Stocking Your Healthful Freezer: Meat, Poultry, and Fish (Part 8)

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I took a couple weeks off from this series to write about the flu, but this week, we’re back to talking about meat, poultry, and fish.

Chicken and Turkey
We Americans eat a lot of chicken, according to the USDA. But you probably already knew that. In fact, as I was doing a Google search on chicken, more than 200 million possible sites came up. Granted, some of those sites are about how to raise chickens, but chances are, if you’re raising chickens, you might also be eating them! I also came across a Web site advertising more than 4,000 chicken recipes. You could eat chicken every day for years and not eat the same dish twice. In 2008, Americans ate 58.8 pounds of chicken per person. In 1909, we ate just 10.4 pounds per person. Not surprisingly, beef intake has decreased since the mid 1970’s, pork intake has stayed about the same, and turkey intake has been fairly stable.

How many of you eat chicken or turkey? Maybe you eat it in a salad or sandwich for lunch. Perhaps you eat baked, broiled, or grilled chicken breast for dinner. Or maybe you steal few of your kid’s Chicken McNuggets every now and then. And of course, Thanksgiving wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without turkey and the days of leftovers. Chicken and turkey are pretty inexpensive and you sure can do a lot with them. Chances are, chicken is part of at least one of your dinner meals during the week, so if you’re going to eat it, do it right.

  • Poultry nutrition: nothing to squawk about. Chicken and turkey are probably best known for their protein content. Three ounces of cooked, skinless chicken breast has 27 grams of protein. Three ounces of cooked, skinless turkey breast has 26 grams of protein (and less fat and fewer calories than chicken breast). And as long as you stick with the breast meat and peel off the skin, you’ll keep your saturated fat intake low. Chicken and turkey are also sources of niacin, vitamin B6, and selenium.
  • Eat chicken, live longer. Last year, results of the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study were released. This study looked at the diets of about 500,000 people ages 50 to 71. People who ate the most red meat (about 5 ounces per day) were 30% more likely to die over the next 10 years of heart disease or cancer than those who ate the least red meat (less than 1 ounce per day). In addition, those who ate the most poultry and fish had a slightly lower chance of dying over the next 10 years. Other studies have linked red meat intake with an increased risk of colon cancer, as well.
  • Be choosey. Most of us know to go for chicken breast and to take the skin off before eating it. Dark meat chicken is a little higher in fat and saturated fat but it’s not completely off limits as long as you a) take off the skin before eating and b) avoid frying it. But you should go one step further when you’re at the poultry case in the store. Read the small print on the label, even if you see “100% Natural” on the package. What you may not know is that some companies, including reputable companies such as Perdue and Pilgrim’s Pride, inject their chicken (or turkey) with a saltwater solution. Butterball turkey usually contains sodium, too.

    Why? Doing so helps to keep the poultry plump and juicy. Pilgrim’s Pride also adds carrageenan, which comes from seaweed, to their products to make sure that the moisture stays put. Carrageenan isn’t harmful, but why would you want it? The sodium could be an issue for some people who need to limit their sodium intake. You might end up with anywhere from 200 to 400 milligrams of sodium in a chicken breast. To be fair, not all chicken or turkey is injected with sodium, or brine, but you do need to check the fine print. By the way, pork is often injected with a sodium solution, too.

  • Go for the ground, with caution. Ground turkey and even ground chicken have become fairly popular as a replacement for ground beef or hamburger. But if the package just says “ground turkey” or “ground chicken,” you might be in for a surprise. Ground turkey or chicken often includes the skin along with the meat. Three ounces of 85% lean ground turkey contains 200 calories, 11 grams of fat, and 3 grams of saturated fat. Three ounces of 95% lean ground beef has just 145 calories, 6 grams of fat, and 2.5 grams of saturated fat. The key is to choose “ground turkey (or chicken) breast” to ensure that you’re not getting the skin or dark meat.

Don’t forget to keep chicken or turkey cold when you get it home from the store and to cook it thoroughly to avoid food-borne illness. For information on cooking and safe handling of poultry, check out the USDA’s Web page on poultry preparation here.

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