Chicken and Turkey

Serve up chicken and turkey as often as you like — there’s no need to feel guilty.

“A chicken in every pot” was a great political slogan back in the days of the Depression. It’s also a good approach to Magic eating. Because chicken is full of all-important protein, low in fat, incredibly versatile, and cooks up fast, we consider it the ultimate convenience food.

Remember, protein foods don’t raise blood sugar a bit. And chicken has a leg up (pun intended) on beef in the fat and calorie departments. A 3-ounce (85-g) serving of skinless chicken breast has 95 percent less saturated fat—the stuff that hampers insulin sensitivity— than an equal serving of beef tenderloin. It also has 40 percent fewer calories. (As you know, a wide waistline contributes to insulin resistance, which makes blood sugar control difficult.)

Because protein foods like chicken take a while to digest, they slow the digestion of the whole meal, including the carbs it contains (like the mashed potatoes on the plate with your roasted chicken breast and the bread holding your turkey sandwich fillings), making for a slower rise in blood sugar. Getting enough protein also helps keep you full longer, which in turn helps with weight loss. The plan: Serve up chicken as a main dish as often as you like, but also use it to add protein to salads and pasta.

Enjoy your chicken grilled, baked, sautéed, or broiled, but skip the fried chicken, or you’ll be eating more fat than chicken. One extra-crispy fast-food chicken breast, for example, can contain close to half of a day’s total recommended fat intake (28 grams), including 8 grams of saturated fat and 4.5 grams of trans fat—a virtual heart attack in a bucket.

What about turkey? If you serve it only at Thanksgiving, it’s time to invite the big bird in more often. Turkey breast is actually lower in fat and cholesterol and higher in protein than chicken breast. Adding ground turkey is a great way to use less ground beef when making meat loaf, meatballs, and chili and thus lower the fat. Be sure to look for ground turkey breast, though; regular ground turkey is much higher in fat.

Portion Size: 3 ounces (85 g)
A serving of chicken is 3 ounces (85 g) if you eat it twice a day or 6 ounces (170 g) if you eat it once a day. For easy portion control, try chicken breast tenders, small strips of skinless chicken breast perfect for stir-frying. Typically, two or three tenders equal about a 3-ounce (85-g) serving. Bulk up your stir-fry with plenty of vegetables—and serve it over brown rice, of course.

Health Bonus
Chicken is a good source of the antioxidant mineral selenium. Low levels of selenium in the blood have been linked with poor blood sugar control and complications in people with diabetes, and selenium may offer some protection against the cell damage caused when blood sugar is out of control.

Chicken is also a good source of B vitamins, which play a role in preventing and treating many diseases, including asthma and nerve damage. They also support the immune system.

Got a cold? Homemade chicken soup really can help. Researchers have discovered that it can boost levels of immune cells that lessen inflammation, possibly cutting short a cold.

To keep chicken moist, cook it with the skin on, then remove it before serving.

Menu Magic
A boneless chicken breast is like a blank canvas. Get as creative as you like! The possibilities are endless, but here are a few easy suggestions.

  • Marinate your chicken in three other Magic foods— olive oil, lemon or lime juice, and minced garlic—to make it tasty and tender. Add chopped green chiles to take it up a notch. Marinate for at least 2 hours, then grill or sauté.
  • Sauté sliced chicken tenders in olive oil and garlic and add to pizza.
  • Keep grilled chicken breast or turkey slices from the deli in the fridge so you can throw them over salad greens for an easy, high-protein lunch.
  • Stir-fry or sauté your chicken and add any of these other Magic foods: curry powder (its Magic ingredient is turmeric); broccoli; peaches; apples; almonds, peanuts, or cashews; sesame seeds; spinach; tomatoes; onions; and garlic.
  • Whip up a tasty bowl of chicken fried rice with cooked brown rice, chicken breast strips, egg, sliced scallions, chopped red bell pepper, soy sauce, ground ginger, and crushed garlic. Quickly stir-fry in canola oil.
  • Make a light version of chicken salad by using half low-fat mayo and half fat-free yogurt. Add scallions, dill, mustard, and lemon juice for extra flavor. Serve over fresh crunchy lettuce.

Smart Substitutions
Instead of beef meatballs: Make yours turkey meatballs, and you’ll get great taste with fewer calories and less saturated fat.

Instead of beef chili: Try turkey chili.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest