Imagine this scenario: you are at a party and the topic of health comes up in your group. The woman standing next to you says to you, "I smoke a lot of Camel Lights." She goes on to explain that she used to smoke regular Camels but then she learned about the link between smoking and cancer, and smoking and heart disease. So she smokes the lights, which she believes will ensure optimal health and longevity.
What would you think?
Since you're aware that the right amount of tobacco to inhale is zero, you'd think this poor lady is completely delusional at best.
Well, consider this:
Back in the 80's, a positive correlation between red meat consumption and heart disease was firmly established, not only within the medical community but in the general population as well. And people started listening. Those who once considered beef to be "real food for real people" bought less red meat than before, limiting it to once or twice a week. Some even gave it up entirely.
But take away steak and what then? People started to replace red meat with poultry and fish, particularly chicken. These health-conscious folks would buy cookbooks featuring only chicken (my mom had two: "365 Ways to Cook Chicken" and "365 More Ways to Cook Chicken"). People were proud of their sacrifices, confident that they were protecting their health. And during the 90's and 00's, turkey became chicken's best friend, becoming available in just about everything, from burgers to jerkey. The trend was extremely powerful, and quite honestly, still is. Beef consumption fell 26 percent between 1977 and 1997, while chicken consumption rose 75 percent, turkey 101 percent. Similar trends are seen today.
This is absolutely amazing to me, because the truth of the matter is, poultry is not a health supporting food. It may have less fat than beef, but it does not protect our health. (Unless you believe the studies funded by the poultry industry -- a topic for another day.) Not a single independent (read: not funded by special interest) study even remotely suggests that eating the flesh of birds is the secret to good health. Careful -- those studies on "chicken eaters" often compare them to people who have even WORSE diets... and so what? Just as light cigarettes do less damage to our body than regular ones, poultry does less damage than beef. But it still ain't broccoli!
When people hear I'm a dietitian, one of the first things they tell me is, "I eat a lot of chicken." And they honestly, truly believe that they are doing themselves a great favor. With such good intentions, it is difficult to burst their bubble and tell them that chicken is not a health food.
And, unfortunately, the risks go beyond risk of bacterial contamination (A Consumer Reports analysis from January, 2007 revealed that 83 percent of fresh, whole broiler chickens purchased across the US harbored campylobacter or salmonella, the leading bacterial causes of foodborne disease).
Beyond the tremendous environmental impact (A typical slaughter plant uses 2 million gallons of water per day).
Beyond the horrendous, disgusting, unacceptable way the birds are treated (30,000,000 -- that's thirty MILLION birds are slaughtered for food EVERY SINGLE DAY in the US -- how could they possibly be treated with the respect and compassion they deserve as living, feeling creatures?).
Beyond the contribution of antibiotic resistance in humans.
Beyond the risk of Avian Flu.
Beyond its arsenic content and the slew of risks associated with that.
From a purely nutritional standpoint, it's easy to see why chicken isn't health food. All leading health authorities agree that the nutrients in fruits and vegetables -- namely fiber, antioxidants such as vitamin C, and phytochemicals -- are absent in poultry.
Unfortunately, the truth is that eating chicken is, pure and simple, not good for us or good for anything.
So what to eat? What protects our health and maximizes our chances of a long, disease free life? Why, plants, of course! Nuts, seeds, beans, peas, lentils, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. All prepared in scrumptious, creative, flavorful, amazing ways!