly.14
5. Risk Of Arsenic Exposure From Chicken Feed
Arsenic is increasingly being made a part of chicken feed, mainly to ward off diarrhea, improve pigmentation, and help ensure good growth in chickens. However, with an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, neurological problems, and even cancer due to arsenic exposure in humans, it may be good to know what you’re eating.
Research has found that as much as 55% of uncooked chicken products sampled from supermarkets contained arsenic. All of the tested fast-food chicken contained some arsenic. But organic brands mostly contained lesser amounts than regular brands.15
Researchers however claim that while arsenic was present, this was within the limits prescribed. That said, you may still want to limit intake if you’re bothered by this. While this was not a large enough test to cause you to worry too much, it may pay to do some checks on whether or not your brand contains any. And the only way to find out is to just ask.
[expert_opinion expertname=’devinburke’ opinion=”Eating less meat not only benefits our health, but also the health of the planet. If you do decide to eat meat, go with the highest quality you can find, which usually means local and organic. Eating less meat also will save you lots of money because quality animal products can be on the more expensive side.”]
Completely eliminating chicken from your diet is neither practical nor a choice you should have to make. Instead, take the correct precautions to ensure you enjoy your chicken without damaging your health.
|↑1||Eat More Chicken, Fish and Beans. American Heart Association.|
|↑2||Chicken, broiler or fryers, breast, skinless, boneless, meat only, raw. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28.|
|↑3||Be Food Safe: Protect Yourself from Food Poisoning. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|↑4||Broiler Chicken Industry Key Facts 2016. National Chicken Council.|
|↑5||Dangerous contaminated chicken. Consumer Reports.|
|↑6||E.coli (Escherichia coli). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|↑7||Millman, Jack M., Kara Waits, Heidi Grande, Ann R. Marks, Jane C. Marks, Lance B. Price, and Bruce A. Hungate. “Prevalence of antibiotic-resistant E. coli in retail chicken: comparing conventional, organic, kosher, and raised without antibiotics.” F1000Research 2 (2013).|
|↑8||Jeong, Sang-Hee, Daejin Kang, Myung-Woon Lim, Chang Soo Kang, and Ha Jung Sung. “Risk assessment of growth hormones and antimicrobial residues in meat.” Toxicological research 26, no. 4 (2010): 301.|
|↑9||Salmonella and Chicken: What You Should Know and What You Can Do. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|↑10||Cholesterol Content of Foods. UCSF Medical Center.|
|↑11||Meat Consumption and Cancer Risk. The Physicians Committee.|
|↑12||Sinha, Rashmi, Nathaniel Rothman, Ellen D. Brown, Cynthia P. Salmon, Mark G. Knize, Christine A. Swanson, Susan C. Rossi, Steven D. Mark, Orville A. Levander, and James S. Felton. “High concentrations of the carcinogen 2-amino-1-methyl-6-phenylimidazo-[4, 5-b] pyridine (PhIP) occur in chicken but are dependent on the cooking method.” Cancer Research 55, no. 20 (1995): 4516-4519.|
|↑13||Meat Consumption and Cancer Risk. The Physicians Committee.|
|↑14||Murtaugh, Maureen A., Khe-ni Ma, Carol Sweeney, Bette J. Caan, and Martha L. Slattery. “Meat consumption patterns and preparation, genetic variants of metabolic enzymes, and their association with rectal cancer in men and women.” The Journal of nutrition 134, no. 4 (2004): 776-784.|
|↑15||Wallinga, David. “Frequently Asked Questions on Playing Chicken: Avoiding Arsenic in Your Meat.” Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, April 4 (2006).|