Chicken might be perched pretty as the second most consumed meat in the world now, but until the turn of the last century, it played a minor role in the western cuisine. Even fifty years ago, it only made its way to the dinner table once a week, if that.
In fact, chickens were mainly used for their eggs, rather than meat. Eating chicken meat is a relatively modern phenomenon.
And yet, it has grown rapidly to become ubiquitous in the modern menu. For health-focused people keen to keep themselves trim by jumping on low fat diets, a few helpings of chicken breast appear to be the perfect protein source. Stacked with the good stuff, devoid of fat, low in calories.
Carnivore, on the other hand, is by its nature a high fat diet. You’re not making it work by subsisting on chicken breast alone, not without smothering it in butter. And while there certainly are fattier cuts of chicken available, there are still a few more issues that weaken its ability to stand as the centerpiece of your carnivore menu.
So if you want to find out why chicken is basically diet beef, and why you should probably have the real thing instead, head on through the article.
As for those of you who have had the misfortune of being bitten by the Lone Star tick and rewarded with a red meat allergy, I’d consider skipping this one
Is Chicken Ancestral?
Considering that chickens are the domestic descendants of the red jungle fowl, it shouldn’t be surprising to find out that our paleolithic ancestors didn’t eat a lot of chicken. And they didn’t really get in the habit of cooking up jungle fowl either. The thing is, paleolithic humans didn’t indulge in smaller prey animals like dinosaur birds until they ran out of the big fish.
The megafauna, as in large herbivores, were always the ones prized for their humongous fat reserves. They fueled the rise of the homo lineage over several million years of evolution, until most were hunted into extinction.
Once most of the megafauna were wiped off the planet, humans had no option but to hunt smaller prey. Since smaller prey naturally offered fewer calories, smaller fat reserves, and were much harder to hunt, we had to then resort to domesticating them to pump the numbers up.
We have evidence of the red jungle fowl being domesticated as far back as 6000 BC, in China. It didn’t quite take the world by storm from there, but it did manage to navigate its way into the ancient Mediterranean cuisine as a luxury piece on the aristocratic menu.
The Egyptians initially used chickens mainly for cock fighting, while also formulating some pretty ingenious ways to incubate the eggs on a mass scale.
In ancient Greece and Rome, chickens rose to prominence as a delicacy, with the Romans in particular developing farms that could store them in large numbers.
There was a Roman law made way back in 161 BC, limiting chicken consumption to one per meal. This was made out of fear of moral decay and the pursuit of excessive luxury. Considering that the Roman Republic was swallowed by the chaotic flamboyance of the Empire within a couple of centuries, perhaps they didn’t go hard enough.
In the years that followed the fall of the Roman Empire, chicken remained a novel and expensive food item. In the early USA, these birds were typically farmed in local enterprises and were mainly valued for their eggs.
The marginal role of poultry changed drastically in the 20th century, when some major breakthroughs were made in poultry farming. The addition of antibiotics and vitamins to feed enabled chickens to be kept indoors, and therefore raised in much larger numbers, with protection from weather and predators.
As many as 20,000 to 30,0000 broilers can now be squeezed together in windowless buildings. This is unfortunately a reality of factory farming.
The massive increase in production has naturally created an increase in demand, but the rapid rise of chicken in recent decades has no doubt been boosted by the demonisation of red meat and saturated fat.
Chicken meat is leaner, and lower in saturated fat. It made the perfect substitute for people trying to get healthy but unwilling to give up meat entirely. By swapping out beef for chicken, you can effectively lower your calories and attempt to improve your cholesterol markers. Unfortunately, many well-meant game plans don’t survive first contact, and the chicken solution has a few holes.
The Downsides Of Swapping Beef For Chicken
1. Lowering calories doesn’t automatically cause weight loss – Humans aren’t petri dishes, and simply reducing calories can easily be offset by increased hunger, lowered output, and impaired fat burning.
2. Switching from beef to chicken results in fewer micronutrients – Considering micronutrients are critical for unlocking the energy in macronutrients and allowing optimal hormonal balance, that’s definitely a turn for the worse.
One study looking at nutrient density of different foods, found that beef was four times more nutrient dense than chicken. That makes a huge difference when you’re using it as the centrepiece of your diet.
3. Lowering dietary cholesterol doesn’t reliably impact blood cholesterol – Since the liver synthesises its own cholesterol, the amount of cholesterol you eat won’t translate to the amount travelling through your bloodstream.
4. Total cholesterol and LDL aren’t reliable risk factors for heart disease – While LDL can be linked to heart disease, the issue isn’t with the LDL itself, but rather the oxidative stress and glycation that is causing the LDL to become dysfunctional. Guess which diet happens to be low in both stressors?
5. Less fat has its own set of problems – Fat is an essential macronutrient in the diet, being critical for hormone production, cellular function, and the ideal energy source for its sustained release. So what happens in a low fat diet? You hit rock bottom. It’s comfortably the least effective way for losing weight, because it drives the body into a state where it’s simply not conditioned to perform.
6. Chicken have higher polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) – Whereas beef, being a ruminant animal that can convert grain feed into superior nutrition, will have significantly less. By taking beef out in favour of chicken, you’d effectively be substituting stable fats that stimulate satiety for unstable ones that encourage lipogenesis.
The high level of PUFAs can also cause some to have a low level inflammatory response, since Omega 6 is inflammatory by nature. For that reason, susceptible carnivore dieters may feel inclined to skip chicken altogether.
7. The ethics of chicken factory farming is sketchy – As I’ve already covered, factory farming can definitely be harsh on the animals, and that can be too much for the conscience. Whereas beef is always going to be mostly grass fed, and represents the best food for limiting animal suffering.
A beef-based carnivore diet is peak veganism, by their logic. You’re just eating a few cows that lived a quaint life in a meadow.
Wrapping Up – Can You Still Eat Chicken?
While it should be clear by now that chicken is the inferior product to beef, that doesn’t mean you need to reject it entirely. The thing is, the carnivore diet is restrictive enough as it is, without narrowing the playing field down to beef and salt. Given that it’s ridiculously satiating, you could run the risk of eating too little, which is a particular problem if you’re on a mission to build muscle.
Keeping the likes of chicken and pork around would allow you to vary the palette and freshen up the appetite when needed. The extra PUFAs might be worrying to some, but ultimately the amounts pale in comparison to the PUFAs you’d be getting in seed oils that come laced in everything these days.
A carnivore diet, regardless of how you source it, will have significantly lower PUFAs than any standard western diet. So you might as well include some chicken here and there, just don’t have it as the centrepiece of the diet. Beef should take the first seat at the table, due to its high nutrient density, saturated fat content, and efficient digestibility.
Eggs aren’t actually that far behind, and they’ll contain several key nutrients that beef might lack in, such as Biotin and Folate. Given that each egg contains the capacity for life, it’s not surprising. Eggs are effectively nature’s multivitamins, and they’re ridiculously flexible in recipes.
Chicken thighs are a delicious source of fat, and are comfortably a step above chicken breast. Sure they contain more PUFAs, but that’s majoring in the minors.
So don’t lose sleep if you’re eating chicken once or twice a week. The PUFAs will be a marginal amount in the grand scheme of things, and the beef you’ll be having over the rest of the week will do more than enough to check all your nutrient requirements.
But if you’re having it every day, I’d definitely consider swapping it out for beef, because chicken simply isn’t on its level.