Fat is often viewed negatively by dieters because of its influence on weight gain and cardiovascular disease. Fat contains 9 calories per 1 g, while the other two macronutrients -- protein and carbohydrates -- contain just 4. Splurging on fatty foods is thus more likely to result in weight gain than consuming excess carbs or protein. Your body actually needs dietary fat to function properly and certain fats can reduce your risk of cardiovascular problems. Chicken is rich in healthy fats and is generally lower in unhealthy fats than red meat.
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A 87-g chicken breast contains about 8 g of total fat. Fat is one of three macronutrients, and your body needs an ample amount of this nutrient each day for energy, to protect and insulate vital organs, store and transport vitamins and assist with hormone production. According to the Institute of Medicine, about 20 to 35 percent of your total calories should come from fat, so chicken breast can provide about 13 percent of your total daily dietary fat needs if you consume a 2,000-calorie diet.
A 87-g serving of chicken breast contains 3.3 g of monounsaturated fat. According to both the American Heart Association, consuming monounsaturated fats can reduce your blood cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and strokes. Foods with monounsaturated fats are generally high in the antioxidant vitamin E, which can help fight off cell-damaging chemicals in the body.
Chicken breast contains about 1.7 g of polyunsaturated fat per 87-g serving. Like monounsaturated fat, polyunsaturated fat can reduce blood cholesterol and reduce your risk of heart disease. Included in the polyunsaturated fat category are the essential fatty acids, or EFAs, omega-3 and omega-6. Unlike other fats, your body cannot manufacture EFAs and you must consume them through food. EFAs assist with brain function, tissue growth and, as of April 2011, researchers are continuing to investigate their ability to prevent cognitive disorders, cardiovascular disease and arthritis.
While the majority of the fat in chicken breast is advantageous to your overall health, the meat contains small amounts of harmful fats and cholesterol. Chicken breast contains about 2.3 g of saturated fat, 0.091 g of trans fat and 56 mg of cholesterol. Saturated fat and trans fat can increase your blood cholesterol levels and raise your risk of cardiovascular disease, while excess amounts of cholesterol can result in arterial plaque build-up. The U.S. Department of Agriculture advises consuming less than 10 percent of your total calories from saturated and trans fats, and limiting your cholesterol intake to 300 mg per day.
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Chicken, broilers or fryers, breast...
- MayoClinic.com: Dietary Fats; Know Which Types to Choose; February 2011
- American Heart Association: Monounsaturated Fats; October 2010
- American Heart Association: Polyunsaturated Fats; October 2010
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Dietary Guidelines for Americans; 2010
- Institute of Medicine: Dietary Reference Intakes; Macronutrients; 2005
- American Heart Association: Know Your Fats; March 2011
- Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University: Essential Fatty Acids