Chicken is king when it comes to protein, and everybody knows it. In 2022, chicken consumption is expected to reach 98 million metric tons—double the amount in 1999, according to Bloomberg. It's a number that's three times the growth rate of pork, and 10 times that of beef. The protein in a chicken breast simply cannot be beat.

"Chicken breast is one of the leanest protein options out there," says Roxana Ehsani, RD, CSSD, LDN, a national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. To break it down, the meat offers a whopping 28 grams of protein per 3 oz. serving, which is higher than what you'd get from steak, pork, roasted turkey, lamb, and even rotisserie chicken, says Laura Iu, RD.

The benefits of eating lean protein or a high-protein diet are pretty massive. It requires energy (a.k.a. you are burning calories) to digest protein, so protein-rich foods temporarily rev up your metabolism when they are going through your digestive tract and being absorbed by your body, says Ehsani. That's why some people may lose weight when they start eating a high-protein diet.

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And people who include protein at each meal and for snacks typically eat less overall as they feel more satisfied for longer, according to research.

Your body also needs sufficient protein to help repair, rebuild, and maintain your muscle mass. "When consuming a high-protein diet, our body can better prevent a loss of muscle mass, vs. when we are eating a low protein diet," Ehsani says.

Consuming a high-protein diet can help support bone health too. "Bones are composed of proteins, and people who eat more protein tend to better maintain their bone mass, especially as we age and our bone mass slowly declines over time," explains Ehsani. "Consuming enough protein can help reduce risk of bone disease like osteoporosis and prevent fractures."

Protein is a pretty essential part of your health, and chicken is a great way of making sure you get your fill. Experts break down the nutrition of chicken breast, as well as how to choose and cook it.

Meet the experts: Roxana Ehsani, RD, is a national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She regularly appears on morning shows in Baltimore and Washington, DC. She previously served as the sports performance dietitian for Georgetown University's Division I Athletic Department.

Laura Iu, RD, is a certified intuitive eating instructor and yoga teacher. She has worked in New York City’s top hospitals, including Mount Sinai Hospital and NYU Langone Health.

How do chicken breast nutrition and calories stack up?

A 3.5-ounce serving of roasted chicken breast without the skin contains, according to the USDA:

  • Calories: 165
  • Protein: 31 g
  • Fat: 4 g
  • Saturated fat: 1 g
  • Carbohydrates: 0 g
  • Fiber: 0 g
  • Sodium: 74 mg

    Now consider the differences when you keep the skin on:

    • Calories: 197
    • Protein: 30 g
    • Fat: 8 g
    • Saturated fat: 2 g
    • Carbohydrates: 0 g
    • Fiber: 0 g
    • Sodium: 71 mg

    As you can see, keeping the skin on doubles the fat and saturated fat content, but adds a modest number of calories—about 30.

    One key thing to remember is that these numbers are for a 3.5-ounce serving. That's slightly more than half of the average chicken breast. This is what you'll get for a whole, boneless, skinless chicken breast:

    • Calories: 284
    • Protein: 53 g
    • Fat: 6 g
    • Saturated Fat: 1.7 g
    • Carbohydrates: 0 g
    • Fiber: 0 g
    • Sodium: 127 mg

    So, if you eat the whole thing, you'll be getting a lot more protein—but also way more calories and fat. (Fun fact: Chickens have quadrupled in size since the 1950s, according to research published in the journal Poultry Science.)

    What about chicken breast's overall nutrition?

    Chicken breast obviously has a ton of protein. But it also offers six percent of your daily value of iron per 3.5-ounce serving, which helps carry oxygen throughout your body and supports immune system function.

    Research also shows that consuming chicken breast is associated with a lower risk of developing heart disease and diabetes, per a study in the journal Food & Nutrition Research.

    Chicken breast also offers an especially concentrated amount of B vitamins and zinc, which is especially great for women during pregnancy and breastfeeding. But, wait, that's not all! It's also a good source of bone-boosting vitamin D and calcium, according to Iu.

    So rest assured, chicken is not overrated. Now, all you need to do is nail down the healthiest way to make it and you'll be set.

    "For most people I’d recommend a range of about 15-25 grams of protein per meal, and 10-12 grams of protein per each snack," says Ehsani. "Incorporating chicken breast at least once during your day will help you reach at least 1/3 of your protein needs, but you can focus on other sources of protein too."

    What do all those labels on chicken mean?

    You may have noticed the many different labels found on chicken breast at the grocery store. Here's a breakdown.

    • Natural. There's no formal definition for the use of "natural" on food labels. The USDA allows the term "natural" to be used on meat and poultry when it contains no artificial ingredients or added colors and is minimally processed.
    • Organic. Organic has strict criteria set by the USDA, in which organic chicken, for example, must come from a chicken that is not given any antibiotics or growth hormones. The chicken must be fed organic feed and they must be able to live in conditions in which they can graze outside.
    • Antibiotic- or hormone-free. This means that no antibiotics or hormones were given to the chicken.
    • Free-range. This means that chickens are allowed to be outside.

    "When it comes to choosing, I think it's based on each person's preference and budgetary restrictions," says Ehsani. "Organic chicken unfortunately may be the most expensive option compared to just non-organic, but both have the same nutritional breakdown at the end of the day."

    So, what is the healthiest way to cook chicken breast?

    One of the many perks of this powerhouse poultry is that it's super versatile, meaning you can cook it in a number of different ways—grill it, roast it, toss it over a green salad, shred and put it into tacos or wraps, or even skewer it and smother it in peanut sauce. So. Many. Options.

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    But, of course, the healthiest ways to cook chicken are poaching, grilling, or baking it, says Iu. When you grill or bake, go for unsaturated plant-based oils (like EVOO or avocado oil) to minimize adding unnecessary saturated fats to your dish. And when you poach or boil it, be sure to do so on low heat, so there is minimal loss of nutrients, Iu says. But no matter how you decide to cook your protein, you won't lose too much of the protein content in the process, says Ehsani.

    Also: Make sure to remove any tendons, blood spots, and fat before cooking. (Because, yuck.)

    And, yes, removing the skin will allow for chicken with the fewest cals and fat. But cooking with the skin has its fair share of perks as well. "Keeping the skin on will add a lot of flavor and helps retain moisture and juiciness," says Taylor Chan, RD, a personal trainer in Baltimore, Maryland. Pro tip: You can always cook with the skin for enhanced flavor but nix it before you dig in.

    Finally, what are the best ways to eat chicken breast? It all depends on your health goals and flavor preferences. But it's always a good idea to keep it fun and try new preparation methods, per Chan. Use a spice rub one night, or a new BBQ sauce for another.

    "Food should be enjoyable and not feel like a chore. So try to get away from the monotony of chicken, rice, and broccoli that so many people get trapped in," she says. (Unless you're a fan of that combo, in which case, more power to ya!)

    Ready to give chicken breast a go at home? Check out these nutritious recipes:


    Dish, Food, Cuisine, Ingredient, Salad, Produce, Meat, Tabbouleh, À la carte food, Vegetarian food,
    SkinnyMs.

    Chicken Breasts with Quinoa and Kale

    Garnishing wilted kale and warm quinoa with walnuts and onions creates a unique texture that's sure to please your taste buds.

    GET THE RECIPE

    Per serving: 271 calories, 15 g (sat 2 g) fat, 23 g carbs, 221 mg sodium, 4 g fiber, 13 g protein


    Food, Dish, Cuisine, Ingredient, Chicken meat, Vegetable, Produce, Staple food, Cherry Tomatoes, Vegetarian food,
    WellPlated

    Sheet Pan Italian Chicken

    All you need to make this super colorful (thanks to seasonal veggies like zucchini and tomatoes) one-pan wonder? One hour.

    Get the recipe

    Per serving: 323 calories, 16 g (sat 3 g) fat, 7 g carbs, 6 g sugar, 2 g fiber, 44 g protein


    Dish, Food, Cuisine, Ingredient, White rice, Lemon chicken, Produce, Staple food, Recipe, Rice and curry,
    Cotter Crunch

    Chili-Lime Mango Marinated Chicken Bowls

    Get the recipe

    Fresh fruit, a splash of OJ, and a touch of white wine come together to create a tasty, summery dish. This is a great way to refresh your go-to chicken and rice duo.

    Per serving: 270 calories, 10 g (sat 3 g) fat, 18 g carbs, 27 g protein