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Chicken for weight loss: Health benefits and ways to eat it

Many people incorporate chicken into their diet if they’re trying to lose weight, but why?

Is Chicken Good For Weight Loss? | Juniper

Chicken is easily one of the most popular foods, sitting just behind beef as the highest-selling meat in the UK [1]. And for good reason: it’s tasty, versatile, relatively affordable, and it packs quite the nutritional punch, boasting benefits like a high protein content and a host of vitamins and minerals.

Is chicken good for weight loss, though?

Many certainly do incorporate chicken into their diet if they’re trying to lose weight, mostly thanks to its protein powers. In fact, there’s now an entire diet that revolves around eating (only) chicken.

But, before you stock up on the stuff and incorporate it into every meal, there are a few things you should know about eating chicken for weight loss.

Nutritional facts of chicken

There’s lots to love about chicken, nutritionally speaking. It’s big on lean protein and it contains good amounts of many minerals, including potassium, phosphorus, zinc, selenium, and B vitamins like niacin and folate [2].

But, as you likely know, there are several different cuts within the chicken to choose from — and not all are entirely identical when it comes to its nutritional benefits.

Dark meat, like the thighs, legs and wings, tends to be higher in iron, along with B vitamins like biotin and B12 (cobalamin) than chicken breasts. But, dark meat also contains more fat (including saturated fat) and calories, which is important to note if you’re watching your intake of either [3].

What are the health benefits of chicken?

Here are just a few ways chicken can be good for you:

It's high in protein

Protein should be a key part of your diet, whether or not you’re trying to lose weight. It’s crucial for a number of functions, including bodily repair, growth, and muscle and bone health [4].

As far as weight loss goes, protein helps you build lean muscle mass (which is important because it burns more calories than fat) and it makes you feel fuller when you’re between meals, possibly reducing your urge to snack.

It may contribute to a lower risk of some diseases

Some research has shown that eating poultry — like chicken — alongside plenty of veg can actually help lower your risk of certain conditions. These include cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, and even being overweight or obese [5].

It contains a decent amount of tryptophan

Chicken is fairly high in tryptophan, a type of amino acid that your body uses for a range of functions — including the production of melatonin and serotonin [6].

Melatonin is a hormone involved in your sleep-wake cycles, while serotonin is another hormone that helps in the regulation of your mood, behaviour, sleep patterns, and appetite [7].

Because your body doesn’t make tryptophan, you need to get it from external sources like your diet or supplements.

What is the chicken diet?

Familiar with the chicken diet? If not, it is a pretty regimented weight loss diet that first gained notoriety when Matt Damon said he survived on chicken breasts alone to lose around 27kg for his role in Courage Under Fire.

It involves eating chicken, and only chicken, for each and every meal — though some followers are a little less strict and include low-calorie vegetables, like broccoli or sweet potato, to boost the nutritional content of their diet and to add variety.

There’s no restriction on what cut of chicken (although, most followers stick to the breast for its lower fat and calorie content) or how you cook the chicken (some continue to eat fried chicken, but methods like poaching and grilling are obviously lower in fat) and your portion sizes.

Several other proponents of the diet claim it can burn body fat rapidly because it allows you to enter a calorie deficit fairly easily — that is, where you consume fewer calories than you burn, allowing you to lose weight.

Is the chicken diet healthy?

As far as rapid weight loss is concerned, only eating chicken for a week or 2 may result in quite noticeable results. 

However, relying on chicken as your only food source means you’re likely to miss out on a bunch of essential vitamins and minerals, potentially leading to a nutritional deficiency. A healthy weight-loss diet is one that ensures you’re losing weight but still maintaining your nutritional needs.

Plus, sticking to a single food is likely to be incredibly unsustainable in the long run. While the chicken diet is obviously designed to be a short-lived one, you may find that even a couple of days of only consuming chicken becomes quite tedious.

Can you eat chicken every day?

While you might not go as far as eating chicken at every meal, you may still be wondering whether it’s safe to eat it every day. 

The current guidelines recommend limiting red meat intake to 70g per day, but there are actually no equivalent recommendations for white meat [8]. So, as long as you’re eating a variety of other foods (especially plant-based ones) each day as part of a balanced diet, you can likely get away with eating a daily serving of chicken. 

However, only sticking to one protein source could run the risk of causing deficiencies in certain nutrients — like iron (found in higher quantities in red meat), healthy fats, and essential omega-3 fatty acids (found in seafood like salmon and tuna). 

How much chicken should you eat for weight loss?

When it comes to losing weight, portion control is essential. It can be easy to go overboard with your serving sizes, but knowing exactly how much to eat can help you keep things in check.

So, how much chicken can you eat? No matter what type of protein you’re enjoying as part of your weight loss diet, you want to aim for a serving size no larger than a deck of cards [9].

You can also assess your intake in terms of calories. In 100g of cooked chicken breast, for example, there are about 158 calories [2].

Chicken breast vs thigh: Which one is better for weight loss?

We know that there are nutritional differences between chicken breasts and thighs, but which one should you opt for if you’re trying to lose weight?

Generally speaking, skinless chicken breast is the leaner option and often the cut most widely suggested for weight loss. This is because dark meat like the thighs (as well as the wings and legs) is higher in fat than the breast. In a 100g serving of chicken breast, you’ll get about 3.24g of fat [2]. In the same amount of chicken thigh, there’s 8.04g of fat [10].

That being said, you can certainly continue enjoying chicken thighs if you prefer them over the breast. Just make sure to prepare them in ways that don’t add too much extra fat — more on that below.

4 weight loss-friendly ways to eat chicken

There are lots of healthy (and tasty!) ways to prepare chicken that won’t hinder your weight loss goals. Here are some ideas.

1. Poached

Poaching is a really easy way to cook chicken that doesn’t involve adding any fat. Compared to boiling (which can result in tough and dry-tasting meat) poaching is a much gentler alternative — it involves cooking the chicken at a fairly low temperature for just the right amount of time.

You can also add flavourings to your poaching liquid, like garlic, onion, herbs, and lemon.

2. Steamed

Steaming is much like poaching in that it results in super tender chicken without added oil. You simply need to place the chicken in a steamer basket over boiling water and cook it until the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 75ºC (165ºF).

3. Stir-fried

Stir-frying can be a great way to prepare chicken because you can get away with using minimal oil. Plus, a stir-fry gives you the chance to add loads of fresh veg — only upping your daily vegetable intake!

4. Grilled

Grilled chicken also doesn’t use a whole lot of oil but results in a very flavourful piece of meat. You can grill chicken in a pan on the stovetop or on a barbecue.

Once you’ve cooked your chicken, you can use it in myriad ways, including:

  • In a salad
  • In a sandwich
  • Paired with brown rice, quinoa or other nutritional grains
  • Paired with steamed veg
  • In soup or stew

Looking to lose weight?

If you’re looking for more advice on how to improve your diet for weight loss or simply for a sustainable way to lose weight, consider Juniper’s Weight Reset Programme.

The programme combines the expertise of a team of weight loss professionals (like dietitians, health coaches, and clinicians) with breakthrough GLP-1 weight loss medication, giving you everything you need to lose weight and keep it off.

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