Chicken comes from Gallus gallus, a domesticated species of fowl. More and more people nowadays are beginning to eat chicken as a way to reduce the fat in their diet. It can be prepared in a variety of ways spanning a large range of culinary traditions. Some of the most common are barbeque, fried, boiled or roasted. Chicken soup is likely the most common way to cook chicken.
Dark and Light meat
An entire chicken can be eaten from meat to organs. The dark meat includes the back meat, legs, thighs and wings. It turns out that dark meat chicken, particularly the legs and thighs, may reduce the risk of heart disease by up to 57% when eaten regularly (4 ounces per day). It may be because dark meat contains more minerals like zinc and most of the vitamin B’s. The dark meat also contains a version of vitamin K called vitamin K2. This vitamin can block the production of cholesterol in our bodies so it also helps reduce your risk of developing heart disease.
The breast meat is the white meat. It is a leaner cut of meat because it contains less fat than the dark meat. The skin can double the amount of fat you consume so the meat is healthiest when you eat it without the skin. When it comes to health you can’t go wrong either way. White meat is a bit leaner, while the dark meat contains more vitamins and minerals.
Chicken giblets are just as healthy as chicken meat. It may actually be even healthier. The gizzards are comprised of the heart, neck, kidneys, liver and gizzards. The giblets contain over 200% of your daily value of Vitamin B12, which is a vitamin that’s important for your brain. Try to include them in your diet by adding then to chicken stock or even chicken soup if that’s your taste.
Chicken vs. Beef
When it comes to taste, everyone has his or her own preference. But, when it comes down to health, chicken has the edge over beef. When comparing the meats, cut for cut, chicken usually contains more protein, less calories, less fat and can go toe-to-hoof with beef in their vitamin B content. Chicken is also a better source of phosphorus, niacin and selenium compared to beef.
Organic: This is the best food label that chicken can have. Organic means the chicken was raised without antibiotics and had access to the outdoors. It also means that they cannot be genetically modified (non-GMO), irradiated or cloned. The USDA, through the National Organic Program, has additional organic standards that go into more detail about how organic a product is. These standards, however, do not necessarily mean that organically raised chickens are healthier than conventionally raised chickens.
Free Range: This label means chickens had access to an open area. This label can be potentially deceiving because it does not specify whether the chickens were caged or what the term “open area” means. The USDA allows this label to be placed on any poultry product (poultry meat, eggs…) that has had open-air access for a minimum of 5 minutes per day. Theoretically, the chicken could be caged 24 hours a day 7 days a week while the doors to the building they are housed in was opened each day for a minimum of 5 minutes. On the other hand, the label may also imply that the chickens were not caged and allowed to go in and out to pasture as they pleased.
Hormone-free: The USDA does not allow the use of hormones in chickens. It’s redundant when companies use this label on their product.
Note: Manufacturers are not required to have their meat certified as organic by the USDA or have it graded. It must, however, be inspected for wholesomeness, correct labeling and packaging by the USDA.
Click here for additional terms and definitions for meat and poultry labeling from the USDA.
When grilling meats, some compounds that are found in the charred areas can be toxic to our cells (i.e carcinogenic). When fat drips into the flames, the heat causes a reaction that produces carcinogenic compounds called HCA’s (Heterocyclic amines) and PAH’s (Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons). HCA’s are formed when meats are cooked high temperatures. They are found in the charred areas of the meat when it’s cooked. HCA’s have also been found in cigarette smoke as well. PAH’s are formed when juices from the meat drip down into the flames or hot coals. The smoke that rises up deposits the PAH on the meat. This smoke can also carry it into your lungs. These toxic compounds can increase your risk of stomach and colon cancer. However, many of these studies have only been done on animals so far. To help counter this effect, grill your meats with some Rosemary. Rosemary contains antioxidants that can help prevent these compounds from harming your cells. You can also try eating some lettuce with your barbecued food since chlorophyll can help neutralize the toxic compounds. Marinating your meats with acidic foods like lemon or vinegar can help block PAH’s from sticking to the meat by changing the pH of the surface. Antioxidants in lemons and other acidic foods can possibly neutralize the damaging effects of HCA’s and PAH’s as well.