The World's Healthiest Foods
Chicken

If there is one word that describes chicken, it is versatility. Roasted, broiled, grilled or poached, and combined with a wide range of herbs and spices, chicken makes a delicious, flavorful and nutritious meal. It is no wonder chicken is the world’s primary source of animal protein and a healthy alternative to red meat. It is available to enjoy throughout the year.

 


Health Benefits

Chicken is rated as a very good source of protein, providing 67.6% of the daily value for protein in 4 ounces. The structure of humans and animals is built on protein. We derive our amino acids from animal and plant sources of protein, then rearrange the nitrogen to make the pattern of amino acids we require.

A Very Good Source of Protein

People who are meat eaters, but are looking for ways to reduce the amount of fat in their meals, can try eating more chicken. The leanest part of the chicken is the chicken breast, which has less than half the fat of a trimmed Choice grade T-bone steak. The fat in chicken is also less saturated than beef fat. However, eating the chicken with the skin doubles the amount of fat and saturated fat in the food. For this reason, chicken is best skinned before cooking.

Protein Protects Against Bone Loss in Older People

Studies show that some sections of the population, especially older people, have poor protein intake. But protein may be important in reducing bone loss in older people. In one study, the 70- to 90-year-old men and women with the highest protein intakes lost significantly less bone over a four-year period than those who consumed less protein. Animal protein, as well as overall protein intake, was associated with preserving bone.

With data from 615 participants in the Framingham (MA) Osteoporosis Study, researchers examined the relationship between protein intakes in 1988–1989 and changes in bone mineral density four years later. They accounted for all factors known to increase risk of bone loss.

Participants who reported the lowest daily protein intakes — roughly equivalent to half a chicken breast — had lost significantly more bone in the hip and spine four years later than those with the highest intakes — equivalent to about 9 ounces of steak and 1 cup of tuna salad. The group with the next lowest intake — equivalent to about 2 cups of cottage cheese — also lost significantly more bone than the highest protein intake group, but only at the hip.

Chicken's Cancer-Protective Nutrients

Chicken is a very good source of the cancer-protective B vitamin, niacin. Components of DNA require niacin, and a deficiency of niacin (as well as other B-complex vitamins) has been directly linked to genetic (DNA) damage. A four-ounce serving of chicken provides 72.0% of the daily value for niacin.

Chicken is also a good source of the trace mineral, selenium. Selenium is of fundamental importance to human health. It is an essential component of several major metabolic pathways, including thyroid hormone metabolism, antioxidant defense systems, and immune function. Accumulated evidence from prospective studies, intervention trials and studies on animal models of cancer have suggested a strong inverse correlation between selenium intake and cancer incidence. Several mechanisms have been suggested to explain the cancer-preventive activities of selenium. Selenium has been shown to induce DNA repair and synthesis in damaged cells, to inhibit the proliferation of cancer cells, and to induce their apoptosis, the self-destruct sequence the body uses to eliminate worn out or abnormal cells. In addition, selenium is incorporated at the active site of many proteins, including glutathione peroxidase, which may be the most important for cancer protection. One of the body's most powerful antioxidant enzymes, glutathione peroxidase is used in the liver to detoxify a wide range of potentially harmful molecules. When levels of glutathione peroxidase are too low, these toxic molecules are not disarmed and wreak havoc on any cells with which they come in contact, damaging their cellular DNA and promoting the development of cancer cells. Four ounces of chicken supply 40.0% of the daily value for selenium.

Protect against Alzheimer's and Age-related Cognitive Decline

Research published in the August 2004 issue of the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry indicates regular consumption of niacin-rich foods like chicken provides protection against Alzheimer's disease and age-related cognitive decline.

Researchers from the Chicago Health and Aging Project interviewed 3,718 Chicago residents aged 65 or older about their diet, then tested their cognitive abilities over the following six years. Those getting the most niacin from foods (22 mg per day) were 70% less likely to have developed Alzheimer's disease than those consuming the least (about 13 mg daily), and their rate of age-related cognitive decline was significantly less. (August 23, 2004)

B vitamins for Energy

Chicken is not only a very good source of niacin, but is also a good source of vitamin B6]. This particular mix of B-complex vitamins makes chicken a helpful food in supporting energy metabolism throughout the body, because these B vitamins are involved as cofactors that help enzymes throughout the body guide metabolic reactions.

Both of these B vitamins are important for energy production. In addition to its DNA actions, niacin is essential for the conversion of the body's proteins, fats, and carbohydrates into usable energy. Niacin helps optimize blood sugar regulation via its actions as a component of a molecule called glucose tolerance factor, which optimizes insulin activity. Vitamin B6 is essential for the body's processing of carbohydrate (sugar and starch), especially the breakdown of glycogen, the form in which sugar is stored in muscle cells and to a lesser extent in our liver. A four-ounce serving of chicken supplies 72.0% of the daily value for niacin and 32.0% of the DV for vitamin B6.

Vitamin B6 for Cardiovascular Health

In addition to its role in energy metabolism, vitamin B6 plays a pivotal role as a methyl donor in the basic cellular process of methylation, through which methyl groups are transferred from one molecule to another, resulting in the formation of a wide variety of very important active molecules. When levels of B6 are inadequate, the availability of methyl groups is also lessened. One result of the lack of methyl groups is that molecules that would normally be quickly changed into other types of molecules not only do not change, but accumulate. One such molecule, homocysteine, is so damaging to blood vessel walls that high levels are considered a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease. As noted above, 4 ounces of chicken will supply about one-third (32.0%) of a person's daily needs for vitamin B6.

Description

Chicken is a very popular food in this country as well as throughout the world. And no wonder since it is delicious, nutritious and can be prepared a multitude of ways. From southern fried chicken to barbequed chicken to tandoori chicken to homemade chicken soup, chicken is appreciated and valued by people of all ages as well as by diverse cultural culinary traditions.

In Latin, the scientific name for chicken is Gallus domesticus.

History

The practice of raising chickens for food is ancient, with the first domestication of poultry thought to have occurred in southern Asia over 4,000 years ago. The popularity of eating chickens has fluctuated throughout history; at times, chicken has been thought of as a luxury item, while at other times, it has fallen into disregard and obscurity.

During the early history of the United States, the settlers brought chickens with them from Europe. While at first, chickens were raised by individual families for their own consumption, as the developing towns expanded and flock sizes increased, surplus chickens were sold or bartered for groceries. While the development of modern refrigeration methods and more rapid transportation in the late 19th century increased poultry production, it was not until after World War II that developments in raising poultry increased, making chickens more available, and more popular, throughout the country.

Today, the leading producers of poultry are China, the Russian Federation, the United States, Brazil, Japan and Mexico.

How to Select and Store

How to Enjoy

For some of our favorite recipes, click Recipes.

Tips for Cooking with Chicken:

Be extremely careful when handling raw chicken that it does not come in contact with other foods, especially those that will be served uncooked. Wash the cutting board, utensils and even your hands very well with hot soapy water after handling the chicken.

If your recipe requires marinating, you should always do so in the refrigerator as chicken is very sensitive to heat, which can increase the chances of spoilage. When defrosting a frozen chicken, do so in the refrigerator and not at room temperature. Put the chicken on a plate to collect any liquid drippings.

A Few Quick Serving Ideas:

Chicken salad can be prepared numerous ways and can be served for lunch or dinner. One of our favorite recipes is to combine the chicken with fresh lemon juice, and olive oil, and mix in garden peas, leeks, almonds and raisins.

For a quick meal with an Asian flair, healthy sautée chopped chicken breast with your favorite vegetables. Add tamari, sesame seeds, ginger, garlic and/or the seasonings of your choice.

Add pieces of diced chicken breast to white bean chili to rev up its protein and nutritional content.

Wrap cooked chicken pieces in a whole wheat tortilla, sprinkle with chopped tomatoes and onions, top with grated cheese and broil, making yourself a healthy burrito.

Safety

Federal statistics show that cases of antibiotic-resistant campylobacter are rising, and a FDA investigation concluded that the use of antiobiotics in chicken production is one significant cause. The FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine has proposed a ban on using these drugs in poultry because of evidence that the drug's use in chicken can cause people to get sick from drug-resistant bacteria.

At issue is a family of antibiotics called fluoroquinolones. Some fluoroquinolones are sold to treat animals, but others are a leading treatment for humans who get food poisoning from campylobacter, a bacteria found mostly in chicken. Humans have used fluoroquinolones since the 1980s, but resistance didn't begin significantly increasing until veterinarians started using the drugs in the mid-1990s, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

If you eat chicken, choose organic chicken, not only because of this issue but for all the reasons given above in the How to Select and Store section.

Allergic Reactions to Chicken

Although allergic reactions can occur to virtually any food, research studies on food allergy consistently report more problems with some foods than with others. Common symptoms associated with an allergic reaction to food include: chronic gastrointestinal disturbances; frequent infections, e.g. ear infections, bladder infections, bed-wetting; asthma, sinusitis; eczema, skin rash, acne, hives; bursitis, joint pain; fatigue, headache, migraine; hyperactivity, depression, insomnia.

Individuals who suspect food allergy to be an underlying factor in their health problems may want to avoid commonly allergenic foods. Chicken is one of the foods most commonly associated with allergic reactions. Other foods commonly associated with allergic reactions include: cow's milk, wheat, soy, shrimp, oranges, eggs, strawberries, tomato, spinach, peanuts, pork, corn and beef. These foods do not need to be eaten in their pure, isolated form in order to trigger an adverse reaction. For example, yogurt made from cow’s milk is also a common allergenic food, even though the cow’s milk has been processed and fermented in order to make the yogurt. Ice cream made from cow’s milk would be an equally good example.

Chicken and Purines

Chicken contain naturally-occurring substances called purines. Purines are commonly found in plants, animals, and humans. In some individuals who are susceptible to purine-related problems, excessive intake of these substances can cause health problems. Since purines can be broken down to form uric acid, excess accumulation of purines in the body can lead to excess accumulation of uric acid. The health condition called “gout” and the formation of kidney stones from uric acid are two examples of uric acid-related problems that can be related to excessive intake of purine-containing foods. For this reason, individuals with kidney problems or gout may want to limit or avoid intake of purine-containing foods such as chicken.

Nutritional Profile

Introduction to Food Rating System Chart

The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good or good source. Next to the nutrient name you will find the following information: the amount of the nutrient that is included in the noted serving of this food; the %Daily Value (DV) that that amount represents (similar to other information presented in the website, this DV is calculated for 25-50 year old healthy woman); the nutrient density rating; and, the food's World's Healthiest Foods Rating. Underneath the chart is a table that summarizes how the ratings were devised. For more detailed information on our Food and Recipe Rating System, please click here.

 

Chicken Breast, Roasted
4.00 oz-wt
223.40 calories
Nutrient Amount DV
(%)
Nutrient
Density
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
tryptophan 0.39 g 121.9 9.8 excellent
vitamin B3 (niacin) 14.41 mg 72.0 5.8 very good
protein 33.79 g 67.6 5.4 very good
selenium 28.01 mcg 40.0 3.2 good
vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) 0.64 mg 32.0 2.6 good
phosphorus 242.68 mg 24.3 2.0 good
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
Rule
excellent DV>=75% OR Density>=7.6 AND DV>=10%
very good DV>=50% OR Density>=3.4 AND DV>=5%
good DV>=25% OR Density>=1.5 AND DV>=2.5%

References

  • Bren L. Antiobiotic resistence down on the chicken farm. USDA FDA Consumer, volume 35, number 1, Jan-Feb 2001.
  • Ensminger AH, Esminger M. K. J. e. al. Food for Health: A Nutrition Encyclopedia. Clovis, California: Pegus Press; 1986.
  • Hannan MT, Tucker KL, Dawson-Hughes B, et al. Effect of dietary protein on bone loss in elderly men and women: the Framingham Osteoporosis Study. J Bone Miner Res 2000 Dec;15(12):2504-12.
  • Margen S and the Editor, Univ of California at Berkley Wellness Letter. The Wellness Encyclopedia of food and nutrition. New York: Health Letter Associates 1992.
  • Morris MC, Evans DA, Bienias JL, Scherr PA, Tangney CC, Hebert LE, Bennett DA, Wilson RS, Aggarwal N. Dietary niacin and the risk of incident Alzheimer's disease and of cognitive decline. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2004 Aug;75(8):1093-9.
  • Vogt, T. M. Ziegler, R. G. Graubard, B. I et al. Serum selenium and risk of prostate cancer in U.S. blacks and whites. Int J Cancer. 2003 Feb 20; 103(5):664-70.
  • Wood, Rebecca. The Whole Foods Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Prentice-Hall Press; 1988.

This page was updated on: 2005-05-06 20:27:09
© 2002 The George Mateljan Foundation