Author: Doug Cook, RD MHSc CDE
Once sold only at butcher shops, you can now purchase organic chicken in most supermarkets. And that’s created a bit of a dilemma in the meat section.
Consumer interest in organic farming and foods is at an all-time high. According to a report by the Canada Organic Trade Association, Canada’s organic market grew to $3.5 billion dollars in 2012; a three-fold increase since 2006. Organic meat sales overall, including chicken, grew by 25% between 2006 and 2012 representing 1% of the total sales of organic products. Fifty eight percent of Canadians report buying organic products every week with about half of those surveyed believing that organic foods are a “healthier and more nutritious choice”.
With the growing interest in organic foods comes a lot of confusion about the actual nutritional differences, if any, between organic and their regular, or conventionally produced, counterparts. Are there real reasons for the increase in organic consumption?
Researchers at Stanford University Medical Center reviewed 237 studies comparing differences in nutrient and contaminant levels and found no consistent difference between organic and conventional produce.
More specifically, Chicken Farmers of Canada (CFC) commissioned a nutrient analysis report by the Silliker Canada Company to examine the nutritional differences between organic and regular cuts of chicken. The report provided information on 17 vitamins and minerals, as well as, fat, protein and carbohydrates. With consumers asking more and more questions about where food comes from, and media and internet myths that continue to circulate, it is important to share these brief summaries of what the study revealed to help bring much needed balance to this important issue.
Are There Differences Between Organic and Regular Chicken?
Overall, the nutritional composition of organic and regular cuts is similar; there are no meaningful differences in the micronutrients (vitamin and minerals) nor protein content between organic and regular cuts of chicken. The main difference between organic and regular is the fat content of the skin; organic has between 5 to 13% less total fat depending on the cut, but once the skin is removed, the fat content of the meat is similar between the two types. Both types of chicken are naturally low in sodium as well. Canadians can now confidently choose either type knowing that chicken will contribute to their overall nutritional requirements needed for health.
Chicken Breasts Cooked With Skin
The main nutritional difference between organic and regular chicken breasts is the fat content of the skin. Organic chicken breasts with skin can carry a “lower fat” health claim compared to regular chicken breasts and are therefore slightly lower in calories; 154 vs. 175 respectively per 100 g (3.5 ounce) portion.
Regarding saturated fat, organic chicken breasts with skin also have less compared to regular chicken with 1.6 g versus 2.4 g respectively; as such organic chicken breasts are low in saturated fatty acids; both cuts are also trans fat free. This Roast Chicken & Parsnips recipe is a nice surprise for those who love chicken breasts with skin on. It only contains 11 g of total fat per 530 g serving from a regular breast, and is high in Vitamins B6 and B12, as well as potassium, magnesium, folate and zinc. If you choose organic breasts with skin you can reduce the fat by 37 percent.
Chicken Breasts Cooked Without Skin
Once the skin is removed however, there is no meaningful difference in calories, total and saturated fat between organic chicken and regular chicken breasts; 1.74 g vs. 1.73 g of total fat and 140 vs. 146 calories respectively and both cuts have the same amount of saturated fat, 0.59 g for the same 100 g (3.5 ounce) serving.
Chicken Legs Cooked With Skin
It’s a similar situation with chicken legs. The fat and calorie content is greater in regular chicken legs (with skin) than organic; 218 calories in regular chicken per 100 g (3.5 ounce) serving compared to organic with 190 calories. Organic legs are also lower in saturated fat. Chicken Marrakech is a great recipe for either chicken legs or thighs with only 330 calories per serving from a regular cut. It is also a great source of vitamin C, beta carotene, vitamins B6, B12, folate and zinc. By choosing organic cuts, you can lower the fat content by 21% with chicken legs.
Similarly with chicken breasts, the micronutrient differences between organic and regular chicken legs with skin are inconsequential; both are also trans fat free and neither is a source of omega 3 fatty acids.
Chicken Legs Cooked Without Skin
The calorie and fat content is relatively similar between regular chicken legs and organic chicken legs without skin; 155 vs. 148 calories and 6.6 g vs. 5.5 g of fat respectively per 100 g (3.5 ounce) portion. Both skinless organic chicken legs and regular skinless chicken legs are low in saturated fats and comparatively have the same amount of vitamins and minerals.
Chicken Thighs With Skin
Like chicken legs, the calorie content is relatively similar between regular chicken thighs and organic chicken thighs with skin; 254 vs. 221 calories respectively per 100 g (3.5 ounce) portion. The difference in calories again is attributed to the difference in fat content; regular chicken has 19.10 g of fat per 100 g portion compared to 14.87 g for organic chicken.
Regarding the saturated fat content, regular chicken thighs has 5.85 g whereas organic chicken has 4.54 g, or per 100 g (3.5 ounce) portion; a difference that is not considered meaningful and therefore both can be considered to have comparable amounts of saturated fat.
Vitamin and mineral content were similar and both organic and regular chicken are trans fat free. This Chicken and Carrot Tagine which calls for skin on cuts is low in saturated fat, sodium and sugar and provides 26% of the Daily Value for magnesium, 24% for zinc and 43% for vitamin B6. If you wish to use organic legs and thighs with skin on, you can reduce the saturated fat by 22 percent.
Chicken Thighs, Skinless and Boneless
The calorie difference between regular skinless chicken thighs and organic skinless chicken thighs is nominal; 175 vs. 156 respectively. There is 8.43 g of fat per 100 g reference amount in regular skinless chicken thighs compared to 6.39 g in organic skinless chicken thighs or a 2 g difference. Organic skinless chicken thighs can have a “lower fat” nutrient content claim because of this difference in fat content. Using skinless chicken thighs, Chicken & Sweet Potato Stew is a great lower-fat one-pot meal.
Whether they’re regular or organic, both types of chicken have similar amounts of vitamins and minerals and are trans fat free.
While the differences in calories (232 vs. 213), fat (15.27 g vs. 13.41 g) and saturated fat (4.13 g vs. 3.71 g) are not enough to make nutrient content claims when comparing regular to organic chicken wings, the nutritional analysis for the organic wings revealed that they are lower in calories (8%), fat (12%) and saturated fat (10%). Instead of the usual BBQ flavour, try these Orange and Pecan Hot Wings for a twist on an old favourite. Paired with a salad with vinaigrette dressing, it makes a great lunch or dinner with 580 calories and 35 g of protein per serving.
Like with other organic products, whether to choose organic chicken or not is ultimately a personal choice. Organic foods and farming includes values that go beyond basic nutrition and the question consumers may ask themselves is if the higher price tag is worth it if a fresh, safe and nutritious product is the top priority? Consumers can now take heart in knowing that regular and organic cuts are equally nutritious and healthy, thanks to the new Nutritional Analysis Study from Chicken Farmers of Canada.
Cook, D., and Atyeo, K. (2014). Nutrient Analysis Report. Chicken Farmers of Canada. Available online at: www.chicken.ca/health/view/78/nutrient-analysis-report-fresh-Canadian-chicken Accessed July 27, 2014
Smith-Spangler C., Brandeau ML., Hunter GE., et al. (2012). Are Organic Foods Safer or Healthier Than Conventional Alternatives? A Systematic Review. Annals of Internal Medicine. Sept 4; 157(5); 348-366 http://annals.org/issue.aspx?journalid=90&issueID=24808&direction=P
Husak, R.L. Sebranek, J.G. and Bregendahl, K. (2008). A survey of commercially available broilers marketed as organic, free-range, and conventional broilers for cooked meat yields, meat composition, and relative value. Poultry Science, 87(11), 2367-2376.
Organic Monitor. (2006). The North American Market for Organic Meat Products (2nd Edition). Available online at: www.organicmonitor.com/300244.htm Accessed on July 20, 2014.