Nutrition Smackdown: Chicken Breasts vs. Chicken Thighs

It’s a question almost as old as which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Which is healthier, chicken breasts or chicken thighs?

Nutritionally, boneless, skinless chicken breasts generally have fewer calories and fat, says Jamie Allers, MS, RD, a registered dietitian with Hartford HealthCare’s Digestive Health Institute. In the recommended 3-ounce serving, a chicken breast has 140 calories and 3 grams of fat. A 3-ounce chicken thigh has 170 calories and 9 grams of fat.

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The options

Chicken breasts have higher levels of some B vitamins and minerals, while chicken thighs have higher amounts of vitamin B12, she adds. Chicken thighs are usually cheaper per pound.

However, chicken breasts can be challenging to cook as they dry out and overcook easily. Chicken thighs, while juicier due to the higher fat content, can be challenging texture wise. Choosing to bake, grill or roast instead of frying is also healthier.

Allers says you don’t have to view your chicken in black and white. “One strategy I sometimes use is to go half and half,” she says. “If the recipe calls for a pound of chicken, I’ll do half a pound of thighs and half a pound of breasts. That way you get the added flavor of the thighs, but the added health benefits of the breasts.

And while removing the skin reduces the amount of fat, leaving the skin on while cooking can help boost flavor and reduce the chance of everything drying out.

She recommends using the boneless breasts for quick-cooking dishes like sautés and stir-fries. Thighs work well in slow cooker recipes because the method helps to tenderize the meat.

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The culprits

Pre-marinated or seasoned chicken breasts have become commonplace at the grocery store, and Allers says shoppers should read labels before buying. “If they’re simple, like a marinade of olive oil, lemon, and herbs, then yes,” she says. “But salt, sugars, preservatives and flavorings can be added. There can often be food allergens due to additives, such as some marinades contain gluten. So be sure to read the labels.”

She added that the pre-seasoned chicken is still better than opting for fast food or regular takeout.

“If it means not skipping a meal, or if it gives you leftovers to pack your lunch for work the next day, go ahead. Just read the labels,” she says.