I had a challenge on Twitter yesterday about whether I’d be eating (and I think buying a round of) chicken wings in the name of health. Ok, I’ll take that challenge.
Can chicken wings be healthy? Or at least let’s say less unhealthy?
First we have to define health, because according to the FDA, fat, that level in a fried chicken wing, is considered firmly in the “unhealthy” category. I found this great little blurb the other day from UW Center for Public Health Nutrition taken from a discussion of the term “healthy foods” by Susan Alderman, United Kingdom:
Nutrition professionals avoid using the term “healthy foods” because whether or not a food is healthy depends on what our nutritional needs are, how much and how often we eat, and what else is in the diet. No single food provides all the essential nutrients. A healthy diet includes appropriate portion sizes of a variety of different foods (vegetables, whole grains, fruits, dairy products, legumes, lean meats, poultry and fish and enough fluids like water). A healthy diet reduces the risk for obesity and chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Healthy eating and lifestyle are important to our feeling of well being and enjoyment of life.
I’m going to take a liberty and add a dimension, because in my view I take it beyond “filling a tank” of nutritional needs being met (a quantity) and look at the actual interaction of the foods and those foods with our systems. My thesis is that the stuff we may think of as “bad”, like frying, fats and sugars, CAN be bad, but we can attenuate some of our bad responses and degrading systems by the ingredients, the small players of spices and sauces, we put with them.
So conventional wisdom would tell us that the way to make chicken wings healthier is to take the skin off and bake them. This lowers their fat content make them by classic FDA standards, healthier. It’s a clear message that frying in fat is death to any nutritional healthful quality. Although some research may differ on that view because certain antioxidants in say, potatoes, are actually increased when deep-fried, but I digress.
Chicken Wings. What I’d suggest is that another way to make them healthier would be to be sure when they are deep-fried to be certain they are cooked in quality oil, the right temperature and with quality chicken (free-range chicken for example). Why? Because the omega-3, the probiotics from the cream sauce (ranch or blue cheese) and the yummy red pepper, chili, capsaicin, or paprika sauce with spices attenuate or buffer what we classically look for in studies to represent “unhealthfulness”, like lipid oxidation, that create bad health outcomes. Spices are known to reduce those negative actions. So we are left to wonder; Are the foods themselves bad or is it that they are becoming much worse for use because of bottled sauces and lower quality products?
When we think of fats as bad, we typically think we have to get rid of them to be healthier. Whereas my philosophy would be that we can add other nutrients to attenuate the “badness” (and may actually make those fats good, since fats are good for us, but can have a “tax” to be paid with byproducts). We could look at another example like from researchers and the attenuation of the “bad” lipid peroxidation from hamburger by avocado! So conventionally thinking to make a hamburger healthier we’d have to LOWER the fat, whereas we see evidenced by researcher Dr. Zhoaping Li and her team at UCLA Center for Human Nutrition studied the effect of a few slices of Avocado with hamburger meat can do the same type of lowering of negative impact:
Hass avocados are rich in monounsaturated fatty acids (oleic acid) and antioxidants (carotenoids, tocopherols, polyphenols) and are often eaten as a slice in a sandwich containing hamburger or other meats. Hamburger meat forms lipid peroxides during cooking. After ingestion, the stomach functions as a bioreactor generating additional lipid peroxides and this process can be inhibited when antioxidants are ingested together with the meat.
So beyond the nutrients we need, we could expand our views to see the stomach as a “bioreactor”, also exampled by red wine which can attenuate the fats from a steak.
You guys hear me talk about “nonlinear” science. Linear science tends to like to see things in straight lines. Like “fat is bad”, so we have to lower fat in order to be “healthy”. And you can lower fat to lower the negative responses (linear), but you can ALSO add things to lower the response (nonlinear).
So simple enough. If you’d like to make wings healthier you can avoid them or bake them OR you can eat them in moderation and high quality nutrient environment. So no bottled sauces with crap ingredients, cheap chicken and fried at the wrong temperature with old yucky oil. Chicken wing improvement would be with real ingredients, fried food no more than twice a week and always in context of high quality sources, good oil, right temperature, ranged chicken, marinated, spiced and even with some great sides. Speaking of, I love my wings with celery even though it’s one of those veggies that can have different responses in different people and some allergic responses to it. But for those like me, it can work super great with wings as well as the blue cheese (great article on it’s antinflammatory properties) with the probiotic buttermilk, which are both known for attenuation of fats, so they make a perfect complement. I think this is why chefs and traditional pairings always intuitively, and following our tastes buds get it just right. So get your chicken wings on.
I’m a MASSIVE fish sauce fanatic, so Eric, if we can get close to these in Pheonix that would be superb!!
Recipe: FISH SAUCE CHICKEN WINGS from “Food People Want“
Go HERE for the Full Recipe!
1/2 cup Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce
1/2 cup superfine sugar
2 large cloves garlic, minced
3 pounds chicken wings, split at the joint
Vegetable oil for frying
1 cup rice flour or corn starch
1-2 tablespoons chili garlic sauce (such as Huy Fong brand)
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro and/or mint for garnish