Chicken has earned itself a reputation of a health food. While certain cuts and preparation methods certainly back that good reputation up, not all chicken is created equal. A baked chicken breast can be a low-fat, low-calorie way to add protein, iron and potassium to your diet, but the way you prepare the chicken can make a difference in how nutritious it turns out to be.
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To Skin or not to Skin
A 3.5-ounce serving of baked chicken breast without the skin contains 165 calories and about 3.6 grams of fat, of which 1 gram is saturated. Eating the same amount of chicken breast with the skin increases the calorie count to 197 calories and about 7.8 grams of fat, of which 2.2 grams are saturated. Limiting your intake of saturated fat to less than 7 percent of your total caloric intake is one way to reduce your risk of heart disease, according to the American Heart Association.
Healthy Dose of Nutrients
A 3.5-ounce serving of skinless chicken breast contains 31 grams of protein, which is two-thirds of the 46 grams of protein women need each day and 55 percent of the 56 grams men should eat every day. The same amount of chicken breast with the skin contains less protein with 29 grams because skin-on chicken breast typically contains bone, too. Chicken breast, with or without the skin, is also a good source of iron, a mineral that helps produce energy, and niacin, a vitamin essential for turning food into energy.
As Compared to ...
When it comes to selecting a type of meat to include in your diet, boneless, skinless baked chicken is a healthy choice, especially compared to other options such as fried chicken or hamburgers. A 3.5-ounce serving of fried chicken contains 260 calories and 13 grams of fat, of which 3.5 grams are saturated. A 3.5-ounce burger has 297 calories and 12 grams of fat, of which 4.5 grams are saturated. A plain baked chicken breast contains 74 milligrams of sodium per 3.5-ounce serving, which is much less than the 275 milligrams in the same amount of fried chicken. A 3.5-ounce burger has 331 milligrams of sodium, which is 22 percent of the 1,500 milligrams you should limit yourself to each day, according to the American Heart Association.
Keeping It Healthy
A plain baked chicken breast is low in fat and calories, but those numbers can change significantly if you add other ingredients to the meat. For example, drenching the baked chicken breast in barbecue sauce will increase the sodium content quite significantly. Smothering the cooked chicken breast in melted butter will add several grams of saturated fat to the meat. Swap the butter for heart-healthy olive oil instead. Enhance the flavor of the meat with herbs and spices, which add hardly any calories to the chicken but also increase the nutrient content a small amount. Herbs and spices are also low in sodium.