Ah, those chicken wings—as a staple of the American diet, you can find them nearly everywhere: from restaurants to family get-togethers to big-game Sundays. Health-conscious people are eager to tout the goodness of chicken as an alternative to red meat and as a delicious source of protein. But is chicken really all that nutritious, or does it have toxins that should make Paleo dieters wary?
Chickens are raised in a variety of ways throughout the country, with the most common suppliers of chicken growing grain-fed farmed birds in large quantities. These chickens are raised quickly on a predetermined diet and health plan that includes medications and little exercise. Other sources of chicken give the bird free range and allow them to scavenge, feeding themselves on bugs and whatever else they can find. These birds are markedly different from the chickens produced by large companies, and all of this difference can make it difficult to decide if chicken really should be a Paleo choice.
Chicken meat varies greatly in its nutritional profile depending on what sort of chicken you’re eating. Toxins abound in non-pastured chicken meat; these chickens were raised on a diet of grain and were given antibiotics to keep them healthy because of the insufficiency of their diets. Needless to say, eating an antibiotic-laced chicken will have some negative consequences for you, too. In fact, this study explores how arsenic is used to help chickens to grow quickly. Arsenic is that mineral used to make glass and wood preservatives. And if the chickens are getting arsenic, you probably are too.
On the other hand, chickens raised in pastured farms are rich in vitamin E and folic acid, which helps to prevent anemia and increases the gut’s ability to absorb nutrients. Chickens that are not on a grain-based diet also have a much healthier omega-3/omega-6 ratio, which enables our bodies to process these fatty acids much more efficiently—the way nature intended. Many pastured chickens are antibiotic-free and will be labeled as such.
Because chicken seems to be a nutritious option if it’s bought from the right source, Paleo experts agree that chicken is a great part of a Paleo diet. Despite its nutrition benefits and versatile uses in all sorts of recipes, experts do caution that chicken is only a great option if it is not grain-fed and if it is antibiotic-free. Go with pastured or organic if possible, and if not, at least aim for meat with as little fat as possible.
Mark Sisson says: “Breeding, feeding and other poultry farming standards result in animals that scarcely resemble each other, let alone taste the same. [Pastured] is the label I suggest looking for, but don’t be surprised if the search presents a challenge. If conventional is all you can afford or have access to it’s better than no meat at all. Just eat the leaner cuts, since toxins concentrate in fat.”
Sarah Ballantyne says: “[If you have to buy conventional instead of organic or pastured], limit consumption of chicken and other poultry, which probably has the highest omega-6 fatty acid content of any of the conventionally produced meat and poultry.”