Thursday, March 26, 2009

There's No Room for Chicken in a Healthy Diet

There's No Room for Chicken in a Healthy Diet
By Kristine Kieswer
Spring/Summer 2000 (Volume IX, Number 2)

Q: Why has chicken become so popular?

A: Unbeknownst to them, chickens have played center stage in a grand marketing campaign by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and chicken farmers aimed to promote chicken as some sort of "health food." With 9 billion chickens eaten each year in the U.S., it appears many people have been swayed. However, an honest look at the nutritional value of chicken reveals quite a different picture.

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Q: Is chicken really low in fat?

A: Not even close. A 3.5-ounce piece of broiled lean flank steak is 56 percent fat as a percentage of calories. Chicken contains nearly the same at 51 percent. Even when the skin is removed, dark meat is thrown away, and a non-fat cooking method is used, chicken is still 23 percent fat. Compare that with the fat in a baked potato (1 percent), steamed cauliflower (6 percent), and baked beans (4 percent), and any ideas that chicken is a health food melt away. Fancy packages can't disguise the fact that chicken and all meats are muscles, and muscles are made of protein and fat.

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Q: Do I need the protein in chicken?

A: We all need some protein, and there is more than enough in grains, beans, and vegetables. The amount of protein consumed by Americans who eat meat has elevated their risks for serious health problems. Years ago, we believed there was no such thing as protein overload, but now we know it is a major culprit in calcium loss, causing osteoporosis. Too much protein also puts a strain on the kidneys, forcing them to expel extra nitrogen in the urine, increasing the risk for kidney disease. Also, the combination of fat, protein, and carcinogens found in cooked chicken creates troubling risks for colon cancer. A healthy vegetarian diet contains just the right balance of protein—not too much and not too little.

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Q: What's NOT in chicken?

A: Chicken, no matter how smartly advertised, will never contain fiber, complex carbohydrates, or vitamin C. Fiber is the heavy-duty cleanser of the digestive tract, carrying away excess hormones filtered from the blood, while it lowers cholesterol—naturally. Complex carbohydrates, found only in plants, are low in calories and boost metabolism, aiding in weight loss.

Vitamin C and other antioxidants are vital cancer fighters. When chicken meat takes the place of vegetables, grains, and fruits on your plate, your supply of vitamins dwindles. Chicken not only gives you a load of fat you don't want, it displaces metabolism- and immune-boosting foods that are essential to good health and weight control.

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Q: Where do heterocyclic amines come in?

A: Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are potent carcinogens produced from creatine, amino acids, and sugars in poultry and other meats during cooking. These same chemicals are found in tobacco smoke and are 15 times more concentrated in grilled chicken than beef.

HCAs may be one of the reasons meat-eaters have much higher colon cancer rates—about 300 percent higher compared to vegetarians.

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Q: Is chicken…poisonous?!

A: With live salmonella bacteria growing inside one in every three packages of chicken, it is making a lot of people sick. Although deaths from salmonella poisonings sometimes make the evening news, millions more cases that cause flu-like symptoms go unaccounted. Salmonella poisoning can cause vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and low-grade fever lasting for several days. When it spreads to the blood and other organs, it can be fatal—and is, for as many as 9,000 people every year.

The new kid on the chopping block—campylobacter—infects as many as two-thirds of all prepackaged chicken. Salmonella and campylobacter have become increasingly common because modern factory farms crowd thousands of chickens in tightly confined spaces, where excrement and other forms of bacteria spread contaminants.

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Q: Does chicken have the same amount of cholesterol as beef?

A: Yes, nearly. Four ounces of beef—just the size of a deck of cards—and four ounces of chicken both contain about 100 milligrams of cholesterol, and the cholesterol from chicken does just as good of a job at clogging arteries and causing heart disease. The human body produces cholesterol on its own and never needs outside sources. Each added dose contributes to artery blockages, leading to heart attacks, strokes, and other serious problems.

Spaghetti, tomatoes, baked beans, bananas, broccoli, and all other plant foods are free of cholesterol and will never contribute to coronary disease and related illnesses.

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