When we think of healthy protein choices, chicken nutrition is often at the top of the list. But how does food preparation affect the nutritional value of your chicken dishes?
Most of us know that chicken is a good source of protein, but did you also know that it is an excellent source of Phosphorous, vitamin B6, Niacin, and Selenium. Plus, it is also very low in Sodium, which is great news for dieters suffering from hypertension and cardiac issues. A 3 oz. portion of white-meat chicken, without the skin, typically has about 142 calories, 3.1 grams of fat, and no carbohydrates. For all of these reasons, it is a popular choice for dieters on a variety of plans, including the high protein and low carb diets.
Cooking Preparations and Nutrition
Chicken is a nutritious option in its natural state, but what happens when we cook the chicken? While many of us have assumed that broiled, baked, or grilled chicken is healthier, that term "healthy" can be deceptive. Whether you bake, broil, roast, stew, fry, or even grill your chicken, the nutritional content remains pretty consistent. What can change the nutritional value of the chicken itself is the nutritional content of the food that the chickens eat. And to see much of a change, you have to look for pretty dramatic differences in feed quality--not something typically found in in the US, with strict FDA regulations.
There is an interesting nutritional difference in white meat and dark meat though. Chicken thighs and breasts are comparable in fat and calories for an ounce of skinless meat. However, the drumstick is much higher in both calories and fat. Both chicken thighs and drumsticks have additional nutrients though: zinc, riboflavin, thiamin, vitamin B12, amino acids, and iron. In fact, dark meat has 11 times more zinc than spinach.
Real differences in nutrition come with recipe preparation. Nutritional values can go up tremendously when chicken is prepared with other healthy ingredients like low-fat dairy products, fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
Healthy Chicken Preparation
When frying, grilling, or roasting with oils, the choice of healthy olive oils add essential Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids that our bodies can not synthesize on their own. Using whole grain products to bread chicken can provide fiber and a variety of vitamins, depending on the grain you choose. Sauces can also be a nutritious addition when you stick to low-fat, low-calorie broths, and incorporate a rainbow of vegetables (or even fruit). Using different kinds of nuts to encrust or coat your chicken can add protein and nutrients to any chicken.
Unhealthy Chicken Preparation
Just as recipe preparation can improve the nutritional value of your chicken, it can also add unwanted calories, sugar, and fat to your portion. Fried chicken may have the same nutritional value as grilled or baked chicken, but choosing to bread it with white flour and deep-fry it in oil with saturated fat, adds many unhealthy calories and fats. Cooking chicken with the skin on adds no nutritional value, but does add fat and calories (especially when the skin is fried in oil). Many soy sauces and marinades have added sugars and sodium, that not only increase calories, but can raise blood pressure levels. Read package ingredients when selecting sauces, rubs, and marinades for your favorite poultry. Keep both cooking methods and recipes in mind when meal planning, remembering the more nutritious the ingredients for your chicken recipe, the healthier your food will be.