Chicken: Is Light Meat Really Healthier?

Article posted in: Diet & Nutrition
roasted chicken with vegetables

If you’ve made the decision to lose weight or live healthier, you already know: The decision to make a lifestyle change is relatively easy; navigating the field of nutrition is not. A simple Google search of most foods will yield pages and pages of conflicting information—there are millions of reasons to eat it and just as many reasons not to.

Chicken is no exception.

A versatile lean protein that is low in cholesterol and has less saturated fat than red meat, chicken is recommended by the American Heart Association as part of a heart healthy diet.

Sounds simple enough, right? Not when you consider the age old light versus dark meat divide. Chicken in any color provides a powerhouse of nutrients containing essential amino acids and healthy fats. But is there a benefit to choosing one type of meat over another? We’re shedding some light on the light vs. dark meat debate right here:

The Light Meat
Light meat is found in the breast of the chicken. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), a two-ounce portion of skinless, boneless breast meat yields 62 calories, 12 grams of protein, 0.93 grams of fat.

The Dark Meat
Dark meat is found in the legs and thighs. A two-ounce portion of skinless boneless leg meat will deliver 71 calories, 10.86 grams of protein, 2.39 grams of fat and 1.060 grams of total saturated fat, according to the USDA.

The Face Off
So what does this mean for you? Although when comparing a two-ounce serving of light meat to dark meat, the differences appear small, experts agree that weight loss can often be achieved by making small changes in your diet. Swapping two ounces of light meat chicken for your usual dark meat dish will not only give you a bigger protein boost and save you a few calories, it will also save you half the saturated fat. Since research has shown links between heart disease and saturated fat intake, the American Heart Association and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommend light meat chicken as part of a healthy diet for both your heart, and your waistline.

The Facts About Fat
In 2016, the role of fat in the diet received a great deal of attention. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute published research that suggested a low fat diet may not lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. And on Jan. 28, the Secretary of Health and Human Services released a statement presenting the official Scientific Report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC). The DGAC is an appointed group tasked with releasing research-backed recommendations on diet and nutrition. Their goal is to improve the state of America’s health. Included in the most recent report are new fat recommendations. Limits on fats that have existed since 1976 have been removed.

For the first time, the DGAC removed the upper limits for total fat. But before you go chowing down on that fatty fast food staple, consider this: The type of fat you choose can have big bearing on your health.

In place of an upper limit on total fat, the DGAC issued an upper limit on saturated fats instead. The previous guidelines lumped healthy and unhealthy fats into one category with one upper limit, which left many cutting heart-healthy unsaturated fats from their diets. The final recommendation from the DGAC is to consume less than 10 percent of your total calories from saturated fat.

On the Nutrisystem program? Count a two-ounce portion of chicken breast as one PowerFuel serving.

*All nutritional information taken from the USDA’s Food Composition Database on 8/22/2016.