I Ate Chicken Every Day for a Week—Here’s What Happened
A reporter spent seven days working chicken into her diet—and got advice on the absolute healthiest way to eat it, with nutrition experts' two essential tips.
America may reign supreme as the land of beef consumption, with 2020 research suggesting Americans are responsible for eating nearly 20% of the entire globe’s beef intake. However, in the past few decades we’ve eaten fewer burgers and steaks in favor of poultry—primarily chicken. The average American consumes about 30% less beef and 150% more chicken than we did in the 1970s, according to data from the National Chicken Council.
Nutrition experts praise this trend as a net-positive. “[Chicken] is considered one of the leanest—or lowest in fat—protein sources,” explains Samantha Snashall, RD, a registered dietitian at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “This means it will not only be lower in calories but also lower in saturated fat, which has been shown to have an effect on our heart health and risk for certain cancers.”
Still, can eating chicken every day be too much of a good thing? From Snashall’s perspective, that depends. “When prepared correctly and consumed as part of a balanced diet, chicken has very few nutritional drawbacks,” she says.
With that green light, along with insights from two nutrition experts, I got creative pulling poultry into my diet every day for a week, while integrating other foods these pros suggested I needed to make sure my nutritional bases were covered.
Is chicken healthy?
Like other animal-based foods, chicken is one of the eight “complete” proteins. This means chicken contains nine essential amino acids our bodies need but cannot produce, making it nutritionally valuable. (It also happens to be one of the most sustainable meats.)
Compared against some other options, chicken contains a decent amount of protein in relatively few calories, says Ilana Kersch, RD, a clinical nutritionist who specializes in digestive diseases at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center.
Chicken also yields that “perfect protein” punch with relatively little saturated fat (which, in excess, contributes to heart disease). While most Americans do consume enough protein, we also eat too much saturated fat, according to research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Chicken is also high in iron and magnesium, “two ‘shortfall nutrients,'” Kersch says, meaning “a large percentage of Americans do not consume in adequate amounts.” She adds that iron is a “nutrient of public health concern” because low iron levels can lead to poor health outcomes.
The best way to eat chicken
Our experts say the trick to getting chicken’s peak health benefits is twofold: The cut, and the preparation. “In order to reduce the amount of saturated fat in chicken, remove the skin before eating and try to choose white meat—like the breast or the wings—more often than drumsticks or thighs,” Kersch says.
Then, choose leaner cooking methods, such as grilling, baking, sauteing, roasting, air-frying, poaching, and stewing.
Snashall adds an important point: Sure, a deep-fried chicken thigh will be a source of nutrients, but it will contain significantly more calories and saturated fat, which can lead to health issues. In general, it’s wise to keep fried food consumption to a minimum.
Ways to eat chicken every day for a week
Based on Kersch’s advice, I included a serving of chicken in just one of my daily meals for the whole week. She explained that different forms of protein provide different nutrients, so throughout each day I incorporated other proteins she recommended, like “turkey, different kinds of fish and vegetarian proteins such as dairy, eggs, soy, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes.”
I started the week by prepping a few skinless chicken breasts in the air-fryer. When they were cooked, I shredded about half and sliced up the rest to store in the fridge. This approach made it ridiculously simple to add a serving (which equals about three-quarters of a cup) to meals. According to Kersch, this amount yielded about 26 grams of protein and just 140 calories.
Then, throughout the week, I:
Folded the shredded chicken into a veggie omelet at breakfast.
Topped lunchtime salads with shredded chicken.
Tried out this chicken soup recipe on a dreary, rainy night.
Tossed chicken in a citrus-based marinade for taco night.
Tried out this spinach chicken frittata from our sister site, Taste of Home.
My partner and I also ordered some Penang chicken curry one night, which is one of our favorite takeout dishes. Kersch says that ideally, home-cooked chicken is the best option as you can control how it’s prepared and ensure there’s not too much added salt or fats (which you often get more of in restaurant-cooked food). But being healthy is all about balance: You have to enjoy life, too!
So, did eating chicken every day have any impact? According to Snashall, “Many of the nutrients found in chicken are involved in different processes in the human body, such as muscle growth and repair, synthesis of neurotransmitters, maintenance of healthy blood, creation of DNA, wound healing, healthy immune system function, and of course provide energy.” It was certainly good to know my meals were powering these vital functions behind-the-scenes.
Still, the biggest change I noticed was how I felt on the days I ate chicken with breakfast. I’m generally sure to include plenty of protein at lunch and dinner time anyway, but that added hit of complete protein in the morning felt like extra fuel for the whole day. My muscles also seemed to recover particularly quickly from my physical activity, trapeze-flying, potentially thanks to chicken’s aforementioned nutritional load. Plus, I’m still eating pumpkin seeds as a part of my daily diet.
Samantha Snashall, RD, a registered dietitian at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center
Ilana Kersch, RD, a clinical nutritionist who specializes in digestive diseases at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center
Helgi Library: "Which Country Eats the Most Beef? Cattle Meat Consumption (Total) (kt), 2020"
National Chicken Council: "Per Capita Consumption of Poultry and Livestock, 1960 to Forecast 2024, in Pounds"
JAMA: "Trends in Dietary Carbohydrate, Protein, and Fat Intake and Diet Quality Among US Adults, 1999-2016"