|Look at those breasts...|
So I was relieved when I came across a little blurb in a magazine, still years before I changed my family's diet and probably while I was pregnant with my first child (I think I remember this blurb being in a parenting magazine...), that stated that a chicken thigh has only a tad more fat and a lot more minerals than a chicken breast. Vindication!
Since then, obviously, I have completely changed the way I look at meat. Now it's not just chicken thigh, it's whole pastured chicken that I'm fortunate to be able to raise myself (I've graduated from the tractoring system shown above to full free ranging, although I did still use the tractor as their shelter). On very rare occasions I do buy a package of chicken breast tenders so I can treat my kids to homemade chicken strips, but I feel this is an acceptable compromise only because we eat plenty of whole roasted chicken, bone stock made from the bones, and more recently, the offal far more often than this occasional treat.
You've likely fall victim to the very same rhetoric I did years ago. Chicken breast is healthy because it's lower in fat, particularly saturated fat... and it's true. But let me take a moment to scream it to the heavens...
FAT IS NOT BAD FOR YOU!
Think about- for thousands upon thousands of years our ancestors ate what? Soy burgers? No. Meat (the WHOLE meat), in season vegetables and fruits, grains, legumes, nuts, seasonal full fat (raw) dairy (or cultured dairy if eaten out of season), and eggs. Eggs, meat, and dairy were particularly prized and cherished because of their nutritional density. None of these were low fat- these weren't colored pastuerized egg whites, skim milk, hydrogenated butter-like-substance, or you guessed it, boneless skinless chicken breast. These were the only foods available, more or less, for thousands of years. Yet heart disease is relatively modern, with the first heart attack diagnosed in 1912 and rising sharply beginning in the middle of the century (right around the time several things became commonplace- white sugar, white flour, industrial meat, and homogenized milk... coincidence? I tend to think not). Metabolic disorders such as diabetes rose at about the same time and rate. But recently the lipid hypothesis, the reason we all decided in the 70's that fat is bad, especially saturated fat, has come into question and doctors at Harvard (among others, but you just have to mention Harvard first) have come to the conclusion that saturated fat does NOT cause heart disease. That, in a one paragraph nutshell, is why the fat content of your meat should be the last thing you worry about.
Whole chicken, with the bones and skin, contains all the nutrients (amino acids, vitamins, minerals, fat, cholesterol, etc) we need from meat in more or less balanced ratios. Remove the bones and you both pay more for the convenience and you miss out on the stock you (should) make with the bones, which is rich in calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, chondroitin (sound familiar? it's a pricey supplement), glycine, collagen, and many other trace minerals. Remove the bones AND skin and only eat the white meat and you loose virtually all the glycine (more on that in a second), much of the omega 3 fatty acids, and reduce many other vitamins and trace minerals such as Vitamins A and K and zinc.
Most importantly, though, is the glycine and it's relationship to methionine. Glycine is an amino acid present almost exclusively in the skin and the bones of a chicken, while methionine, another amino acid, is present almost exclusively in the meat. Both are necessary amino acids, important for healthy growth and development. However, in excess and in the absense of glycine (you know, like when you eat a boneless skinless chicken breast...) methionine has been shown in several studies to retard growth in children and fetuses and, in severe cases, to cause birth defects. This is because glycine is necessary for proper cellular growth, but levels of glycine are depleted when your body needs to detoxify excess levels of methionine. But your body still needs the glycine (and, if you are pregnant, so does the body of your fetus) for cellular development, so your body synthesizes the glycine... from folate and another amino acid. This is obviously limited by the amount of folate and this other amino acid you are consuming, and as folate is also needed for other processes this lack of glycine could cause a domino effect of deficiencies.
All of this is very serious scientific nonsense, but it comes down to this. Chickens exist in their whole form for a reason, just as grains do. When you mess them up by taking them apart and portioning them out, you mess with something that was more or less perfect to start with, thereby affecting your own health.
"But chicken breast is just so easy!" Really? Maybe I just do it wrong, but any time I've cooked chicken breast in the past has been far more work intensive than the ways I cook whole chicken.
- Whole Chicken Method #1: Throw it in the crock pot. Add some liquid and, if you're really ambitious, some seasonings. Cook all day on low or 4ish hours on high.
- Whole Chicken Method #2: (and my preferred method...) Put it in a large cast iron/clay/otherwise heavy pot. Season. Add liquid. Cook in oven on a low temp until done (if it's like 4 and I'm running behind, I do it at 325, if it's earlier I lower the temp accordingly... it's more of an art than a science). Sometimes, if I'm feeling adventurous, I start it on the stove, or add some root veggies, or use wine for the liquid. But providing I don't over or under cook it, it always turns out delicious.
What do you think- can you give up your chicken breast?
I'm not desparaging the breast completely... obviously it's part of the whole chicken, and is itself higher in certain nutrients like niacin. Just don't eat it by itself!
This post has been shared on GNOWFGLINS Simple Lives Thursday, Kelly the Kitchen Kop's Real Food Wednesday, and Food Renegade's Fight Back Friday.