Chicken is an excellent dietary source of niacin, vitamin B6, choline, selenium and tryptophan, and also contains vitamin B12, vitamin D, iron, and zinc. Chicken is far lower in saturated fat and cholesterol than red meat. White chicken and turkey meat contains less fat and iron than the dark meat of the legs and thighs. Consumption of chicken and other poultry have been found to be associated with reduced risks of head and neck, pancreatic, bladder, ovarian and colorectal cancer. In some of the studies, these inverse associations were found to be stronger for consumption of skinless chicken or chicken that had not been grilled or fried. On the other hand, chicken and poultry consumption have also been associated with increased risks of thyroid cancer.
Breast cancer-related effects of eating chicken
Chicken and poultry consumption have been found in numerous studies to be associated with lower risk of breast cancer, although not all published research is consistent on this point. Consumption of white meat was associated with lower breast density, a strong breast cancer risk factor, in one study. Another large prospective study reported that adolescent poultry intake was associated with lower risk of breast cancer in adulthood.
The associations might be a result of food substitution — eating chicken rather than red meat reduces the proportion of red meat in the diet. For those who eat meat, organic chicken is a much better choice than beef, pork or processed meat.
The method of preparation appears to be important; very well done barbecued chicken, deep fried chicken, grilled well done chicken with skin, and pan-fried chicken all have been found to contain unacceptably high levels of heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and benzo[a]pyrene (BaP), which are known carcinogens. Chicken gravy made with pan drippings is also not recommended. Population studies that examined cooking methods have found consumption of deep fried chicken and chicken with skin to be associated with increased breast cancer risk. Based on the available evidence, organic skinless chicken that has not been charred or cooked using a high-heat method may offer some protection against breast cancer or at least not increase risk.
Chicken, turkey and goose livers should be avoided because of their high iron and copper contents. While iron deficiency anemia obviously is to be avoided, the contribution of significant iron in the diet as a result of regularly consuming such livers could be detrimental for some women. Iron depletion has been shown to lead to significant inhibition of breast cancer cell growth in the laboratory. Relatively high levels of iron in benign breast tissue was found in one prospective study to be associated with an increase in risk of subsequent breast cancer. In addition, excess iron can interfere with the treatment effects of the chemotherapy drugs Adriamycin and cisplatin.
Copper can promote angiogenesis. While copper is a vital nutrient, women with breast cancer should not exceed the RDA (recommended daily allowance) of approximately 0.9 mg. Cooked chicken livers contain approximately 0.15 mg copper per ounce.
Processed poultry meat such as smoked turkey, turkey bacon, and chicken sausage containing sodium nitrite should be avoided (see the discussion of processed meats in bacon). Other processed chicken food products such as chicken nuggets are also not recommended.
To avoid potential food poisoning from contamination with E. coli or salmonella, chicken should always be fully cooked.
Organic chicken is best
Chickens typically are raised in factory farms under confined and unsanitary conditions that require use of antibiotics and antimicrobial drugs to maintain the health of the birds and maximize their growth. For example, some chicken producers use Roxarsone, an arsenic compound, to control parasites. Inorganic arsenic has been found to accumulate in the livers of chickens given Roxarsone. While the use of hormones to stimulate growth is not legal in poultry, nonorganic chicken meat (especially the fat) has been found to contain relatively high levels of estrogen, presumably from the soy protein in feed pellets.
Commercial feed pellets are less desirable than organic grain and food that chickens find themselves when pastured (i.e., the grass, seeds, worms, and beetles that chickens locate when scratching and pecking). We recommend purchasing organic chicken and other poultry. Certified Organic and Humane Raised and Handled chicken would be the best choice for consumers who want to purchase meat from birds that are humanely raised and free from antibiotics, insecticides, and other additives, as well as animal byproducts in the feed.
Below are links to recent studies concerning this food. For a list of studies that includes less recent research, please click on chicken.