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All That Cackle: Is Eating Chicken Really Better for Your Health?

Thanksgiving Chicken Leg

All That Cackle: Is Eating Chicken Really Better for Your Health?

Is eating chicken really better than eating beef?

How do you shop for chicken that’s raised in the most nutritious and humane way?

Thanksgiving Chicken LegThis past week, chicken has gotten a lot of coverage in the press. We’ve learned that chicken companies including Tyson and Perdue, which have already been involved in an investigation by the Department of Justice for their manipulation of chicken prices, have been suppressing their labor force’s wages as well. Besides the issues of economic injustice surrounding the chicken industry, or otherwise known as “Big Chicken,” it has been known for a long time that industrial chicken farming generates a negative impact on the environment. The practice itself violates the welfare of the chickens, with thousands of birds crammed into crowded facilities with extremely poor conditions.

On the other side of the equation, more and more consumers are ditching beef for health and environmental reasons. For those who have not opted for vegetarian protein as an alternative, chicken has become the popular choice. In fact, it is the most popular and cheapest form of animal protein consumed in the United States. However, is the switch to this kind of “white meat” really healthier and better for the environment?

When it comes to health, it may surprise you that chicken meat is not beneficial for the majority of people. What I meant by “beneficial” is based on the science behind the Blood Type Diet. When a certain type of food is beneficial, it means that it acts like medicine and has healing effects on your body. It could improve your metabolism, increase your energy level, contribute to the diversity of your gut microbiome (which is the basis for a stronger immune system), reduce systemic inflammatory and prevent many chronic diseases. But if you look at the value of chicken meat on the Blood Type Diet database, created by Dr. Peter D’Adamo, you will find that it is an “avoid” for Type B and AB folks, and only a “neutral” for Type A and O folks. It is an avoid particularly due to the lectins in the chicken muscles causing negative effects in Type B and AB bodies. I have heard, over the years, about people of these two blood types having completely healed from arthritis, general joint pain and other ailments after having eliminated chicken from their diet.

As for Type A and O, the meat being “neutral” means that while it provides certain nutrients that can contribute to the diversity of their diet, it does not have actual medicinal effects. In fact, for Type O, grassfed red meat such as beef and lamb are much more beneficial than chicken. In fact, this type of red meat contributes to efficient muscle building, sustained energy level, better metabolism and even weight loss (as the high CLA content helps to burn fat). For Type B, beef is neutral whereas lamb is beneficial.

If you know about Genotypes, which another of Dr. D’Adamo’s system that looks into more of our genetic heritage and its relationship with food, click on the checkbox above the section “GenoType Diet”. You will find that chicken is only beneficial for the Hunters, a “neutral” for the Explorers, and an “avoid” for all the other types. Hunters are found exclusively among the Type O population, which means a certain percentage of Type O folks will benefit from it. I am a Hunter Genotype but since I am using the even more refined food list generated by the SWAMI software, which takes into account not only our blood type, but also our genetic attributes, personal and family health histories and more, chicken is only a neutral for me. (SWAMI takes into account individual differences even within each blood type and Genotype, and is the ultimate personalized food list designed to help align your genes to your body type, assisting in turning on the “good genes” and turning off the “bad genes.”)

From the perspective of the health effects of chicken on our individual bodies, it can be said that the meat really does not benefit the majority of the population.

Having said that, if you are Type A, O, a Hunter or Explorer, you can definitely enjoy some chicken from time to time. But how should you go about choosing the right type of chicken to ensure its nutritional value and safety?

How to Shop for Chicken

Eat Right Chef Louisa working at food coop

Well, since I do consume chicken about once a week, I myself am curious about the answer to the above question. Last week, when I worked at my local food coop, I happened to be assigned the task of pricing chicken products. While at the task, I chatted with my team leader, Margie, who is responsible for procuring and stocking all meat products at the coop, and has worked at a small-scale farm in Upstate New York. I learned so much from her that I’m going to share some tidbits with you below:

  • Free-range chicken does not necessarily mean the chicken can roam around and forage. It just means they have some space in the barn to walk around rather than sitting in a cage all day long. The space and time for them to move around can be really limited.
  • Since free-range and cage-free chicken’s movements are limited, they are fed with the same type of chicken feed as the caged ones. This means they are grain-fed with mostly corn and/or soy.
  • Pasture-raised chicken are the ones that are allowed to roam freely on a pasture (fenced for protection from predators) and are given shelter in a chicken coop at night. However, due to the need to feed demand, the majority of their diet is still chicken feed, which means mostly corn and/or soy, with about 30 percent from foraging seeds, plants and worms on the pasture. This came as a surprise to me, and rather disappointing, to be honest.

My research shows me that less than 1% of chickens sold in the United States are raised as “free-range,” and not all “free-range” chickens are also fed with organic feeds. But all chickens labeled as “organic” must also be “free-range” or “pasture-raised.”

While the taste and nutritional value of truly pasture-raised chickens found on small-scale farms are superior to those of conventionally raised chickens, what we find in grocery stores are compromised on both counts. However, unless you are lucky enough to be able to raise your own chickens or have access to a nearby small-scale farm, you are likely to have to make some compromises like I do. In this case, it helps to try our best to find the best sources based on the way the chickens are raised and fed.

The same principle applies to eggs. The best eggs–both in terms of nutritional value and taste–are the ones laid by pasture-raised hens on small-scale farms.

Reading Labels on Chicken Products

Based on what I have learned from Margie, it is best to purchase chicken that is labeled “USDA Organic” and/or “Animal Welfare Approved”/”Certified Humane Raised and Handled.”

There is also another type of label called “Green Circle,” which can be found at the coop. This is more of a product that addresses the economic and environmental impacts of food waste. Scraps from commercial kitchens are collected to be made into chicken feed, thus completing the “circle” of food in a closed loop.

Margie also told me about how brand names like D’Artagnan and Murray’s, which can be found at the coop, are “aggregates,” which process poultry from contracted farms. This means there can be variances in the practices among individual farms.

It is also important to understand some of the marketing nonsense that gets printed on the packaging of chicken products. For example, since the use of artificial hormones is prohibited in poultry production in the U.S., the phrase “No artificial hormones added” is virtually meaningless. However, the use of antibiotics is allowed, and if you are concerned about its use, look for labels like “Raised Without Antibiotics.”

Be sure to check out the list of food labels on chicken products as shown on the link below. They are recommended by Food Print, an advocacy of sustainable food production as an alternative to the existing industry food system.

Food Label Guide: Chicken

Do you have insights or comments to share regarding chicken? Please leave a comment below.

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