Takeaway Food Week: Chicken

From global giants like KFC to your local charcoal chicken outlet, there are plenty of choices for takeout chicken and we're eating more of it than ever before. But are we always making the most sensible choices?

Picture by Dion Gillard

Australians eat a lot of chicken. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, while we each consumed an average of 8.3kg of chicken a year in the 1960s, that figure had jumped to over 30kg a year by the turn of the century. While those numbers include all the chicken we cook at home, there's no shortage of options if you want some poultry on the run.

The giant of the takeaway chicken market is KFC (which has 600+ stores in Australia), followed by Red Rooster (360+ stores), Nandos (250+), Oporto (100+) and a whole bunch of smaller franchises and independent stores. And that's ignoring the chicken burgers on offer from the major burger joints.

Unsurprisingly, it's in the burger area where things can get very unhealthy pretty quickly. Mark, the editor of our sibling site Kotaku, was twitching with excitement this morning at the news that KFC will be releasing the Double Down Burger in Australia. The Double Down essentially eliminates the burger roll to cram in more bacon and chicken and cheese. The end result? At least 2200 kilojoules in the American version. That's not actually a totally ridiculous amount if it's the main thing you eat as a key meal, but if you add a soft drink and some chips and a desert, larding up will probably be the end result, even for a lean rock-climbing Scot like Mark.

How can I make this healthier? Because chicken stores offer such a wide range of options (chicken pieces, whole chickens, nuggets, burgers, wraps, rolls and sandwiches), we're not going to repeat what we did with burgers and list all the figures. Frankly, you'd all probably explode with numeric overload if we did. But the basic advice that emerged from that piece very much stands: if you must order a burger, don't order chips and a full-strength soft drink with it, and avoid anything with the words 'ultimate', 'double', 'maximum', 'mega' or 'super' in the name.

The other fundamental lesson is to go for the roasted/grilled/charcoal chicken options over the fried ones. Even in a grease-heavy joint like KFC, the "fillet" option has notably fewer kilojoules per 100 grams than the classic fried chicken (839 versus 1186). No matter what chicken you order, avoiding the skin will cut down on your fat count. Stuffing is less likely to make you fat, but is often very high in sodium.

Here's the nutrition information pages for the major chain providers in Australia:

Chicken stores (especially outside the major chains) will generally have salads on offer as well, but some caution is sensible here too. If your salad has a fatty or oily dressing or a large helping of cheese, the kilojoule count can still be pretty high. A straightforward green salad, or a small serving of another salad shared with other people, is your safest bet.

How can I save money? The most straightforward healthy strategy is probably buying a whole or half roast chicken and sharing it with a few people. KFC is currently running 'Streetwise' meal deals, but these contain the more greasy/calorific end of its market. A whole BBQ chicken from your local supermarket might well be cheaper than the same deal in a chicken store.

What are your favourite chicken takeout options? Will you be joining Mark in the queue for the Double Down when it comes out? Keep us abreast of your choices in the comments.


Comments

    On the one hand, I have made a deal with myself - no KFC. On the other hand... OMGDOUBLEDOWNHERE?GIMMEGIMMEGIMMEGIMME.

    Safeway/Woolworths chickens, by the time I get home from work, are usually marked down to $5. That's my choice! Lasts me a few meals and is great with some salads.

    Remove the skin though, it doesn't taste quite right!

    i never ever have takeaway chicken, one (really) bad experience will turn you off it for life.

    KFC, a yearly evil indulgence (mohahha). I eat it by keeping it hot in the oven (cold greasy chikin sucks). Next, each piece to be eatten gets wrapped in paper towel and the excess oil squeezed out. Wash rinse repeat.

    mmm Nandos
    OM NOM NOM NOM

      Nandos = over priced.
      A supermarket or meat shop bbq chicken is alot better for value. Just get some dipping sauce and get into it.

    Yes, I'm a vegetarian, but I'm not going to try to convert you, I get that people feel that they "must" eat meat.

    The only thing I can suggest is that if you ARE eating chicken, eat certified organic... takeaway chicken has NO nutritional value.

    There was an amazing program on the ABC a little while ago called "River Cottage", and in it the presenter took three chickens to be tested for nutritional value (protein and minerals, as opposed to fat, sodium or kilojoules, which usually get measured). The three chickens were battery chicken, corn fed chicken and a grass fed organic chicken.

    The results were unsurprising.

    The scientist dude (which sounds credible, I know) came to the conclusion that you'd be better off drinking a glass of water than eating the battery chicken. The only chicken with nutritional value was the organic chicken. IN ADDITION, rather surprisingly, the meat was full of omega-3 fatty acids, something that hasn't been seen in chicken since battery farming began (the access to grass and sunlight produces it in the meat).

    It's hard to find take-away options, especially chicken, that are organic, so I understand it may all just be a little off topic, and for that, I apologise. My recommendation though is simple:

    If you gotta eat meat, eat it at home.

    Meat-eater rage, if you wish, you may commence here:

      Tim,
      Show me some proof. Traditionally organic food has been found to be no better or worse than non-organic.
      Not only that Organic can often be more environmentally unfriendly than traditional (larger land area for smaller yields, natural pesticides more dangerous than synthetic etc etc).

      Organic is largely a sham.

        @Keith

        Small scale local suppliers are definitely more sustainable than large scale chicken producing monoliths. We have plenty of land in Australia, organic/free range chicken farms would use more but be less developed than factory farmed chicken.

        Free range/organic chickens that have more space to move have better muscle development. I'm pretty sure gives higher levels of amino acids, creating a healthier meal.

        All this means, I pay more for my chicken and now I tend to eat less of it, but when I do buy a chicken I try to use the entire bird.

        Brainwashed by McDonalds I see, good for you. Just remember eating non-organic is eating Obese slaves (trapped in cages no bigger than their own body, walking over mummified corpses. Not only all that but you are ingesting more corn in your meat than anyone ever has in the history of this earth.

        PS Corn is really bad for them. Open your eyes I actually realise how bad the food INDUSTRY is, please. It's destroying our world :( !!!

        Hi Keith.

        I believe I mentioned the proof in my comment there. The information I was quoting from was a documentary series called "River Cottage".

        For more proof you could read "Eating Animals" by Jonathan Safran Foer, which is both alarming and enlightening regarding how animals are raised and the huge quantity of resources used to produce them.

        Also, fairly recently the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation has come out in favour of organic farming, saying it is the best tool for feeding the world: http://www.i-sis.org.uk/FAOPromotesOrganicAgriculture.php

        The film "Food Inc." also details how the food industry in the US operates (Australia, to be fair is different, but we are on a path to destruction that is mirroring the US model), and why large scale manufacturing of animals, especially for meat, is not sustainable. The film comes to the conclusion that organic farming is the only sustainable path to food security for the world.

        Recently, I was reading an article about sustainable beef production (I cannot find the link, but if I do I will post it) which talked about a new method of farming beef which involves organic pasture, and cattle on rotation. The meat is of a higher nutritional value, and the land can recover more quickly from the impact of the cattle.

        The proof is out there Keith, in fact, it's everywhere you look, if you're willing to dig into it, but you raised one specific issue which I'd also like to address.

        It is true that organic farming produces less crop per hectare than intensive farming methods. But in drawing that conclusion you haven't fully factored in all the elements that go into food production. While you can certainly fit more chickens into a factory farm, this doesn't account for the huge tracts of land wasted on growing corn for those chickens (which doesn't provide them with the necessary vitamins and minerals to produce good meat) or the amount of land impacted by the disposal of waste. Organic farming is the only kind of farming that takes these factors into consideration.

        I understand that you're probably not going to be convinced by my evidence-based arguments in favour of organic farming, but please, before you demand proof, make sure you research both sides of the argument.

        I understand that you believe organic farming is a sham, and I accept that people are going to have a different view point to myself, but please, please, please, include the details of your evidence to back up the claims you're making. Not so you can prove me wrong, as such, but so that I can look into all the research, and we can all come away from this better informed.

      No nutritional value?
      What were its muscles made out of - rocks? :P

        Hi Tegzilla,

        I believe the meat was made of a titanium alloy... something along the lines of Bender... if I'm not mistaken.

        Also, although it sounds like I work for "River Cottage", I don't, but check it out if you want lots of great info about this stuff.

        I found the video:

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=APD9YkRBamo

          yeh organic food is obviously much better for you , anything naturally produced is thats a complete no brainer. but corn fed or battery hens having less nutrion then a glass of water. complete rubbish lets you an I do an experiment where you just consume a glass of water and I'll have a battery hen and a glass of water and see who dies of malnourishment first.

          river cottage is some toff pom with studio financing who can afford to go green you try and work those food sources into a lower incomes family and then lets talk about sustainability, I'd love for us all to get along and bum animals instead of eating them but wake up and smell the coffee would you.

            Well Goongle, while I am certainly not one to advocate bestiality, I do understand the concerns you raised regarding costs.

            It is more expensive to eat organically. That really is what it comes down to.

            But what isn't factored into industrial food costs is the ongoing effect that industrialised farming has on the environment, and indeed, on the health of this and the next generation. The use of chemical pesticides, herbicides and antibiotics have a well-noted and easily researched impact on the human population.

            It is said that organic food reflects the "true" cost of food production, and again, I would refer you to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation's recent remarks regarding organic (and sustainable) food culture, as they are far superior to me in research and understanding. The ONLY way to sustainably feed the globe is to transition to an organic food production culture.

            The United Nations (again, far more expert than me) recently suggested that the only way to feed the globe at current rates of consumption was to become vegan (which I personally disagree with).

            The sad fact of food production is that we no longer live in a territorial or national economy, but a global one. There are more mouth begging for meat in developing countries (particularly as India and China build their middle classes), and the current method of meat production is not sustainable.

            So, it's a question of:

            Which would you rather?

            - A world where meat was expensive, good for you, but only eaten occasionally?
            or
            - A world where meat is so filled with chemicals (to meet demand) that is has no nutritional value?

            Even as a vegetarian (and by the looks of these comments, quite an activist) I know which world I prefer for the generations to come.

            In regards to the glass of water comment, I said it to illustrate a point regarding the presence of proteins and omegas. I realise I should have chosen a better way of expressing that, and if you can forgive the hyperbolic nature of the comment, I would appreciate that.

      I'm sorry, but I'm a dietitian and have reviewed all of the credible, published and peer reviewed evidence, including a recent University of Sydney study published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, and there is NO evidence to support that NUTRITIONALLY, organic food is better for you. Whether its chicken or meat or carrots or whatever. If you're concerned about pesticides and environmental sustainability, go for your life, eat as much organic food as you can get your hands on. But if you're purchasing more expensive organic meats, fruits and veg because you think you're doing your health a favour, you're being ripped off.

    Charco's Charcoal Chicken Huntingdale FTW.

    Great chicken and great salads too,

    you with me SOR perth?

    http://www.charcos.com.au/contact

    Sorry my comment was @Keith

    Battery chicken? Sorry mate, doesn't exist in Australia. While I don't doubt battery farms are used for chicken meat elsewhere in the world, it isn't the case here.

    I worked as a farm hand on a chicken farm for a while after leaving school - I can tell you first hand that battery chicken farms in Australia are SOLELY used for eggs.

    As far as meat chickens are concerned, they're housed permanently in sheds/barns, usually containing ~10 000 chickens (give or take a few thousand). Each barn is somewhere between 80-150 metres long (and about 10 metres wide); and at maturity, the birds have free access to the whole barn.

    Feed wise, they're provided high protein pellets (no hormones are used), and treated at about 30 days old with an antibiotic. Believe me, there’s nothing particularly diabolical about how they live.

    As far as nutritional content is concerned, I honestly can't see how barn raised chicken could be substantially less than organic or free-range chicken, and certainly doubt the claim that there is less nutritional benefit than a glass of water.

    Myself, I prefer free-range chicken where possible - but only for humanitarian reasons. In any case where I'm eating an animal, I much prefer it to have had as much a natural life as possible.

      Can we get any backup on this? I'm interested to know. Not that I don't believe Sam but I'd like someone to back up this statement.

      Also, River Cottage FTW.

      You are, of course, 100% correct about the battery chickens being raised solely for the production of eggs. As far as I understand it, that's how it is the world over as well (but I'm prepared to be corrected on that).

      I guess the point I'm trying to make comes down to the way the animals are kept, and the nutritional value in the meat. Yes, comparing it to a glass of water is hyperbolic (and it's probably my own, rather than anyone else's), but I think the point still stands that you're just not going to get the same nutritional value from barn raised meat.

      If you have a look at the video from River Cottage that I posted further up in the comments, they make the point the meat IS missing nutritional value by not being outside in the sun and eating grass.

      I applaud your decision to eat free-range. While I know it causes some consternation in some circles, the benefits of eating vitamin/mineral/nutritionally rich meat far out-way the additional cost of eating organically.

      On another note: it's really great to read about an experience of a chicken farm that WASN'T diabolical. I've seen some pretty horrific things come out of chicken barns, but a positive experience is a great thing.

        chickens eat grass?

    Also SWEET CHRIST I need a chicken burger RIGHT NOW.

    I sent an email pointing out a grammatical error in this article (which as been amended) but I should have written in that email that I really enjoy AK's articles!

    I Like Nandos, It may not be perfectly healthy\Nutritious, but it tastes great and it's actual food unlike McDonalds :-P

    If people want to eat organic they will seek the information out when they are ready for it and make their own decision... they aren't going to be converted by obnoxious and smug preachers. Not everyone can afford to eat organic (and if you say to this something as delusional as "how can you afford NOT to" then you need to come out of your ivory tower). Furthermore, the more you carry on about your rich people foods, the more people will dig their heals in. So if you actually care more about people's wellbeing than appearing special or clever, stop preaching.

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