Whether it’s a snack while watching the football game, or an appetizer at a restaurant, we sure do love our wings! But hidden under that glossy sauce and crispy skin lies some secrets that we prefer not to think about. So are chicken wings bad for you? The fact is that a dish of chicken wings isn’t the healthiest way to eat chicken, and in this article, we’re going to find out why.
What is the best part of the chicken to eat?
The best part of the chicken in terms of fat, protein, and cholesterol is the breast. The breast contains lean meat that is very low in subcutaneous fat and cholesterol and high in protein. The worst parts of the chicken are the legs (drumsticks) and wings (1).
Chicken wings roasted or raw are high in fat (recalling the juiciness of your last serving of wings and the fat you sometimes have to peel off, this makes sense). They’re also high in cholesterol, containing about a third more cholesterol than breast meat per serving (1).
Cholesterol and fat greatly increase your risk of coronary heart disease, obesity, and other health problems (2, 3). If you have cholesterol problems and are taking statins, you should read about “Foods to Avoid When Taking Statins.”
Fat isn’t the enemy, but you should limit your intake, and it starts with small decisions (like choosing breast meat over wings when you’re picking out your chicken at the supermarket) (4).
Watch your “extras” (hidden calories, fat, and sugar are in the coating and the sauce)
Chicken wings alone, while not perfect, are not terrible. What’s terrible is what we do to them before we eat them. They’re coated in batter, high in salt and carbohydrates, then deep-fried, adding more fat and oil to an already fatty piece of chicken (5).
Chicken wings with no coating but the skin on contain approximately 89 calories and 6.3 grams of fat, which is a lot for a small piece of meat that is far from satisfying (6). To put that in perspective, that’s 1.5 large apple worth of calories in a single wing! On top of this, we add batter and sauce and bring the calorie count up to 100-200 per wing. No wonder they add up so quickly!
Many sauces (including barbecue sauce) that we coat battered wings in are also high in sugar. High sugar diets have been directly linked to chronic diseases such as diabetes and don’t yield much nutritional value (7).
Another hidden source of fat and sugar in chicken wings is the dipping sauce. One of the most popular dipping sauces for chicken wings is creamy blue cheese sauce, which adds a shocking 220 calories per 1.5 ounces (that volume is less than the dish that comes on the side of a serving of wings in a restaurant) (8).
A recent study on customer preferences in dipping sauces found that most wanted salt and color and gravitated toward dipping sauces that had these qualities (9). In this study, too much color became a problem for the participants, but overall high salt and some color turned out to be the winning combination. Artificial colors and added salt are not good for our health either, but we do crave them! Indulging these cravings is fine, as long as it isn’t often.
Check out other “10 Foods with hidden fat included”
Deep-fry oil is also not healthy for us. In a recent study, rats consuming fryer oil daily developed metabolism problems, in addition to microbiome shifts (which translates to poor health overall and chronic disease development), and digestive problems (10). Human studies looking at high-fat diets have also seen participants develop digestive problems and changes to their gut microbiome, which means this definitely goes for us as well (11).
Processing chicken is a wasteful business
If you’ve ever carved a chicken for a holiday feast, you know the wastage in bones, cartilage, and skin that comes with serving a whole chicken. Approximately 70% of the chicken’s weight, in fact, is not edible. But beyond this, raising chickens’ environmental costs are high, including heat, water (approximately 30 liters per bird to raise it from chick to chicken!), and food. Chicken farmers are trying to remedy these problems by recycling water, reducing food wastage, and turning some waste into bioenergy (12).
A note of optimism
Chicken wings aren’t bad, and while they aren’t the best, they definitely aren’t the worst. Chicken wings are carbohydrate-free (as long as they aren’t slathered in sweet sauce)! They’re also high in protein, so if you’re looking for a low-carbohydrate protein option, chicken wings aren’t a bad choice.
They’re also a much better source of calories than a packet of potato chips or junk food that provides no other nutrients. Chicken is rich in B vitamins, phosphorous, iron, calcium, zinc, potassium, and many other vitamins and minerals (13).
For all of these reasons, no chicken wings are not healthy. But they can be part of your diet when eaten in moderation. Limit your use of dipping sauces and hidden calories in batter. Make your own wings baked in the oven without added sauce as a great way to enjoy your favorite treat with a little less guilt.
Replace some of your wing choices with healthier meat choices like the breast and limit your consumption of chicken wings to 1-2 times per week. Enjoy your poultry with all of its minerals and vitamins, but without the added fat and sugar of deep-fried battered restaurant wings. It’s another small step toward being a healthier you!