The National Chicken Council, a national association dedicated to the chicken industry, said that the average American consumed an estimated 93.5 pounds of chicken in 2018. The data fuels the old catchphrase “Winner winner, chicken dinner,” and stands to prove America’s love for chicken. The average beef and pork consumption for the year was only 56.9 and 50.1 pounds, respectively, making chicken still the most popular meat in the country. It throws in weight on the Americans’ meat consumption and health. We know the benefits of chicken meat, but on the other hand, how much of its impact on our gut health do we truly understand?
Meat Consumption and Health: Highlighting the Health Risks of Having Too Much Chicken
With a long list of benefits of chicken meat, it is not surprising that poultry has been considered the healthier protein source. In fact, chicken has been the go-to meat option for those who are trying to develop muscle while also trying to reduce fat and lose weight. The recommended daily protein intake for average sedentary men and women is 56 grams and 46 grams, respectively. However, The Hartman Group says most American adults consume about 100 grams of protein every day. With twice the recommended amount, it is easy to see that there is a worrying imbalance between meat consumption and health.
This brings forth a host of health issues to the population:
- A high protein diet poses an increased risk of diabetes. A study conducted by Washington University School of Medicine discovered that high-protein diet combined with a low-caloric intake decreases a person’s insulin sensitivity.
- The body stores excess protein that it does not process as fat. This leads to heart diseases and weight problems in the long run.
- Protein’s building blocks – amino acid, is essential in the repair of damaged tissues and performing bodily functions. However, an excessive supply of amino acids can cause diarrhea, bloating, and abdominal pain.
- High-protein intake can cause dehydration and constipation. The body flushes out surplus nitrogen with water which can cause the body to lose too much water. Consequently, dehydration can restrict bowel movement.
- The risk of kidney damage is also higher with higher protein intake. High-protein diet generates excessive nitrogen, so our kidneys work harder in order to get rid of them.
- The relation between meat consumption and health is further highlighted with the increased risk of cancer in individuals with higher meat intake. Arsenic-based additives in the chicken feed are used to kill parasites, improve the color of chicken meat, and enhance growth have been found to cause lung, skin, bladder, kidney, and colon cancer in humans.
- Chickens bred and raised under intensive farming practices may develop diseases and carry pathogens. Bacteria like Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, and Campylobacter jejuni bacterium found in chicken intestines can cause food poisoning.
Benefits of Chicken Meat and Why Poultry is Still Popular
Poultry is a category of fowl that farmers grow for the production of meat and eggs. It includes chickens, ducks/geese, turkeys, and quails. Three factors attribute to the benefits of chicken meat – nutritional value; ease and flexibility in preparation; and availability of the product.
With chicken, meat consumption and health are closely related. One serving (100 grams) of cooked, lean chicken breast is enough to cover half of our daily recommended protein requirement. Chicken meat is also teeming with iron, phosphorous, zinc and vitamins A, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, and B12. Likewise, there is no shortage of dishes that you can prepare using chicken. In 2017, the country’s broiler production reached 41,217 million pounds.
There’s chicken in every popular supermarket or neighborhood grocers across America. Everybody likes chicken for sure, but why are experts concerned?
The Controversial Chicken and its Impact on Gut Health
Despite its popularity, poultry products have their own share of controversies. Chicken, in particular, has been getting a bad rap because of its intensive farming system. Due to high market demand, broiler chickens are bred in less than half the time it would normally take for fowls to reach slaughter weight. There is often overcrowding in intensive farming sheds – housing thousands of fowls, with no natural lighting and no access to outdoors.
Since there is no natural ventilation, the air can get highly polluted with ammonia from the chicken droppings, damaging the fowls’ eyes and respiratory system. In warmer months, the air inside these farming sheds can be too hot for broilers and can cause thousands of deaths. Those who survive may develop diseases and carry pathogens which may be passed on to humans upon consumption. Moreover, chickens bred under these conditions are constantly stressed, hungry and frustrated which impacts the quality and taste of the produced meat.
Additionally, the chickens in these mass production farms are often feeding on a diet of GMO feed. The chickens are pumped full of antibiotics and growth enhancers. These create a growth rate equivalent to a human child weighing 349 pounds on its second birthday. These GMOs, antibiotics, and growth enhancers then enter the human body causing a direct impact to gut health impacting digestion, mood, and overall immune function.
The Call to Treat Chickens Better
There is no doubt that meat consumption and health are closely related. As consumers clamor for healthier, safer, and organic produce, movements calling for a humane farming system are gaining more support. This brought forth new buzzwords in the industry such as free-range, organic, antibiotic-free, and chicken grades. It works great for consumers giving them access to healthier, safer and non-toxic farm meat options and enjoys the benefits of chicken meat without worrying about their health. Fortunately, a number of companies have taken steps to implement reforms and vowed to partner only with poultry producers who are following humane standards. In the same light, the list of poultry producers that strive to achieve humane certification criteria is also growing.
- Nestle is one of the biggest companies that committed to sourcing their poultry needs from companies that meet standards for animal welfare. While the transition is not abrupt, the consumer goods giant hopes to achieve this goal by the year 2024.
- Panera Bread – with its chain of stores and cafes, is the first restaurant chain to support slow-growing hens and removing antibiotics from their poultry supply chain. Panera is also aiming to switch to cage-free eggs by 2024.
- Burger King expressed the commitment to use chicken raised under humane standards. With about 15,000 locations in the US and Canada, this promise will help advance the cause against intensive animal farming.
- Costco supports animal welfare as a part of the company’s core values. The wholesale corporation procures cage-free eggs, implements strict poultry handling and antibiotics-use policies. Costco even set up an Animal Welfare Task Force designed to audit partner producers.
- Perdue Farms is the first major poultry company to pledge to commit to animal welfare criteria. Some of the recent improvements that Perdue implemented create an increase in the space for fowl, more chicken house windows for better ventilation and longer lights-off during rest.
- Campbell Soup updated the company’s Responsible Sourcing Supplier Code. With this update, the company will require suppliers to switch to healthier breeds of birds. These are ones approved by either the RSPCA or Global Animal Partnership. They will also now allow fowls more space to live in. Campbell will provide them “environmental enrichment” that permit natural behaviors, and slaughter them using a more modern and less cruel system.
We are what we eat. How we nourish our body has a bearing on the condition of our body and mind. It means that in order to be healthy, we have to eat wholesome and good food. We may have varying interpretations of what makes food good. What’s constant for everyone though is our need for a balanced diet obtained from a healthy and wholesome source. When it comes to meat consumption and health, the key is to find the right balance.