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Is Chicken Skin Bad for You, or Is It Actually Healthy?

Is chicken skin good for you?

Chicken skin has been cast into the nutritional limelight a few times over the years — always with stark critics and defenders.

Let’s get to the bottom of it.

Is chicken skin bad for you?

When eaten in moderation, unbreaded chicken skin from good sources is full of healthy, unsaturated fats and should not be viewed as nutritionally negative. It is also a good source of collagen and additional protein.

There are two primary criticisms of chicken skin: it is high in fat and high in calories. Your body needs fat like any other macronutrient, and the added calories from chicken skin are nominal.

Most of the fats in chicken are unsaturated, which are liquid at room temperature. Most of those are unsaturated fatty acids similar to the ones found in olive oil [*]. There are saturated fats in chicken skin too, but not as many, and the health risks of saturated fat have been overblown [*].

Eat the skin. It keeps chicken moist, holds the seasoning, improves the texture, and reduces the likelihood you will drown your chicken in honey mustard. If you are worried about calories, track what you’re eating and eat less. If you are worried about unhealthy fat, buy from better sources and eat chicken in moderation. If you’re on a budget, try opting for better-sourced chicken but eating it less often. Swap in a cheaper protein source like beans or buy in bulk to supplement and cut costs.

I suspect the fears around chicken skin are mostly related to fried chicken, which is more a case against fried foods than chicken skin itself.

So yes, if you’re eating low-quality fried chicken breaded in mass-produced flour, there’s more of an argument to remove the skin. But if you’re doing that, why choose the fried food at all? Just order something else with more vegetables and less oil.

Health risks of chicken skin

Like we mentioned above, the health risks of chicken are about perspective, but here are a few to keep in mind:

Adds calories to a meal

This only really matters if you are frying chicken. Frying chicken skin increases its fat content from the oil used and adds additional calories. For context, an ounce of fried chicken skin has around 142 calories. But again, at that point you’re not really eating for health — just enjoy the fried chicken and make a healthier choice for the next meal.

Outside of frying, there is a nominal amount of calories added to chicken with chicken skin. We’re talking around 40 calories for a cup of chicken. And that’s where all the flavor is! The more flavorful your chicken, the less likely you’ll need additional condiments or flavorings that would dwarf the calories gained from cutting the skin in the first place.

Adds cholesterol to a meal

If you have a health condition or have been advised by your doctor to cut cholesterol, then skipping the chicken skins can help, but at that point you should consider reducing your consumption of meat at large because cholesterol is only present in animal products like meat and dairy [*]. For those without pressing cholesterol concerns, the role of genetics seems to be the driving factor behind bad cholesterol and potential heart disease, not dietary cholesterol [*].

In other words, removing the chicken skin can help, but the frequency in which you eat chicken matters more. Consult with your doctor for specifics.

That being said, here are a few of the most popular ways to prepare chicken and their average cholesterol content [*]:

  • fried chicken, meat only, no skin 100g: 94mg
  • fried chicken, meat and skin, with flour, 100g: 90mg
  • roasted chicken, meat only, 100g: 75mg
  • roasted chicken, meat and skin, 100g: 76mg
  • grilled chicken, no skin, 100g: 104mg

As you can see, the cholesterol content changes by just a few milligrams per serving.

Health benefits of chicken skin

Here are a few health benefits you can get from choosing to keep the chicken skin on:

Has healthy, unsaturated fats

Chicken skin has unsaturated fats that may help lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and it also has other polyunsaturated fatty acids like omega-3 and omega-6. Polyunsaturated fats help with muscle movement and blood clotting, and since your body doesn’t make this type of fat, you have to get it through the food you eat [*].

Has oleic acid

Oleic acid might improve heart conditions by lowering cholesterol and reducing inflammation. Oleic acid is a type of fatty acid and can replace saturated fats [*].

Has collagen

Chicken skin is around 35% connective tissue, with most of that being collagen [*]. Collagen is a key component in bones, skin, muscles, and other body parts. It may help improve skin health, relieve joint pain, and prevent bone loss, among other things [*].

Has additional protein

1oz of chicken skin has around 5g of protein, compared to an ounce of chicken breast having 9.1g. That’s about half of the protein content. So while eating more chicken breast without the skin technically makes more sense, you do get some extra protein by keeping the skin on. Protein is a key macronutrient and contributes to muscle growth [*].

Does not have any carbs

If you’re on a low-carb diet, you can eat chicken without worrying if you will add anything to your carb count. That’s why eating baked chicken skins as a snack is popular in keto circles.

Chicken skin nutrition facts

A one-ounce piece of chicken skin contains [*]:

  • Calories: 128
  • Fat: 11g / 14% DV
  • Protein: 5.7g / 11.4% DV
  • Carbs: 0g
  • Sugar: 0g
  • Fiber: 0g
  • Saturated Fat: 3.2g / 11% DV
  • Cholesterol: 23mg / 7.7% DV
  • Vitamin A: 21.83mcg / 2.4% DV
  • Iron: 0.43mg / 5.4%
  • Calcium: 3.97mg / 0.3% DV
  • Potassium: 38mg / 1% DV

How is chicken skin usually cooked?

Chicken skin has many uses in the culinary world:

  • Chefs use it to make rich stocks full of delicious collagen and fats.
  • Chicken skin is the secret behind delicious fried chicken.
  • Chicken skins hold the majority of the flavor in chicken roasts.
  • Low-carb advocates bake it to create a snack adjacent to pork rinds.

In most cases, chicken skins are a complementary feature, not the main course.

Where to buy the healthiest chicken skin

Chances are, if you’re concerned about eating chicken skin you are paying attention to your diet and health at large.

Here’s the deal: The diet and lifestyle of a poultry bird directly impact the nutritional value of the resulting meat you eat [*]. For example, one study of 400 free-range hens had significantly better scores for walking, feather conditions, beneficial gut bacteria, and meat quality than conventional hens [*].

In short, if the birds are healthier, it’s healthier for us. Straightforward enough. That goes for the negatives, too. When you stop and think about it, where do you think all of the antibodies, GMOs, and negative impacts of chickens spending their whole lives in their own filth go when they die? They stay right in the bird that is eventually shipped to your supermarket.

That applies to all parts of the chicken, including the chicken skin. If you want to prioritize your health, you need to start budgeting for not just free-range chickens (since that term can be abused), but pasture-raised chicken from trustworthy companies.

All of our pasture-raised chickens are raised on a salad bar of grasses, legumes, and insects. The limited amount of grain US Wellness Meats’ chickens consume is non-GMO. They are also antibiotic and hormone-free.

Once you experience the flavor of US Wellness Meats’ outdoor birds, you will never want to eat commercial birds again.

Check out our pasture-raised chicken and raw chicken skins.

Chicken skin FAQ

Is it unhealthy to eat chicken skin?

Usually no! It ultimately depends on the quality of the meat and cooking method (e.g. frying).

Is rotisserie chicken healthy without the skin?

Healthy is relative, and while you do cut a small amount of calories, the trade for flavor and texture is usually not worth it in our opinion.

Is chicken skin bad for cholesterol?

While you should consult with your doctor, there is a relatively small increase in milligrams per serving when keeping the skin of unfried chicken.

Is there collagen in chicken skin?

Yes! Chicken skin is around 35% collagen.

The bottom line on chicken skin

Eating or not eating chicken skin has limited effects outside of broader dietary considerations. Yes, you can reduce calories, and yes, you can reduce some cholesterol, but the frequency, cooking method, and amount of chicken you eat matter more.

Outside of specific dietary recommendations discussed with your doctor, eat chicken and its delicious skin as a part of a balanced diet — which means in moderation and alongside different foods.