Chicken breast is delicious. But *ponders* is it nutritious? Heck yes! In fact, it’s one of the healthiest sources of animal protein you can get. It’s also affordable, versatile, and packed with nutrients. We love to see it (and eat it).
Here’s everything you need to know about chicken breast nutrition, plus tips on picking the right poultry for your diet and ethical standards.
Chicken breast can be a healthy addition to almost any omnivorous diet. Here’s a breakdown of the nutritional pros and potential cons.
Nutrition breakdown for skin-on and skinless chicken breast
Skin-on and skinless chicken breast can be healthy choices. Here’s what a 5.4-ounce (155-gram) serving has to offer.
Why cook counts
Cooking methods can have a major impact on the calorie, fat, and carb content of chicken breasts. Studies show that consuming fried foods on the reg can increase your risk of obesity, heart disease, and certain types of cancers, including prostate. So, it’s prob best to avoid or limit frying foods when you can. (Sorry not sorry, Colonel.)
Also, sauces and seasonings can def pump up the volume on the bad-for-you vibes. For example, a single fried and coated chicken wing is about 55 grams (g) and has 158 kilocalories (kcal), 11.1 g of fat, and 2.67 g of saturated fat. That can add up quick, fam.
But don’t worry, you can still take your chicken to Flavor Town. Try to opt for healthier seasonings, like herbs and pepper rubs, and stick to baking or grilling. Sauteing can also be healthy, but it depends on the type of oil or fat you use to cook the chicken in.
Skin vs. skinless
Chicken skin gets a bad rap because it’s higher in saturated fats than skinless chicken breast. But TBH, occasionally eating healthy foods higher in saturated fat and cholesterol IS NOT BAD FOR OVERALL HEALTH. Note: We’re talking about nutritious sources of saturated fat and cholesterol — like full-fat yogurt and whole eggs — not highly processed foods.
Chicken skin is also higher in certain nutrients, like iron, compared to skinless chicken breast. Oh, and did we mention it tastes delish, too?
One thing to keep in mind is that roasted, grilled, or fried chicken skin has high levels of advanced glycation end products (AGEs). AGEs are molecules created through reactions between sugars and proteins or fats. They’re known to contribute to increased oxidative stress and inflammation, which might increase your risk of certain diseases.
Just keep in mind, it’s all about moderation. If your overall diet is low in other foods high in AGEs (eg hot dogs, margarine, pan-fried steak, and bacon) then having chicken skin here and there is completely fine.
Chicken breast is chock full of good-for-you nutrients. For starters, it’s an excellent source of amino acids (aka, the building blocks of protein). Your body doesn’t produce essential amino acids on its own, so you need to get them from your diet. A study found that chicken breast had more amino acids and protein than other parts of cooked chicken, including the legs and wings.
Also, protein is the most filling macronutrient and can keep you full for a long time. So, if you start to get super hungry 1 or 2 hours after eating, add a combo of chicken breast and beans to your plate. This one-two punch of animal and plant-based protein can keep you much more satiated.
In addition to protein, chicken breast contains a variety of vital vitamins and minerals like B vitamins, vitamin A, and zinc. It’s also a decent source of selenium, iron, and niacin.
Bonus: One study suggested that replacing red and processed meats with a combination of poultry, eggs, fish, and plant-based proteins could help reduce the risk of death. score!
If you’re confused by food labels, you’re not alone. Usually, most folks don’t know what certain labels mean, especially when it comes to animal welfare and food quality. Here’s a breakdown of what to look for when shopping for chicken:
- Certified Human. This certification means that the producer meets Certified Humane standards. Chickens aren’t kept in cages or crates and are free to participate in natural behaviors. Also, animals are fed quality feed without antibiotics or growth hormones
- HFAC’s Certified Humane “Pasture Raised.” This label requires 2.5 acres per 1,000 birds (108 square feet per bird). Chickens in pasture-raised systems must be outdoors 12 months per year (and 6 months per year for seasonal pasture), every day for at least 6 hours per day.
- Animal Welfare Certified. This certification has different levels. In levels 1 and 2, the chickens don’t require any access to the outdoors. But they do have minimum space requirements per bird. Level 4 requires daily access to pasture, while levels 5 and 5-plus require continuous outdoor living. Psst. Global Animal Partnership has some dope deets on their website.
- USDA Organic. This label means that animals must receive 100 percent certified organic feed. It also means that all organic poultry are required to have access to the outdoors year-round.
- Free-range. According to the USDA, “free-range” poultry is allowed access to the outside. However, the USDA doesn’t specify the amount of time or type of outdoor access.
- No hormones added. Hormones aren’t allowed in raising poultry. For this reason, “no hormones added” can’t be used on chicken labels unless it’s followed by a statement that says “Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones.”
- No antibiotics added. This label may be used in poultry products if documentation is provided by the producer to the USDA demonstrating that the animals were raised without antibiotics.
Lots of folks say chicken breast is best. But other chicken parts also provide protein, vitamins, and minerals. Here’s the scoop.
Dark meat includes the legs, thighs, and wings of a chicken. It has higher levels of taurine — an essential amino acid that supports heart and brain function — than white meat. Taurine also helps regulate the immune system and may reduce your risk of heart disease. A small research review of 19 studies also found that taurine may help enhance athletic performance. Woot!
The downside is that some peeps think it tastes too gamey. Oh, and the muscles are tougher and take longer to tenderize.
Don’t yuck our yum! Chicken feet are actually tasty AF. They’re also a good source of collagen. This protein is great for your hair, skin, and nails. There’s also a chance munching on feet can help your joints. One study found that consuming chicken cartilage helped reduce stiffness, pain, and dysfunction in folks with knee osteoarthritis. But we need more studies to show the exact feet facts.
Organ meats like chicken livers and hearts are hella nutritious. They’re top-notch choices for folks who need to increase dietary iron and B12 levels. A 3-ounce serving of cooked chicken liver provides 596 percent of the DV for B12 and 55 percent of the DV for iron. Chicken liver is also very high in vitamin A, providing more than 194 percent of the DV per 1.4-ounce (44-gram) liver. Wow!
FYI: Consuming excessive amounts of preformed vitamin A can be harmful, especially during pregnancy, so it’s important to not overdo it when it comes to organ meats. The current tolerable upper intake level (UL) for preformed vitamin A, including during pregnancy and breastfeeding, is set at 3,000 micrograms or 10,000 IU per day.
A chicken tender (aka, chicken tenderloin) is from a muscle attached to the bottom part of the chicken breast. The tenderloin is almost exactly like the breast and basically offers the same benefits.
If you’re down with eating poultry, chicken breast is one of the healthiest options around. It’s high in a number of nutrients like protein, zinc, selenium, and B vitamins. Plus, it’s super filling. Adding it to meals and snacks can help you feel full for longer, which can promote healthy body weight maintenance.
Just keep in mind, cooking counts for a lot. Chicken breast loses a lot of its nutritional perks when it’s battered and deep-fried. Also, don’t limit yourself to the breast. Other parts of chickens like wings, thighs, and organ meats can be super flavorful and very nutritious.