Modern chickens provide more energy from fat than protein

broiler chickensIn 1976, the Royal College of Physicians and the British Cardiac Society in a report on heart disease, recommended eating less fatty red meat and more poultry instead because it was lean. However, the situation has changed since then.

A new paper in the journal Public Health Nutrition describes analysis of chickens sold in 2004-2008 compared to historical data.

Samples were obtained randomly between 2004 and 2008 from UK supermarkets, farm shops and a football club. The amount of chicken fat was estimated by emulsification and chloroform/methanol extraction.

First the content of omega 3 DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) has fallen to less than a third of the value in 1970s. Secondly, the fat content of the chicken carcass has risen; now providing about three times the calories compared to protein. Such chickens are no longer a protein rich food but a fat rich food. Thirdly, the organic chickens we analysed were little better.

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

The value of the omega 3 DHA is that it is preferentially utilised 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 the green foods (grass, leaves and small animals that eat plants). However, feed hoppers maintained full 24 hours a day with omega 3 deficient food destroys the incentive of 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. Genetic selection for fast weight gain makes that situation worse. The biochemical analysis of the meat of the birds is not only consistent with the loss of omega 3 and increase in fat, but also the lack of exercise and the selection for fast weight gain which exacerbates the loss of omega 3.

As the omega 3 DHA is important for the brain, its 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 would need to eat about 4 chickens at a cost of £12 which at the same time would be associated with 5,000 calories of fat. Not a good idea.

Many scientists consider that the rise in mental ill health is due to the loss of omega 3 fatty acids DHA and EPA in the diet.

The answer is to eat more plant-based foods, including nuts, seeds, whole grains and vegetables like avocado.

If you have not yet transitioned to a fully plant-based diet, you can replace chicken and beef in your diet with oily fish such as mackerel and sardines.

For more information about the effect of diet on health, plant-based diets, recipes and tips please sign up for my free newsletter and visit my website.

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