This week we’re taking easy weeknight dinners to a healthier level! Chicken wings are an all time favourite for most of us. Yet we've all been cautioned to eat them sparingly as each deep fried wing boasts between 140 - 250 calories. This week we took a deeper look at what makes chicken wings so unhealthy and what it takes to make healthier alternatives.
What does it take to make wings healthier?
We compared the nutritional profiles for two types of chicken wings: fried vs. baked. The nutrition labels below show that Southern Fried Chicken Wings (recipe) have slightly more calories than Sticky Baked Chicken Wings (recipe). The culprit of added calories in Southern Fried Chicken Wings is mainly the cooking process. Traditional chicken wings are deep fried in oil (usually peanut oil). Some recipes even call for dredging the wings in seasoned flour (or batter) before frying which gives them the crunchy outer layer, but also allows the wings to soak up more oil (calories) than needed.
So, from the calorie perspective, there is only a slight nutritional difference. But that's not the whole pictures.
The health meter at the bottom is designed to give you an idea of how much of the dish consists of healthy ingredients and cooking methods. The ingredients and cooking methods are rated based on research backed nutritional health risks and benefits. Therefore, the health meter moves closer to “green” as the proportion of healthy ingredients increases relative to unhealthy ingredients.
Southern Fried Chicken Wings received a lower health score because the wings are deep fried in peanut oil: Deep-fat frying produces carcinogenic by-products that are believed to increase the risk of developing cancer¹. Although the research is not conclusive, it is probably best to err on the side of caution.
So, long story short, skip the flour/batter dredging and bake instead of deep frying.
Can chicken wings be a full meal?
Not if you're aiming for a balanced one. Almost half the calories in chicken wings come from fat and not much can be said for the dietary fibre and vitamin/mineral content of this dish. Although fat is a necessary component of your diet in moderation, a meal filled with it can't possibly be good.
Here are a few super easy healthy sides you can couple wings with for a more balanced meal:
¹ Stott-Miller, M et al. "Consumption of deep fried foods and risk of prostate cancer." Prostate. 2013 Jun; 73(9):960-9. Accessed on 2014 Nov 19: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23335051