Vegan Health ArticlesChicken Now Has More Fat than Red Meat
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From Kate Wighton and Emma Morton on

Before popping that chicken into your supermarket trolley, take a few moments to consider some worrying facts.

The once-lean dinnertime favorite is now often fattier than red meat.

In recent tests, some chicken legs cooked with their skin on contained higher fat levels than some cuts of red meat.

And chickens sold in Britain - even organic varieties - yield far fewer "good fats" called omega 3s than they did three decades ago.

The plummeting omega 3 levels have been linked to poor rearing methods - highlighted by Sun columnist Jane Moore in her Dispatches documentary and chefs Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

In addition, two thirds of uncooked birds on sale in supermarkets and butchers are infected with the food bug campylobacter.

The nutritional findings emerged from two reports - the first by Food Standards Agency (FSA) scientists and the second by a team from the Institute of Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition, at London Metropolitan University.

The damning studies come after years of dietary guidance that has radically changed the British diet.

Millions of us switched to chicken, believing it was a low-fat option, on the advice of the Royal College Of Physicians in 1976, which suggested we swap beef and pork for poultry because it was lean.

It seemed like a smart move at first, providing a cheap, filling, easy-to-cook option for families.

And it remains the nation's meat of choice, with 840million chickens sold each year.


But the FSA probe revealed this week that most chickens sold in the UK are contaminated with campylobacter - the UK's most common bacterial cause of food poisoning. Each year, the bacteria strikes more than 55,000 people.

It is found on meat, unpasteurized milk and untreated water. Experts believe chicken is the most common cause of illness.

The Agency analyzed more than 3,000 frozen and chilled chickens and found that UK-raised birds had higher-than-average levels of the bug. In total more than three quarters of samples were contaminated.

It was found in higher concentrations in chilled chickens than frozen.

However, the FSA stressed that thorough cooking of the meat killed the bacteria, while avoiding cross-contamination reduced the chance of the bug spreading.

Six per cent of the chickens in the study were found to be contaminated with salmonella. Dr Andrew Wadge, director of food safety at the FSA, said: "Levels of campylobacter remain high. More needs to be done to get these levels down and we need to continue working with poultry producers and retailers to make this happen.

"Other countries such as New Zealand and Denmark have managed to do so, and we need to emulate that progress here."

A spokesperson from the British Poultry Council said: "The chicken sector and the FSA are working together transparently and productively to implement actions from scientific projects already carried out and to promote further study on the gaps in our knowledge. We need to concentrate on finding effective measures to prevent infection in the flock."

In the separate London Metropolitan University study, researchers also blamed falling nutritional values on poor rearing methods. Chickens with little room to roam yielded meat that was fattier overall, they said.

Scientists analyzed chickens throughout 2004 and 2006 - both standard and organic types - and compared them to the nutritional value of samples from birds raised in the Seventies.

Tests showed the content of good fats - omega 3s - had fallen to less than a third of the 1970s levels. Meanwhile, the total fat content rose - providing three times the calories compared to protein.

The change could even be causing poor mental health, along with higher obesity levels, the report warned.

Overall chickens have grown 50 per cent fattier in the past 30 years, the researchers claim.

Fatter animals have been blamed on intensive factory farming methods.

Researcher Professor Michael Crawford, of the Institute of Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition, said: "Such chickens are no longer a protein-rich food but a fat-rich food. The organic chickens we analysed were little better.

"The explanation is simple, namely that they are fed largely on cereals. And, whether the birds are organic or not, the cereals contain little omega 3 fatty acids.

"The value of the omega 3 DHA (one of the fatty acids) is that it is preferentially utilized for the brain and vital organs.


"Traditionally, chicken meat and hens' eggs would have been valuable land sources of omega 3 DHA. Fully free range chickens would get the omega 3 from green foods - grass, leaves and small animals that eat plants. However, feed-hoppers maintained 24 hours a day with omega 3-deficient food destroy the incentive for the birds to search for such foods, even if they are allowed out of doors.

"In addition, the denial of exercise and again 24-hour availability of energy-dense and omega 3-deficient food in the broiler system provides exactly the recipe for weight gain, which means fat gain.

"As the omega 3 DHA is important for the brain's growth and function, it is worth asking how much would it cost to get the same amount of DHA from a 1kg chicken today.

"You'd need to eat about four chickens at a cost of 12, which at the same time would be associated with 5,000 calories of fat. Not a good idea."

The British Poultry Council argues other studies suggest chickens are becoming leaner. They add that all birds must pass a vet examination before entering the food chain.

"We have stringent standards on food safety and animal health and welfare which are checked independently," they said.

As the debate rages on one thing is clear - although chicken provides millions of Brits with an easy, tasty dinner, the argument regarding the bird's journey from egg to plate is complicated and bitter.

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We began this archive as a means of assisting our visitors in answering many of their health and diet questions, and in encouraging them to take a pro-active part in their own health. We believe the articles and information contained herein are true, but are not presenting them as advice. We, personally, have found that a whole food vegan diet has helped our own health, and simply wish to share with others the things we have found. Each of us must make our own decisions, for it's our own body. If you have a health problem, see your own physician.