There are many reasons why chicken is the go-to choice for millions of people. First of all, skinless chicken breast calories are negligible compared to those in red meat. Second, it's an affordable source of protein and has no carbs, making it ideal for dieters.
Calories From Lean Protein
Chicken breast is an outstanding source of lean protein and has few calories. Protein is important for building and maintaining tissues, including bone, muscle, cartilage, skin and blood. Since it supports muscle growth and repair, athletes often rely on it to bulk up, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
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A 3-ounce serving of boneless, skinless chicken breast provides 133 calories. According to the USDA, this is about 7 percent of the daily value (DV) based on a 2,000-calorie diet. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans provides recommendations for the average daily number of calories your body needs to stay healthy.
Adult women who are sedentary should consume between 1,600 and 2,000 calories, while those who are moderately active should consume 1,800 to 2,200 calories in their daily diet. Sedentary adult men should strive for 2,000 to 2,600 calories, and those who are more active need between 2,200 and 2,800 calories, depending on age.
The Dietary Guidelines also recommends that 10 to 35 percent of your daily calories should come from protein, which is equal to 46 to 56 grams, depending on your age and sex.
Of the total calories in a chicken breast, 82 percent comes from protein, according to the USDA. Eating a 3-ounce piece of chicken provides 27.3 grams of protein or about 55 percent of the DV. Calories in a pound of chicken breast deliver 872 grams of protein — the equivalent of a little more than two and a half chicken breasts.
Consider the Calories From Fat
Of the total calories in a 3-ounce serving of cooked chicken, 18 percent comes from fat. That equates to 2.8 grams of fat per serving of chicken breast. Your body needs fat for energy so your cells, organs and muscles can function properly. The Dietary Guidelines encourages consuming up to 35 percent of your total calories per day from fat.
A 3-ounce serving of lean, cooked boneless chicken breast (85 grams) contains less total fat than a serving of skinless chicken thigh (116 grams). While a chicken breast delivers 4 percent of the DV for fat, a roasted chicken thigh provides 26 percent of the DV, according to the USDA nutritional comparison tool.
Of the total fat in chicken breast, 9 percent of the DV comes from saturated fats. The Dietary Guidelines recommends keeping saturated fat consumption to less than 10 percent of your total calories per day. A 3-ounce chicken breast contains significantly less saturated fat than a 3-ounce skirt steak, the comparison being 0.9 to 5.2 grams respectively, as reported by the USDA.
The recommendation to limit saturated fat comes from several studies, including a June 2015 systematic review and meta-analysis of 15 randomized controlled trials involving over 59,000 participants, which was published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.
Researchers assessed the effects of reducing saturated fat and replacing it with carbohydrates, unsaturated fats and/or protein on cardiovascular health. As it turns out, swapping saturated fat for unsaturated fats may help lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.
While chicken breasts are healthier than red meat, they are high in cholesterol, with 98.6 milligrams per 3-ounce serving. This provides 33 percent of the DV.
Cholesterol is not inherently harmful — your body needs it to build cells. But too much of it may cause problems. While the Dietary Guidelines doesn't give a quantitative limit for dietary cholesterol, it is still important to consider eating as little cholesterol as possible.
Read more: General Nutritional Facts About Chicken
Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast Nutrition
Chicken has a lot to offer when it comes to vitamins and minerals. According to the USDA, skinless boneless chicken breast provides 2 percent of the daily recommended intake of iron, an essential component of hemoglobin, which helps transfer oxygen to your lungs and tissues.
This type of meat contains many nutrients important for bone formation and maintenance. These include not only protein but calcium, copper, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and zinc, according to American Bone Health. It's also an excellent source of selenium, providing 49 percent of the DV per 3 ounces. Selenium protects your body from oxidative damage and infection.
A serving of chicken breast also provides many important B vitamins — B12, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, B5 and B6. Your body needs these vitamins to convert food into the energy necessary for the proper functioning of your brain, blood cells, muscles and heart. Furthermore, chicken is rich in vitamins A, E and K.
Read more: How to Bake a Plain Chicken Breast
To preserve the nutrients in chicken breast and remove the extra calories from excess fat, avoid frying it. Grilling, steaming and roasting are a lot healthier. Also, use fresh herbs and spices instead of high-calorie sauces.
A January 2019 study published in the BMJ has found an association between fried food consumption, heart disease and cancer. As the researchers note, frequent consumption of fried foods, especially fried chicken, is linked to a higher risk of all-cause and cardiovascular mortality, especially in women.
- Harvard Health Publishing: "How Much Protein Do You Need Every Day?"
- USDA:"Nutrition Facts for Lean Chicken Breast (Cooked)"
- Health.gov: "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020: Appendix 2. Estimated Calorie Needs per Day, by Age, Sex, and Physical Activity Level"
- Health.gov: "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020: Appendix 7. Nutritional Goals for Age-Sex Groups Based on Dietary Reference Intakes and Dietary Guidelines Recommendations"
- USDA: "Nutrition Comparison of Roasted Chicken Thigh and Lean Chicken Breast (Cooked)"
- USDA: "Nutrition Comparison of Lean Chicken Breast (Cooked) and Skirt Steak"
- Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews: "Reduction in Saturated Fat Intake for Cardiovascular Disease"
- ChooseMyPlate: "2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines: Answers to Your Questions - Do I Still Need to Watch My Cholesterol Intake?"
- National Institutes of Health: "Iron"
- American Bone Health: "Minerals for Bone Health"
- National Institutes of Health: "Selenium"
- The BMJ: "Association of Fried Food Consumption With all Cause, Cardiovascular, and Cancer Mortality: Prospective Cohort Study"