Should We Stop Eating So Much Chicken?
Should We Stop Eating So Much Chicken?
Logically I know I should opt for chicken. I’m not a big carnivore so I’m aware that when I do choose to add a dash of protein to my salad or soup, I should make the wise choice of an omega 3-rich fish or chicken—rather than red meat such as beef or pork. At least that’s the recommendation from the organizations such as the American Heart Association and the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada.
Yet the news lately involving the meat from our feathered friends has got me wondering and worried: should I keep eating chicken? If it’s not videos about cruelty against animals showing up in my inbox—such as this one that aired on CTV’s W5 reporting brutal images taken from two Alberta farms—then it is pieces such as Mark Bittman’s “Should you eat chicken?” from the New York Times blog. (Or even false reports such as PETA’s claim that pregnant women who eat chicken will birth sons with less-than-impressive family jewels.)
In the Times article, Bittman debates eating chicken and the many salmonella that have occurred—despite safety measures that were taken, including cooking it to the proper temperature (and even beyond). Of course, salmonella and other bacterial outbreaks aren’t limited to chicken alone, as evidence by these recent beef recalls. But let’s just take it one protein at a time, shall we and examine: why exactly should we eat chicken?
As Gina Sunderland points out, if we look at the nutrient profile of chicken, it’s a simple yes to a food that we should be eating. “Chicken tops the list as a nutrient-rich source of protein,” says Sunderland, a Winnipeg-based registered dietitian. “And protein is important for healthy growth and development, for tissue healing and repair and for the development and maintenance of lean body mass.” Add to that a few other pluses: chicken packs in iron, selenium (to help boost our immune system), vitamin B12 (which can help prevent conditions such as anemia) and phosphorus for healthy teeth and bones to name a few. And chicken doesn’t come with the health concerns that red meat does—think cholesterol and saturated fat—or the niggly worries that drift through our heads when eating fish—think mercury levels or other contaminants or pesticides.
As Bittman already noted, contamination is a growing concern when it comes to consuming chicken. “For chicken a big negative is the problem with salmonella bacteria that can cause food borne illness,” notes Sunderland. Bittman states in his article that the concern seems to be siding with the producers rather than consumers—which is why plants with contamination outbreaks stay open and despite safety measures which include cooking chicken to higher than required temperature to kill bacteria, chickens are still being pulled off major retailers such as Costco. His conclusion? Improvements need to be made in the production process, not necessarily in consumer handling of chickens. What Should We Do?
Really, it comes down to personal choice as to whether you should continue to gnaw on a breast, wing or thigh. But there are some strategies you can employ in the meantime to improve the quality of your chicken.
1) Choose your supplier carefully. Opt for organic chicken from locally sourced farmers and outlets if you can.
2) Improve your own food handling practices. That includes doing things like keeping chicken in a bag and separate from other foods in your grocery cart and fridge, using a separate cutting board to handle chicken and wash your utensils and hands thoroughly.
3) Don’t wash your chicken. As much as you think you’re getting rid of the bacteria, the United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection service notes that not only are you more likely to spread salmonella around by doing so, but some bacteria are so tightly packed onto the product that it won’t get rid of it anyways.
4) Get a thermometer. Make sure your chicken is cooked all the way through rather than just eyeballing it. Sunderland suggests heating up the chicken until it’s 165 degrees F for safety. “Salmonella poisoning frequently occurs due to undercooked food,” she says.