Chicken is not a dietary source of good cholesterol, known as high-density lipoproteins (HDLs), reports the U.S.D.A.'s National Nutrient Laboratory. However, chicken has a modest amount of essential fatty acids, which have been shown to raise HDL levels and support cardiac health. Chicken is also a source of dietary cholesterol and saturated fat; consumed in excess, both of these can raise your risk of heart disease. However, you can control and reduce these factors by purchasing lean chicken meats and choosing healthy recipes.
Chicken is a good source of protein and relatively lean when compared to red meat. The amount of fat and cholesterol in chicken depends on the "darkness" of the meat, portion size and amount of lean muscle mass on the bird. One-fourth pound of "dark" chicken meat has 80 mg cholesterol, whereas 1/4 pound of white breast meat has 64 mg cholesterol. The American Heart Association recommends a limit of up to 300 mg of cholesterol daily.
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are fats that our bodies cannot synthesize and we therefore must ingest in our diet. Among their many functions, EFAs reduce inflammation in your arteries and raise HDL levels, the "good" cholesterol that helps transport fat out of your bloodstream. However, EFAs raise the "bad" cholesterol as well and are high in calories. EFAs consist primarily of two types: alpha-linolenic and linoleic. Chicken is a moderate source of EFAs. One-fourth pound of dark meat contains 0.1 g EFAs. In comparison, 1/4 pound of salmon contains 2.2 g of EFAs.
If you are trying to lower your cholesterol, you are better off choosing lean chicken meats such as chicken breasts with less dietary cholesterol than higher fat chicken options, that may be modestly higher in the essential fatty acids. Because chicken is an animal product, it contains cholesterol and may also be high in saturated fat. The light meats, such as chicken breast, are lowest in fat and cholesterol. Chicken thighs and drumsticks are highest in fat and cholesterol. Choose skinless chicken when possible, or cut the skin off chicken pieces. Chicken skin is 50 percent fat by weight.
Because chicken meat contains fat naturally, choose recipes that use added fats and oils sparingly or not at all. Some of the healthiest ways to prepare chicken include baking, grilling, broiling or steaming. In contrast, deep frying adds a considerable amount of fat. Also, marinades or bastes that are heavy in butter or oil also add saturated fat and cholesterol. Spice rubs, citrus juice and Asian soy dressings are popular alternatives to butter or heavier sauces.
Depending on the darkness of the meat, a serving of roasted chicken (skin on) is 15 to 30 percent fat by weight. While this proportion does include essential fatty acids, these "good" fats are just a fraction of the total amount.
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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.