Like all of the meat-related foods that we profile on our website (including beef, lamb, and turkey), pasture-raised chicken is not a food that we view as a mandatory part of any meal plan. We recognize that many people prefer to avoid meat-related foods in their way of eating for a wide variety of reasons. At the same time, we also realize that pasture-raised chicken can be a very helpful source of nutrients: it achieves one ranking of "excellent" in our rating system (for vitamin B3), as well as four rankings of "very good" and three rankings of "good." It's also the third best source of protein among all 100 foods profiled on our website.
If you do decide to enjoy pasture-raised chicken in your meal plan, we recommend that you incorporate it into vegetable-rich recipes, with a serving size in the range of 4-6 ounces. For a great example of recipes that incorporate pasture-raised chicken in this way, look no further that the World's Healthiest Foods Meal Plan Recipes that serve as the foundation for our World's Healthiest Foods Meal Plan! You will find pasture-raised chicken being included on four out of seven days in our meal plan. Our World's Healthiest Foods Meal Plan incorporates pasture-raised chicken in this carefully measured way to provide you with great nutrient-related benefits without risking balance in your overall way of eating. At 8-9 grams of protein per ounce, what might seek like a moderate amount of chicken is actually providing you with 32-36 grams of protein in a single 4-ounce serving.
Chicken is perhaps best known for its high protein content, but it is a food that actually provides broad nutrient support. With respect to protein, one 4-ounce serving of pasture-raised chicken breast provides about 35 grams of protein, or 70% of the Daily Value (DV). Included in this excellent protein content are plentiful amounts of sulfur-containing amino acids like cysteine and methionine, as well as branched chain amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) that are important for support of cardiac and skeletal muscle. All B vitamins are present in chicken meat, including B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12, folate, biotin, and choline. (There remains controversy over the biotin content of chicken meat, which appears to be smaller than the average 10-microgram amount of biotin in chicken eggs and which seems more sensitive to the chicken's dietary intake.) Chicken is a particularly helpful food for obtaining vitamin B3, since it provides about 98% of the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) per serving and ranks as an excellent source of this B vitamin. Four ounces of chicken breast also supplies 40% of the DRI for vitamin B6 and over 20% of the DRI for choline.
In terms of minerals, chicken is richest in selenium and provides about 57% of the DRI in a single 4-ounce serving. Zinc, copper, phosphorus, magnesium, and iron are also provided by this food.
There continues to be some debate about the exact role of chicken in support of cardiovascular health. This debate is partly due to the different cuts of chicken consumed by participants in research studies. To give you a better idea of how different various forms of chicken can be in terms of their fat content, we have created the chart below.
|Form of Chicken||Amount||Calories||Total Fat (grams)||Saturated Fat (grams)||Cholesterol (milligrams)|
|Breast with skin||100 grams||185-200||6-8||2.0-2.25||70-90|
|Breast without skin||100 grams||165-185||3-5||0.75-1.25||70-90|
|Leg with skin||100 grams||185-225||8-9||2.0-3.0||125-130|
|Leg without skin||100 grams||175-185||6-8||1.5-2.25||125-130|
|Thigh with skin||100 grams||225-235||13-16||4.0-4.25||125-135|
|Thigh without skin||100 grams||180-210||8-11||2.25-3.0||125-135|
As you can see from this chart, the number of calories in each 100-gram serving (about 3.5-4.0 ounces) of chicken remains relatively similar and changes by a maximum of about 25% despite the presence of light versus dark meat or the presence/absence of skin. However, the total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol content varies greatly. Since several aspects of cardiovascular health are associated with each of these fat-related nutrients, and since studies have not always been able to precisely identify which cuts were consumed (or whether skin was included), these differences may have contributed to conflicting study results.
We do know, however, from a very recent study by researchers at the University of Stellenbosch in Tygerberg, South Africa, that intake of chicken—when coupled with a prudent diet that restricts total fat to 30% of calories and provided 20 grams of daily dietary fiber—can lower blood cholesterol and blood LDL-cholesterol, and, at the same time, improve the quality of triglyceride (TG) circulating around in the blood. More specifically, inclusion of chicken can increase the omega-3 content of the TGs and lower their content of arachidonic acid (AA). Since omega-3s are considered to be anti-inflammatory fatty acids, and since AA is considered to be a pro-inflammatory fatty acid, this change in the composition of the TGs with chicken consumption could be considered as providing anti-inflammatory benefits to the cardiovascular system.
Many people wonder about the potential health advantages of switching from beef to chicken, especially in the context of colon cancer risk. A first important piece of information to remember in this context is that studies on beef consumption and colon cancer typically find increased risk from high consumption (5 or more ounces per day). We're not aware of any research showing increased colon cancer risk from consumption of 3-4 ounces of beef several times per week. At this higher intake level, however, the increased risk of colon cancer associated with beef does not appear to be associated with chicken. In a recent study analyzing risk of colorectal cancer in more than 20 studies involving chicken, turkey, and fish, researchers found was no evidence of increased colorectal cancer risk, even when chicken was consumed four to five times per week. In addition, as chicken intake increased on an ounce-by-ounce basis from a very small amount (less than one ounce per week) to 4-plus ounces per week, risk of colorectal cancer was not found to increase.
It is possible to increase the omega-3 content of chicken meat—including both light and dark meat, as well as chicken skin—by feeding chickens supplemental amounts of fish meal or fish oil.
Regardless of the amount of chicken you choose to include in your meal plan, we recommend certified organic chicken that has been genuinely pasture raised. By "genuinely," we mean that it is often important to go beyond the labeling claims of "pastured" or "pasture-raised" or "free range" and ask the grocer or the chicken producer about the actual lifestyle circumstances for the chickens.
Chickens belong to the bird class of animals (Aves), and all breeds of chicken come from the same genus, species, and subspecies of bird (Gallus gallus domesticus). However, within this subspecies, there are many different breeds.
When chickens are raised for meat, they are typically referred to as either "broilers" (also called "fryers") or "roasters." Fryers and broilers are usually bred for rapid growth and may reach a weight of four to five pounds in as few as five weeks and may be slaughtered as early as five weeks of age. Roasters are typically fed for a longer period of time (12 to 20 weeks) and are not slaughtered until they reach greater weights of six to 10 pounds. When not being raised for food, the natural lifespan of chickens is approximately five to 10 years, although some chickens can live much longer.
Popular breeds for broiler chickens include Cornish, White Rock, Hubbard, Barred, Cornish Cross, and Cornish Rock. There are fewer breed choices for broilers than for layers. (Among the many breeds available for egg laying are White Leghorns, Rhode Island Reds, Buff Orpingtons, Golden Coments, Red Sex Links, Isa Browns, Australorps, Black Star, Red Star, Light Sussex, and Plymouth Rock.)
While chickens are not the only birds consumed for food, they are the most commonly eaten birds in commercial food supplies. Other birds consumed for food include ducks, geese, quail, turkeys, and ostriches.
You will sometimes hear the word "fowl" being used to refer to chickens. Fowl is a broad term that includes all species within the Gallus genus of birds. The word "poultry" usually refers to any fowl that have been domesticated.
While we recommend all of our dairy products in grass-fed form (including grass-fed beef, cheese, milk, and yogurt), we cannot include chicken in this grass-fed category because chickens are not herbivores but rather omnivores. Unlike cows, who only eat plant foods and who have a special ruminant digestive system for getting optimal nourishment from grasses, chickens enjoy eating a wide variety of non-plant foods including, grubs, worms, and insects. While many chickens do enjoy grass, they still do not depend on it in their natural diet in the same way as cows. In natural pasture settings, chickens can typically find all of their naturally preferred foods, including many kinds of seeds, insects, clovers, grasses, and other vegetation. For this reason, we believe that "pasture-raised" best describes the lifestyle quality that is optimal for chickens.
Although the practice of domesticating fowl dates back at least as far as 2,000 BC, the raising of chickens—for food, for eggs, or simply as pets—seems to have fluctuated throughout human history. At times, both chicken eggs and chicken meat were considered as luxury foods, while at other times, these same foods have been considered as everyday staple foods.
In the U.S., "backyard chickens" have fluctuated similarly in popularity. At present, approximately 150,000 - 200,000 households in the U.S. are estimated to raise small numbers of chickens on their family property. Dozens of cities across the country have recently updated or passed new laws or ordinances for "urban chickens," with many cities setting a cap at five or six chickens per family and their residing a minimum distance of 25-50 feet away from neighboring houses.
Commercial production of chicken in the U.S. has grown continuously and dramatically over the past 30 years. In 2010, production of broiler chickens surpassed 35 billion pounds and is expected to surpass 40 billion pounds by 2020. Per capita chicken consumption was approximately 50 pounds per year in 1985 but had grown to nearly 85 pounds per year by 2005. Today that per capita consumption is down slightly to about 75 pounds, but it is expected to return to the 80-pound level by 2020. Consumption of chicken presently exceeds consumption of beef by approximately 35%.
The United States is the world's largest producer of broiler chicken, and among the U.S. states, Georgia, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, and North Carolina produce the most chicken for meat purposes. (In terms of egg-laying flocks, Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Texas are states with the most chicken production.)
When purchasing whole chickens, look for ones that have a solid and plump shape with a rounded breast. Whether purchasing a whole chicken or chicken parts, the chicken should feel pliable when gently pressed, and it should not have an "off" smell. Do not buy chicken if the sell-by date on the label has already expired.
The color of the chicken's skin, white or yellow, does not have any bearing on its nutritional value. Regardless of color, the skin should be opaque and not spotted.
If purchasing frozen chicken, make sure that it is frozen solid and does not have any ice deposits or freezer burn. Additionally, avoid frozen chicken that has frozen liquid in the package as this may indicate that it has been defrosted and refrozen.
As described earlier in this article, we recommend certified organic chicken; in addition to this standard, we also recommend chicken that has been pasture-raised. The reason for this recommendation involves some unreliable standards with respect to the pasture raising of organic chicken.
Yet, unfortunately, while it's important to look for chicken that have been pasture-raised you need to do a little extra work to really find them. That's because of the misleading nature of labeling terms like "pastured," "pasture-raised," "free-range," or "cage-free."
Unfortunately, while legal, these labeling terms are also misleading. The term "free-range," for example, means that the hens that lay the eggs must have access to the outdoors - but the emphasis here is on "access." No standards are set for how often the hens actually go outside, how much time they must stay outside if they do go out, or what the outdoor environment must include in terms of total space or vegetation. "Pastured" and "pasture-raised" are similarly misleading terms that are not backed up by standards for actual time spent by hens in a pasture setting or standards for qualifying an outdoor space as "pasture." Use of the term "cage-free" on the label of an egg carton means what it says - but legal use of this term does not require hens to have any access to outdoor space and therefore may be used when hens have been confined indoors full-time.
With respect to organic standards, no minimal amount of days spent outdoors or time per day spent outdoors is required for production of organic chicken. Nor must any minimal amount of chicken feed be obtained from a pasture setting. In fact, standards for the pasture setting are not adequately addressed in organic chicken standards. Organic standards require strict feeding with certified organic feed, but legal use of the organic label does not require any fixed amount of feed to be obtained from a pasture setting.
So organic does assure you of higher quality feed for chickens and other desirable production conditions. However, just like the other labeling terms listed above, organic still does not assure you of chicken that has been pasture-raised. The basic issues involved with pasture-raised are not complicated. It isn't enough to provide chickens with "access" to the "outdoors"—they need regular time (usually daily) actually spent pecking, foraging, roaming around, and interacting socially in a setting with natural vegetation, insects, worms, grubs, shade, and sunlight. We suggest that you talk with your grocer and/or directly with your chicken producer to find out if these circumstances were provided for their chickens.
We think that the best strategy for enjoying the most flavorful and lowest fat form of chicken is not to purchase already skinned chicken breasts. Rather, purchase chicken breasts with the skin still intact, waiting to remove the skin until after cooking (In this way you'll improve the moisture and flavor and aroma of your chicken, while not significantly increasing the total fat content.)
Chicken should be stored in the coldest section of your refrigerator. If the store packaging is intact and secure, store it this way since this will reduce the amount of handling. Yet, if the packaging is not secure, and it seems as if the chicken liquids will leak, rewrap it securely before storing. This is very important to make sure that the chicken does not contaminate other foods in the refrigerator. Refrigerated raw chicken can keep for two to three days.
To freeze chicken, remove it from its packaging, wash it and then pat it dry. Using either aluminum foil or freezer paper, wrap the chicken parts carefully so that they are as airtight as possible. Well-wrapped frozen chicken can keep for about one year.
Many people wonder about the differences between dark meat and light meat, and how to decide which to select. We've created a table, which we included in the Health Benefits section (see above), to help explain how dark meat (in the form of a chicken leg) and light meat (in the form of a chicken breast) differ in terms of their fat-related content.
From a calorie standpoint, most people would have room for any 175-200 calorie, moderately sized (100 grams, or about 3.5 ounces) portion of chicken, regardless of its light/dark or skin/skinless quality. However, for anyone wanting to minimize their intake of animal fat, skinned chicken breast would make the most sense with less than 4 grams of total fat and only 1 gram of saturated fat. If the chicken you eat is both organic and pasture-raised, there are going to be valuable nutrients in both dark meat and light meat, and there are also going to be valuable nutrients in the skin. (The skin contains many of the same vitamins and minerals as the flesh, and a greater concentration of some fat-soluble vitamins like the retinol form of vitamin A.) The choice of light versus dark and skin-included or skin-removed is a choice that should be made in the context of your overall meal plan, how much room you have in your meal plan for fat-related nutrients including saturated fat, total fat, and cholesterol, and of course your taste preferences.
Be extremely careful when handling raw chicken so 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.
For some of our favorite recipes, click Recipes.
Raw chicken meat—including conventional, organic, and pasture-raised—often contains measurable populations of potentially problematic bacteria, including Campylobacter, Enterococcus, Listeria, and Salmonella. Studies by the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture have shown that approximately one out of eight broiler chicken samples are contaminated with Salmonella, even though only 20% of these contaminated samples contain the most potentially problematic species of Salmonella, namely, Salmonella enteriditis (SE). Despite these relatively high rates of contamination, however, there have been surprisingly few SE-related recalls for chicken meat, especially in comparison to the large number of recalls for both chicken eggs and beef.
With respect to eggs, many cases of exposure have involved raw or minimally cooked egg products, and we suspect that the smaller number of chicken meat recalls is related to the lower likelihood of undercooked chicken meat in restaurants and homes. While consumers often like minimally cooked eggs (or even raw eggs), they seldom prefer undercooked or raw chicken meat.
If you decide to include chicken in your meal plan, the best way to address these contamination concerns is to use the utmost care in handling and storing chicken and to fully cook chicken before you consume it. For more details on proper handling and storing, please see our How to Select and Store and Tips for Preparing and Cooking sections. With respect to complete cooking of chicken meat, an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C) is required. A meat thermometer is your best way to determine if this cooking temperature has been reached.
An increasing number of consumers have raised questions about the quality of life for both broiler and egg-laying chickens, and a variety of different third-party animal welfare organizations have started to offer certification for chicken producers who would like to display some label on their packaging that address animal welfare issues. In general animal welfare and humane treatment issues include
Slaughter, in particular, has been an area of special concern and remains an area of ongoing debate with respect to organic chicken regulations. For example, current organic regulations do not specify a limit for the time chicken can be kept at a slaughter facility, a limit on shackle time, or verification of stunning pre-scalding. One further much-debated slaughter-related issue has involved the role of electrical immobilization versus "controlled atmosphere killing" (CAK).
Unfortunately, current labeling and certification standards do not provide any easy way to assure humane treatment of chickens when purchasing chicken. Like assurance of pasture-raising, assurance of humane treatment is an issue that will require you to follow-up with your grocer or directly with the chicken producer.
One potential upcoming change in the area of humane treatment for certified organic poultry is the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP). While the OLPP has yet to be officially adopted by the USDA as a standard for certified organic poultry, it would work to improve conditions for chickens being raised for eventual certification as organic. Improved living conditions—including better pasture access—is one feature of the proposed regulations. For more information on the OLPP and its provisions, you can visit the Federal Register description of the proposed new regulations.
Chicken provides omega-3 fatty acids, including both EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). With the exception of biotin (which is still somewhat controversial as a component of chicken meat), chicken also provides measurable amounts of all B vitamins. Chicken is an excellent source of niacin and very good source of protein and selenium. It is also a good source of protein, selenium, vitamin B6, and phosphorus. It is also a good source of choline, pantothenic acid and vitamin B12.
Chicken, pasture-raised, breast, roasted
GI: very low
|vitamin B3||15.55 mg||97||9.3||excellent|
|protein||35.18 g||70||6.8||very good|
|selenium||31.30 mcg||57||5.5||very good|
|vitamin B6||0.68 mg||40||3.8||very good|
|phosphorus||258.55 mg||37||3.6||very good|
|pantothenic acid||1.09 mg||22||2.1||good|
|vitamin B12||0.39 mcg||16||1.6||good|
Density>=7.6 AND DRI/DV>=10%
Density>=3.4 AND DRI/DV>=5%
Density>=1.5 AND DRI/DV>=2.5%
|Chicken, pasture-raised, breast, roasted|
(Note: "--" indicates data unavailable)
|GI: very low|
|BASIC MACRONUTRIENTS AND CALORIES|
|Fat - total||4.05 g||5|
|Dietary Fiber||0.00 g||0|
|MACRONUTRIENT AND CALORIE DETAIL|
|Total Sugars||0.00 g|
|Soluble Fiber||0.00 g|
|Insoluble Fiber||0.00 g|
|Other Carbohydrates||0.00 g|
|Monounsaturated Fat||1.41 g|
|Polyunsaturated Fat||0.87 g|
|Saturated Fat||1.15 g|
|Trans Fat||-- g|
|Calories from Fat||36.43|
|Calories from Saturated Fat||10.31|
|Calories from Trans Fat||--|
|Vitamin B1||0.08 mg||7|
|Vitamin B2||0.13 mg||10|
|Vitamin B3||15.55 mg||97|
|Vitamin B3 (Niacin Equivalents)||22.39 mg|
|Vitamin B6||0.68 mg||40|
|Vitamin B12||0.39 mcg||16|
|Folate (DFE)||4.54 mcg|
|Folate (food)||4.54 mcg|
|Pantothenic Acid||1.09 mg||22|
|Vitamin C||0.00 mg||0|
|Vitamin A (Retinoids and Carotenoids)|
|Vitamin A International Units (IU)||23.81 IU|
|Vitamin A mcg Retinol Activity Equivalents (RAE)||6.80 mcg (RAE)||1|
|Vitamin A mcg Retinol Equivalents (RE)||0.00 mcg (RE)|
|Retinol mcg Retinol Equivalents (RE)||6.80 mcg (RE)|
|Carotenoid mcg Retinol Equivalents (RE)||6.80 mcg (RE)|
|Beta-Carotene Equivalents||0.00 mcg|
|Lutein and Zeaxanthin||0.00 mcg|
|Vitamin D International Units (IU)||5.67 IU||1|
|Vitamin D mcg||0.11 mcg|
|Vitamin E mg Alpha-Tocopherol Equivalents (ATE)||0.31 mg (ATE)||2|
|Vitamin E International Units (IU)||0.46 IU|
|Vitamin E mg||0.31 mg|
|Vitamin K||0.34 mcg||0|
|INDIVIDUAL FATTY ACIDS|
|Omega-3 Fatty Acids||0.08 g||3|
|Omega-6 Fatty Acids||0.74 g|
|14:1 Myristoleic||-- g|
|15:1 Pentadecenoic||-- g|
|16:1 Palmitol||0.17 g|
|17:1 Heptadecenoic||-- g|
|18:1 Oleic||1.18 g|
|20:1 Eicosenoic||0.03 g|
|22:1 Erucic||-- g|
|24:1 Nervonic||-- g|
|Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids|
|18:2 Linoleic||0.67 g|
|18:2 Conjugated Linoleic (CLA)||-- g|
|18:3 Linolenic||0.03 g|
|18:4 Stearidonic||-- g|
|20:3 Eicosatrienoic||-- g|
|20:4 Arachidonic||0.07 g|
|20:5 Eicosapentaenoic (EPA)||0.01 g|
|22:5 Docosapentaenoic (DPA)||0.01 g|
|22:6 Docosahexaenoic (DHA)||0.02 g|
|Saturated Fatty Acids|
|4:0 Butyric||-- g|
|6:0 Caproic||-- g|
|8:0 Caprylic||-- g|
|10:0 Capric||-- g|
|12:0 Lauric||0.01 g|
|14:0 Myristic||0.03 g|
|15:0 Pentadecanoic||-- g|
|16:0 Palmitic||0.78 g|
|17:0 Margaric||-- g|
|18:0 Stearic||0.28 g|
|20:0 Arachidic||-- g|
|22:0 Behenate||-- g|
|24:0 Lignoceric||-- g|
|INDIVIDUAL AMINO ACIDS|
|Aspartic Acid||3.13 g|
|Glutamic Acid||5.27 g|
|Organic Acids (Total)||0.00 g|
|Acetic Acid||0.00 g|
|Citric Acid||0.00 g|
|Lactic Acid||0.00 g|
|Malic Acid||0.00 g|
|Sugar Alcohols (Total)||0.00 g|
|Artificial Sweeteners (Total)||-- mg|
Note:The nutrient profiles provided in this website are derived from The Food Processor, Version 10.12.0, ESHA Research, Salem, Oregon, USA. Among the 50,000+ food items in the master database and 163 nutritional components per item, specific nutrient values were frequently missing from any particular food item. We chose the designation "--" to represent those nutrients for which no value was included in this version of the database.
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