It’s often hailed as a health and fitness superfood, but is chicken really healthy? We explore this below.
Chicken is presented to us as the pinnacle of ‘clean eating’ and we’re told it’s an ideal source of protein because it’s lower in calories and fat than red meat. But is chicken healthy and how does it compare to plant-based protein sources?
Despite what the marketing campaigns tell us, there are various health concerns associated with eating chicken. Not only is chicken contaminated with bacteria, it also raises LDL (“bad”) cholesterol to the same extent as red meat.
Keep reading to learn why chicken is far from the superfood it’s cracked up to be.
It is well-documented that saturated fat and cholesterol are key contributors to heart disease, both of which are abundant in animal-derived foods.
Many people swap red meat for chicken believing it is a health food, and although there are some nutritional benefits, chicken is still high in LDL cholesterol when compared to plant-based foods.
Research has shown that chicken raises LDL cholesterol to the same extent as red meat. One study compared diets low in saturated fat that obtain protein from red meat, white meat and meatless sources. It found that red and white meat raised LDL cholesterol compared to meat-free protein sources such as legumes, grains and nuts.
According to the Physicians Committee of Responsible Medicine, a typical serving of chicken also contains about 50% fat, and about 30% of that is saturated fat.
As plant-based diets include plenty of whole grains, seeds, nuts, fruits and vegetables, they tend to be naturally lower in saturated fat and many studies have linked plant-based diets to lower cholesterol levels.
In addition to the cholesterol content of chicken, it’s also a major cause of food poisoning. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, contaminated poultry products affect over one million people every year in the US.
Salmonella outbreaks are not uncommon in the UK, either. In 2021, a deadly outbreak resulted in a recall of chicken products from several major supermarkets.
And the problem doesn’t stop there. Campylobacter is another health concern associated with eating chicken products. Even though there is a maximum level of Campylobacter that the Food Standards Agency will accept, there are still concerns that chicken sold in retailers is contaminated with it.
According to the NHS:
“Most cases of campylobacter infection come from poultry. Recent studies have found over 50% of the chicken sold in the UK carries the bacteria.”
It’s still possible to suffer from food poisoning on a vegan diet, but by swapping chicken for plant-based protein sources, we can omit the biggest cause of foodborne illnesses.
Antibiotic resistance is another reason why chicken is far from the ‘clean’ food we’re told it is.
An estimated 66% of all antibiotics in the world are used on farmed animals. Instead of using antibiotics to treat disease, the animal agriculture industry routinely uses them to prevent inevitable outbreaks of disease caused by filthy living conditions.
Although routine use of antibiotics is falling in the UK, this trend isn’t the same in many countries, some of which still use antibiotics to promote the growth of animals. It’s estimated that antibiotic resistance will cost $100tn and will cause 10 million deaths per year by 2050.
While this issue isn’t specific to chickens, they are farmed in greater numbers than any other land animal and live in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions where injury is common and disease spreads quickly.
By swapping chicken for plant-based protein sources, we can reduce this misuse of antibiotics.
If you’ve read anything about intensive chicken farming, you’ll be aware that the typical factory farm is a breeding ground for disease. Since November 2021, millions of birds have been culled across the UK and Europe as a result of the biggest bird flu outbreak on record.
Experts have warned that the farming of free-range eggs may no longer be feasible due to outbreaks occurring year-round. Scientists have also raised fears that avian flu viruses pose a pandemic threat.
This investigation into a typical chicken farm by Viva! shows there’s nothing ‘clean’ about how these animals are reared for food.
So, is chicken healthy?
When compared with plant-based sources of protein such as legumes, seeds, beans, nuts and whole grains, it’s clear that chicken isn’t the superfood it’s cracked up to be.
By eating plants, we’re not contributing to the unsanitary conditions on factory farms that breed disease and misuse precious antibiotics. We reduce our risk of ingesting harmful bacteria from contaminated food products. We can have healthy cholesterol levels and lower our risk of developing heart disease.
Why not swap chicken for plant protein sources and delicious vegan chicken alternatives instead?