Poultry and Eggs

The raising and selling of poultry and eggs is a huge business world wide. Some types of bird or fowl are consumed in most countries, chickens being far and away the most common. In the United States alone, more than four billion chickens are consumed each year; at is more than fifty pounds per person. The next most common bird is turkey, which has been associated with holiDay celebrations and feasts. Like chicken, it is a fairly low-calorie, high-protein, moderate-fat meat. Ducks and geese are also eaten, but these birds have much more in fat in their skins and tissues neat) and are therefore much higher in calories. Pheasant and quail are also eaten, and these birds are very high in protein. Yet, all of these birds other than chickens make up only small percentage of the poultry business.


In general, chicken can be a high-protein (complete protein) food that is fairly low in fat. It contains about 11 percent fat, whereas beef may be more like 30?40 percent; and more of the chicken fat, about two-thirds, is polyunsaturated. Also, most of the fat in chickens is in the skin. Chicken eaten without skin is only about 15 percent fat, a better choice for a low-fat diet. These figures pertain to the entire bird, however, the protein and fat ratios vary among the parts. The light meat is lower fat than the dark by about half. The backs and legs have the highest fat content, followed by the thigh and breast, but the breast so has the most protein. Eating just the meat of the chicken and especially avoiding any fried chicken is a way to reduce the fat and calorie content of this billion-seller bird.


Chickens are also very good in other nutrients, though not as concentrated as the vegetable foods, because most of the chicken is protein and fat and much of the vitamins and minerals are contained in the water and carbohydrate portions of foods. The dark meat of chicken is a little higher in the vitamins and minerals. Overall, chickens have some vitamin A and a bit of the B vitamins, with niacin and pantothenic acid being the best. Some pyridoxine (B6) and cobalamin (B12) are present as well. There is some potassium, sodium, phosphorus, zinc, and iron. Calcium and magnesium and other trace minerals are fairly low.


In turkey, the light meat is richer in protein than the dark, with about the same amount of fat. As with chicken, about two-thirds of its fat is the unsaturated type, and the vitamin and mineral makeup is similar to that of chicken. Turkeys have a little more zinc, iron, potassium and phosphorus, with less vitamin A and some of the B vitamins. Ducks and geese have over four times the amount of fats and calories as do the leaner turkey and chicken.


There are so many recipes for cooking and eating chickens throughout the world, and even within each country, that we could likely travel our lifetime eating a different one daily. Baking, broiling, roasting, boiling, and frying are some methods of cooking, and each with its special spices or sauces. The Italians like chicken cacciatore, the French are known for coq au vin, and Asians for sautéed chicken and vegetables, and here in fat-fed America, fried chicken is the style. Baked or broiled is prob-ably the best, and without the skin, if we are very fat conscious.


Many chickens are raised for the purpose of producing eggs. Chicken eggs are consumed in tremendous quantities worldwide, and many nutritional authorities suggest that eggs are one the best proteins available. The egg protein, which is about 50 percent of its makeup, contains all the essential amino acids to be readily used by our system. Other proteins are compared to eggs on a bioavailability basis. (See Chapter 3, Protein.)


Most of the rest of the egg is fat, about two-thirds of it unsaturated. Eggs also contain a fair amount of cholesterol, which has brought these little chickens to be under great scrutiny in recent years. Two large eggs con-tain about 10 grams offal and more than 500 ma. of cholesterol, which is a little higher than our suggested daily intake of cholesterol. However, recent research shows that the regular use of eggs alone when not associated with a high-fat diet does not raise the serum cholesterol. It is really the total fat eaten in our diet that more influences cholesterol. Thus, occasionally eating some eggs without much fried butter or oils, and especially in place of other fatty foods, such as meats, bacon, or sausage is probably a good choice. If there is a cholesterol problem or cardiovascular disease, however, eggs and all fat-containing foods should be consumed at a minimum.


Eggs are also fairly low in calories, each egg having about 75. Besides the fat and protein, eggs also have some vitamins and minerals. The white of the egg contains about half the protein, no fat, no vitamin A, about 20 percent of the calories, and less of the other nutrients except for sodium and potassium. The yolk is fairly high in vitamin A, has some B vitamins, vitamin D, and vitamin E, all the fat and cholesterol, and most of the calcium, iron, phosphorus, and zinc. Both yolk and white contain some selenium.


Eggs are used in a great variety of ways. They are eaten scrambled, boiled, fried, poached, and over-easy. They are used to make omelettes that can be filled with vegetables, such as onions or mushrooms, cheese, or herbs. Eggs can also be baked in the oven in casseroles or quiches or dropped into soups, such as Chinese “egg drop” soup. Eggs are occasionally eaten raw or blended into high-power drinks. Too many raw eggs should be avoided, as a part of the protein, avidin, can bind biotin, one of the B vitamins, in the intestines and cause a biotin deficiency. Fried eggs are best avoided because of the problem with fried fats.


However, on health and humanity levels, there is some concern over eating chicken and eggs. Mass production and turning the dollar have led to many “inchickene” (like inhumane) factories. Overcrowded housing with the use of antibiotics to prevent infections in those close quarters, lack of exercise, excessive feeding to increase size, and the use of stimulants or hormones such as estrogen (which has since been banned) to increase growth have made the poultry business more like a production line of processed food. We do not really know the long-range effects of eating chickens and eggs produced in this manner. For this and other reasons, I personally have chosen not to eat poultry or the red meats, which have a similar problem, during the last decade, even though I was a chicken-fed child. Anyone interested further in the economic, ecological, and health aspects of the poultry-egg agribusiness can review John Robbin’s book, Diet for a New America.


One way to reduce the potential dangers of the mass chicken industry is to try to find the more “natural” or “organic” chickens and eggs for consumption. These can often be “free-range” chickens that have more room to roam and are fed nonchemical food with no added stimulants, antibiotics, or hormones. Eating eggs from these chickens or the chickens themselves is probably better for us, especially if we believe that the energy, experience, and consciousness of the food that we eat are passed on to us.

Elson M. Haas MD Written by Elson M. Haas MD

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