Whether you prefer chicken soup, chicken salad, grilled chicken breast, or convenient chicken protein powder, the lean meat of a chicken is nutritious and delicious. It provides proteins, nutrients, vitamins, and much more.
Teeming with Protein
Chicken is an excellent source of protein. It is lean, filling, and full of beneficial amino acids. According to the National Chicken Council, in each 100 grams (3.5 oz) of cooked skinless, boneless chicken breast, you will find 31 grams of protein – more than half of the daily recommended amount!
In addition, chicken’s proteins contain all the important amino acids (simple organic compounds that compose proteins). For example, chicken provides an ample amount of the amino acid tryptophan, which is known to provoke a comforting and relaxing feeling in many people (in fact, some people mistakenly blame tryptophan for the drowsiness they experience on Thanksgiving, because turkey contains it too). Another of chicken’s amino acids, isoleucine, assists with wound healing (including recovery after exercise), growth, and the stabilization of blood sugar levels. And threonine helps maintain the central nervous system, cardiovascular system, and immune system.
Chicken provides all nine essential amino acids (the amino acids that humans must obtain through their diet, because the body cannot synthesize them). Thus, chicken is a “complete protein.” It also happens to be one of the most efficient proteins in terms of delivering the most essential amino acids per amount of food eaten.
- Although perhaps best known for its plentiful protein, chicken also contains a variety of beneficial nutrients. For example, the following list contains just some of chicken’s many vitamins and minerals. It also describes a few of the important functions that each vitamin/mineral performs within the body.
- Iron: Assists with growth and development, helps the body metabolize protein, assists in the production of hemoglobin and red blood cells
- Phosphorous: Helps build strong bones and teeth, supports the kidney and liver, assists with the function of the central nervous system
- Selenium: Protects cells from oxidative stress, helps the thyroid produce hormones, benefits reproductive health, helps fight cancer
- Vitamin A: Helps maintain healthy vision and skin, assists with neurological function, fights free radical damage, supports immune function
- Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin): Helps maintain healthy blood cells, boosts energy levels, protects eye and skin health, contributes to growth, prevents free radical damage
- Vitamin B3 (Niacin): Helps maintain a healthy cardiovascular system, aids in metabolism, helps with brain function, benefits skin formation and maintenance
- Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid): Aids metabolism, helps turn carbohydrates and fats into energy, supports the function of the adrenal glands
- Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine): Assists with the function of the cardiovascular, digestive, immune, muscular, and nervous system functions
- Vitamin B7 (Biotin): Improves metabolism, assists with cell growth and tissue maintenance, promotes healthy skin and hair
- Vitamin B12: Protects the health of your nerves and red blood cells, assists with energy production, helps regulate the nervous system and digestive system
- Zinc: Helps with hormone production, improves immunity, facilitates digestion, acts as an anti-inflammatory agent, fights free radical damage
Low in Calories, Cholesterol, Sodium, and Fat
With just 165 calories in 3.5 ounces of skinless, boneless chicken breast (source), you won’t have to worry about this lean meat destroying your weight loss goals. On the contrary, chicken is an excellent addition to a balanced diet. The same sample size of chicken breast (3.5 ounces) contains just 74 milligrams of sodium, 85 milligrams of cholesterol, 1 gram of saturated fat, and 4 grams of total fat. The fat content does increase in dark meat, skin-on portions, so keep that in mind as you make your selection.
Because chicken contains less cholesterol and saturated fat than other common proteins, like beef and pork, it is less likely to raise your blood cholesterol or cause heart disease. It has been shown that dietary cholesterol is not correlated with disease and is only a minor part of blood cholesterol. It is mostly metabolized, while the liver primarily makes and regulates cholesterol. As for saturated fat, much depends on which fatty acids are most prevalent and their arrangement on the glycerol base.
Easy to Digest
The human body can quickly digest and absorb the proteins and nutrients listed above, ensuring that the majority of the health benefits of chicken do not go to waste. One of the easiest foods to digest, chicken complements the diets of people suffering from chronic digestion issues like irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease as well.
In addition to the many health benefits of chicken, you can’t deny the protein’s convenience. You can find it in most any grocery store, and even amateur chefs can easily prepare chicken with a little knowhow. You can cook it in a variety of ways (grilling, roasting, poaching, baking), and you can use it in numerous recipes. Whether you prefer grilled chicken atop a salad, stir-fried chicken with veggies, or chicken protein powder mixed into an omelet, you simply can’t go wrong with chicken.
Finally, it’s important to note that some disadvantages accompany the many health benefits of chicken. For example, the way in which you prepare chicken can dramatically affect its nutrition. A fried piece of skin-on thigh meat, for example, simply isn’t as healthy as a grilled portion of skinless breast meat. In addition, remember to handle and cook your chicken properly to avoid salmonella, a bacterium that can cause food poisoning. If purchasing chicken protein powder, ensure that the product comes from a safe and reliable manufacturer.