Is Chicken Really a Health Food?
What if I told you that we should all drink soda because it has water in it? Sounds crazy, right? The one issue that health and medical professionals agree on is that soda is bad for you and there’s no health benefit derived from consuming it. I’m guessing soda makers have a different take, but it’s okay to disregard opinions when sales are prioritized above your health. But the fact is that there is water in soda and water is good for you.
Endorsing certain foods, such as poultry, as “healthy” is based on the same faulty logic: If there is at least one macronutrient that is good for you, then eating is must also be good for you.
There are numerous health and nutrition “authorities” that promote daily chicken and egg consumption as a part of a healthy and balanced diet. They are both a decent source of protein and Omega 3 fatty acids which, we can all agree, are good for you. And if chicken and eggs were the ONLY sources protein and Omega 3 fatty acids available to us, then it would make sense to incorporate them into our diet every day.
But if you take a look beyond the few beneficial macronutrients, we find the overall effect that poultry has on a body is inflammatory and cancer-promoting. There are a number of ways that animal products, like poultry, result in inflammation, cardiovascular disease and decreased immune function- independent of the fact that it’s packed with the bad types of cholesterol.
Here are the top 3:
First – poultry, as well as red meat, contains high levels of arachidonic acid and through a complicated process (sure to put you to sleep) the body breaks down the acid into inflammatory compounds. These include hormones, prostaglandins and leukotrienes that control the mechanisms behind inflammation, constrict blood vessels and promote the clotting cascade. Imagine the effect this has on blood vessels and especially your heart.
Next – the AGEs, or advanced glycation end-products, also known as glycotoxins. Dietary AGEs are known to cause oxidative stress and inflammation that contribute to chronic disease, like diabetes and cardiovascular complications. Animal-derived foods that are high in protein and fat, like chicken, are AGE-rich. And then, cooking them results in new AGEs that were not present in the uncooked meat. Avoiding dietary AGEs is scientifically and medically recognized as an effective means to prevent premature aging, degenerative chronic illness and oxidative stress.
Lastly – there is insulin-like growth factor-1, or IGF-1. IGF-1 is one of the body’s important growth promoters present in the womb and throughout childhood. It is produced in the liver and is a key contributor to bone and muscle growth, as well as sexual maturation. The highest levels of IGF-1 are found in puberty. So although IGF-1 is critical for growth and development during childhood, if those levels remain high in adulthood, it speeds up the aging process, reduces immune function and promotes cancer. The connection between IGF-1 and cancer has been recognized for many years. In fact, cancer drugs that target the IGF-1 pathway began developing in the 1990s, and decreasing IGF-1 levels through diet is considered to be an effective method of cancer prevention. Poultry and other animal proteins increase IGF-1 levels while Whole Plant-Based Diets high in unrefined phytonutrients lower those IGF-1 levels.
Clearly, poultry is not a “health” food but there may be a place for it in your diet in small amounts. I like the “10% Rule”, 10 percent or less of your daily calories should come from animal products or processed foods, while 90% is from unrefined of minimally refined plants.
The takeaway here is that you shouldn’t be impressed with diet recommendations calling for Omega 3s from animal products, like chicken, because they’re piggybacking on cholesterol and inflammatory compounds. It’s like drinking soda for the water. You do need protein but that can be fulfilled with a variety of healthy plants, and there is no need to rely solely on animal alternatives that increase your risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease.