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Sunday
Mar212010

Reasons to Choose Pastured Chicken

Written by Tom Nikkola - Director of Nutrition & Weight Management

Last week's article covered 5 Reasons to Choose Grass-Fed Beef. Grass-fed beef has been getting a lot of much-needed recognition. Unfortunately, many other animal-based protein sources have not been receiving the same kind of attention. Today, we'll take a look at chicken. As you'll see, there are good reasons to shop carefully for this popular protein source.

Conventional & Pastured Chickens

The movie Food, Inc. brought the reality of conventional chicken farms into the minds of many people. Cramped quarters, 24-hour darkness and unnatural diets are a reality for most chickens raised by large factory farms. In addition, many chickens are injected with hormones to increase their rate of growth. They sometimes grow so fast their legs don't have the strength to keep them standing up. Our affinity for white meat has led to the development of chickens with much larger breasts, but in avoiding the dark meat, we also miss out on many important nutrients. Because of the close quarters conventional chickens are raised in, diseases are more easily spread, which requires the use of antibiotics. There is some concern that when we eat the chicken, we also consume the hormones and antibiotics found in their tissue. Finally, to keep costs down, in a conventional setting, chicken are fed a diet composed of corn, soy and post-slaughter animal waste, which consists of bone and other tissues(1,2).

The alternative to all of this is seeking out pasture-raised chickens. These chickens are raised in open fields where they can eat their natural diet of greens, corn, oats, soybeans, seeds and insects(2,4). They are free to roam around and less likely to become sick. The chickens themselves are usually smaller in size, just like humans who avoid steroid use. Because they are raised in a more natural setting and with the food they were meant to eat, they are more healthy, don't need antibiotics and the chicken meat and eggs are far more nutritious. Pasture-raised chickens eat greens, seeds and insects.

Better Eggs

Eggs are a great source of low-priced protein. Just this past month, another study was published which showed that eating eggs for breakfast led to less calories being eaten later in the day compared with a carb-heavy bagel for breakfast(3). High-protein breakfasts have repeatedly been shown to reduce food intake later in the day from their ability to enhance satiety (feeling of fullness) and help maintain blood-sugar levels. Eggs also provide a variety of other nutrients. Yolks, which were at one time avoided because of their saturated fat content, are often eaten today because they hold the majority of nutrients from the egg such as lutein and zeaxanthin.

As good as eggs are, their quality can vary tremendously based on the way the chickens are raised. Eggs from pasture-raised chickens were found to have 1/3 less cholesterol, 1/4 less saturated fat, 2/3 more vitamin A, twice as much omega-3 fatty acids and seven times more beta carotene than commercial eggs.

Shopping for Chicken & Eggs

Like grass-fed beef, pastured chicken may cost more, but it's worth the investment. From the most commercialized to the most natural, the list below should help guide you the next time you're shopping at the store. Each of these choices are better than the normal commercial chicken or egg selections at the store.

Good: Free range/cage free. If you're ready to take a step up in food quality, look for chicken labeled free range/cage free chicken. The label can be somewhat misleading because the amount of time the chickens are actually allowed outside can be as little as five minutes a day. It's up to the farmer. For the most part, the chickens can still spend a significant amount of time in a confined chicken coop. Another chicken label that may sound healthy is "vegetarian fed." The positive is that these chickens are not fed any chicken parts in their diet. Still, they usually spend their life confined in the chicken coop and should at least be eating insects to get the small amount of protein that is part of their diet.

Better: 100% Organic, Pasture-raised. The 100% organic part of the label provides assurance that the chickens are not raised with antibiotics or hormones, but does not guarantee that they are allowed outdoors. The "pasture-raised" part ensures that the chickens are allowed outdoors for part of their day. There are also some companies who sell their meats online and will deliver.

Best: Organic pasture-raised, straight from the farmer. Knowing the farmer that raises your chicken allows you to see that your food is really raised the way you want it to be. You can see that the chickens (and other animals) have the freedom to roam the pasture and you can talk with the farmer about how they are fed. The first time we went to the farm where we get our eggs, bacon and other meats, we got a "tour" of the farm. It made the foods we were buying a lot more "real."

Summary

It probably is not practical to eat only organic, pasture-raised chicken and eggs, straight from the farm. If you want to have dinner with friends, the options may not be available. It can also be expensive to eat out at restaurants that serve only straight from the farm foods. If you are looking for restaurants that serve foods straight from the farm, you can use the locator at http://www.eatwellguide.com. You can also use the site to find farms in your area where you can buy naturally raised meat and organic produce. For most people, the switch to eating organic is a step-by-step process. Try incorporating more of these foods in your diet and in time, you may be making a weekend trip to your local farm.

References:

  1. Food, Inc. Produced by Robert Kenner. 2009 Magnolia Pictures
  2. eatwild. Health Benefits of Grass-Fed Products. Eat Wild online article http://www.eatwild.com/healthbenefits.htm
  3. Ratliff J, Leite J, Ogburn R, Puglisi M, VanHeest J, Fernandez M. Consuming eggs for breakfast influences plasma glucose and ghrelin, while reducing energy intake during the next 24 hours in adult men. Nutr Res 30;2:96-103
  4. Sustainable Table. Feed. Sustainable Table online article. http://www.sustainabletable.org/issues/feed
  5. Miles, RD, Jacob JP. Using Meat and Bone Meal in Poultry Diets. University of Florida IFAS Extension

This article is not intended for the   treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical   treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

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