In 2018/19, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences estimates that Australians ate their way through 47.4 kg of chicken meat on average each. This is 20.2 kgs more than their next most popular meat (pig meat) and represents over 45% of all meat consumed. Clearly, Australian consumers think it’s a great product, but what is it that makes it so popular?
While there are many facets to what makes chicken such a great food, clearly much loved by Australian consumers, I’m going to primarily focus in this blog on what makes chicken such a great contributor to a healthy diet, from a nutritional perspective.
Nutritional benefits of chicken meat add up
An excellent source of protein and source of key vitamins and minerals, the nutritional benefits of chicken* stack up!
In the past, many people incorrectly thought that chicken didn’t compare favourably with other meats in terms of its protein content. However, that perception has changed, with Australian consumers increasingly recognising the contribution that chicken meat can make to their protein requirements as part of a healthy varied diet. Indeed, stir fried chicken breast provides approximately 35g of protein per 100 g of the food eaten, equivalent to other meats cooked the same way (lean pork strips, 31g; lean beef strips, 31g; lean lamb strips 28g) (see Table A below).
At the same time,lean stir-fried chicken breast is also low in fat- it is lower in both total fat and saturated fat than either stir-fried beef or lamb (see comparison below).Cooked chicken also delivers more protein in fewer kilojoules than cooked legumes, pulses, nuts and seeds: 300-400g (2-2 ½ cups) of cooked legumes/pulses (beans) is needed to deliver the same amount of protein as contained in 80g of cooked chicken (see Table B below).
Added to all this, cooked chicken is a source of essential nutrients: vitamins B6, B12 and niacin, and minerals magnesium, selenium and zinc (see nutritional information panel below).
If you are interested in comparing the nutritional content of different meats, or different cuts of chicken, yourself, here is a simple tool you can play with that allows you to select different meats and/or cuts and compare their nutrient profiles: https://www.chicken.org.au/health-and-nutrition/#Nutritional_Database. This tool not only allows you to review the nutrient content of different foods but also gives you an idea of the contribution of that food to your nutritional needs. This tool uses data available from the FSANZ (Food Standards Australia New Zealand) Australian Food Composition Database – which can be accessed in full at http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/science/monitoringnutrients/afcd/Pages/default.aspx– and the NHRMC’s Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand Including Recommended Dietary Intakes – which can be accessed at https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/sites/default/files/images/nutrient-refererence-dietary-intakes.pdfor the executive summary at https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/about-us/publications/nutrient-reference-values-australia-and-new-zealand-including-recommended-dietary-intakes
Make sure you compare like with like (for example, only compare raw with raw, cooked with cooked (including using the same cooking method), or highest quality cuts with their equivalent in other meat types, as I have done in the example used below to illustrate the sort of information you can generate.
It’s important to remember that different cuts of chicken vary in terms of their nutrient profile. This is particularly the case for fat levels. Since most of the fat in chicken is in the skin, cuts which are generally eaten with skin-on or which have a high proportion of skin, such as wings, will have a higher fat content than cuts generally eaten with skin off, like breast fillet. Fortunately (a) it is easy to remove the skin and to trim any surplus fat from chicken meat and, (b) breast meat is not only the leanest part of the chicken, but it represents almost half of the edible meat you get on a whole chicken (representing between 41 and 49% of the total weight of edible chicken on a carcase).
You can also use our online comparison tool to compare the nutrient content of different cuts of chicken, or the same cut cooked in different ways…. or, if you’re uncertain what the name of these cuts actually relates to in the kitchen, check out the nutrient profile of different cuts of chicken from our handy visual index to common cuts here: https://www.chicken.org.au/chicken-cuts/and select the drop down menu from selected cuts to get key nutritional credentials:
So, what does all this really mean for you and your family?
Well, the important roles that the nutrients contributed by cooked chicken meat to a healthy diet are numerous. Here’s just a few of those:
As part of a varied, healthy diet, cooked chicken1
- supports muscle growth and development. Cooked chicken contains a number of nutrients needed for developing, maintaining and using muscles: protein, potassium and magnesium.
- is brain food!It contains many nutrients required for a healthy nervous system and brain function: riboflavin, niacin, biotin, pantothenic acid, B6, B12, potassium, magnesium and zinc.
- helps to keep your immune system strong. Cooked chicken contains immune-supporting vitamins B6 and B12 and minerals selenium and zinc.
- is a fatigue fighter. It contains many energy-boosting nutrients: riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, B6, B12, magnesium, phosphorus and zinc. In particular, cooked chicken is rich in niacin (with all your daily needs in just one serve), vitamin B6 andpantothenic acid, all of whichcontribute to reducing tiredness and fatigue.
- helps to build strong bones. Cooked chicken contains bone-building nutrients: protein, magnesium, phosphorus and zinc, plus pantothenic acid which helps produce vitamin D another important bone nutrient.
And guess what? The good news for chicken meat lovers doesn’t end there, because:
Chicken is Great Value for Money
(The following price comparisons are as of September 2019 Woolworths online)
- Chicken breast is at least 45% cheaper than other comparable meat cuts suitable for stir frying.
- Whole chicken and chicken drumsticks are cheaper protein sources compared to other budget options such as beef sausages and mince.
- Chicken thighs are 31% cheaper per kilogram than beef casserole cuts, and 48% cheaper than a lamb casseroling cut.
It’s a family favourite
- Chicken is extremely versatile and easy to cook with …there are plenty of ways to prepare and enjoy it.
- Chicken is a food which is popular with the whole family, so it’s easy to include it in meals that the whole family will enjoy.
*Refers to cooked chicken meat
1Source: Internal ACMF report “Chicken: Substantiation of Nutrition and Health Claims” by Lisa Yates Adv APD and Nicole Senior APD, November 2019 (updated February 2020)