It has become widely accepted in recent years that if you want to consume meat as part of a healthy diet then chicken is your holy grail, your essential, your ultimate go-to. The bird is so popular that in the United States and the United Kingdom, chicken meat consumption makes up roughly half of overall meat consumption.
But how accurate is the belief that chicken is the health queen?
Modi Mwatsama is the director of global health at the UK health forum and her view is that too much emphasis has been put on the consumption of chicken in terms of sustaining a healthy diet. She believes this is due to a misconception involving protein, observing that a growing number of people in the UK and US are eating 50% more protein than their body actually needs.
Mwatsama stated that this level of protein consumption is unhealthy and unnecessary as ‘for the last 20 years or more, people have not been protein deficient in the developed world.’ She noted that there is no additional health benefit to high protein diets that involve eating a lot of chicken. If you follow the Atkins diet for example, you are increasing your risk of colonic disease.
This is not the only danger either, chickens (and other farmed animals) are often pumped full of antibiotics to prevent them from getting sick. If we then continue to eat these animals at such a rapid rate, we are holding the door wide open for resistant superbugs to enter our bodies.
Mwatsama’s advice is to lean more towards plant based sources of protein that are low in saturated fat and offer a healthy dose of fibre (and they’re free of antibiotics). These are foods such as pulses, lentils, beans and chickpeas.
There is also the small matter of the environment where chicken is concerned. Whilst the impact is (currently) smaller than the production of red meat, it still has unavoidable adverse effects on our planet, and that’s certainly not good for any of us.
As highlighted by Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition and public health at New York University, ‘all the major concerns about diets, greenhouse gases, environmental degradation, treatment of animals and human health, all get taken care of by diets that are largely, if not exclusively, plant-based.’