Are Chicken Wings Healthy?
Many of our readers follow our blog because they’ve chosen to make lifestyle changes, including dietary changes geared towards incorporating more nutritious and wholesome foods, such as pasture raised chicken. One of the questions you may ask yourself when you embark on such a dietary shift, is whether you have to give up your favorite foods now that you’re making an effort to eat better.
The short answer is, depending on what your favorite foods are, absolutely not! Whether you’re choosing to follow a paleo diet or just trying to make healthier food choices in general, chances are that many of your favorite foods can be modified to fit your new healthy eating regimen. There are loads of recipes for paleo baked goods, paleo pizza crusts, even paleo donuts!
If your comfort food favorites lean more towards the savory, it’s even easier to adapt them to become healthier and more nutritious. One example of this, which we’ll discuss in this post, is chicken wings. Chicken wings are hugely popular in the United States, and in fact it was predicted prior to the 2020 SuperBowl that Americans would consume approximately 1.4 billion chicken wings on that evening alone. While the standard recipe chicken wings from your local wing joint may not be considered healthy, especially if they’re deep fried or coated in an msg-laden dry rub or a sauce containing unhealthy oils, it is possible to modify this popular dish to fit a healthy diet and lifestyle.
How to Make Chicken Wings Healthier
In reality, chicken wings are a pretty awesome source of protein, containing approximately 6.4 grams of protein per wing. Because chicken wings are generally eaten with the skin on, they are higher in fat than many other cuts of chicken, but particularly if you eat a whole-foods based diet and take care not to consume unhealthy sources of fat, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You may not want to eat chicken wings on a daily basis, but they can absolutely be made healthy for a special treat.
So, how do we make chicken wings healthy?
Buy Pasture Raised - C’mon, you knew this was coming! As we’ve discussed in several of our blog posts, pasture raised chicken is inherently healthier than conventionally raised chicken, due to the nutrient-rich diet consumed by chickens on pasture, as well as the daily access to fresh air, sunshine, and exercise, that results in healthier birds and in turn, healthier meat. When you consume pasture raised chicken, you’re eating meat that is three times as high in omega 3s, twenty one percent lower in saturated fat, and fifty percent higher in vitamins A and E than conventionally raised chicken.
When you prepare chicken wings using pasture raised chicken, you can feel confident that you’re consuming wholesome and nutrient rich wings, and when you use some of the other pointers provided below, chicken wings go from a comfort food that gets kind of a bad rap to a healthy(ish) and delicious source of protein.
Buy or Make Paleo-Friendly Rubs or Sauces - Part of what can make chicken wings unhealthy are the rubs or sauces used to prepare them. The problem is, these same rubs and sauces are arguably what make chicken wings so delicious! The good news is, there are plenty of paleo-friendly wing sauces made with healthier ingredients, and if you have the time and inclination there are even more recipes on the internet with easy ways to make your own healthy wing sauces and dry rubs.
Bake, Don’t Fry! - As we mentioned, deep frying chicken wings is one of the reasons they are considered “unhealthy” - but that problem has an incredibly easy fix! Wings are delicious and just as crispy when baked in the oven (air frying is also a good option, because it can be done without yucky oils). While baking chicken wings does take some time, it’s worth it for the guilt-free deliciousness that results!
To prepare chicken wings in the oven, preheat it to 400 degrees, and then place your seasoned chicken wings in a single layer on a wire rack over a baking sheet (this helps the juices to drain and the air to circulate and results in crispier wings than wings baked on a baking sheet alone). Bake for 30 minutes, and if you like your wings extra crispy, reduce the temperature to about 180 degrees and leave them in the oven for an additional 10-20 minutes depending on your personal tastes.
Once your wings have finished cooking, eat them as-is, or dip them in a paleo friendly buffalo sauce if that’s your jam (we’re big fans of buffalo sauce over here!)
You can also prepare chicken wings on the grill! Prep them the same way, and then grill them for about 20 minutes total. Grilled wings won’t get quite as crispy, but you can always throw them under a broiler for a few minutes after grilling to crisp them up a bit.
As always, test the temperature of your wings (no matter which cooking method you use) to make sure it’s at a safe internal temperature of 165 degrees.
Serve with a Healthy Side Dish - Wings are delicious and can be a meal all on their own, but if you want to feel even better about treating yourself to this protein-rich treat, serve your pasture raised chicken wings with a healthy side dish that incorporates some veggies for extra nutrients. A hearty salad, roasted or grilled seasonal veggies, or fresh-made sweet potato fries are all great sides that pair well with chicken wings. We also love raw carrots and celery to complement these delicious wings for a fresh bite.
The bottom line is that even if you’re following a healthier diet these days, you don’t have to give up your favorite foods! There is so much information available online about modifying traditionally “cheat” foods to be healthier, and as more people realize the importance of changing their eating habits to incorporate more nutritious foods, these sources become more common. A quick Google search on how to make your favorite food more nutritious or paleo-friendly will probably yield more results than you know what to do with! And of course, always check our blog for pointers and recipes that incorporate pasture raised chicken.