Broiler chicken is commercially bred and raised chicken that is widely and quite cheaply available across India and the world. And yet, a popular food myth suggests that broiler chicken is unhealthy due to a number of reasons and should not be consumed. Here are some food science facts that can dispel these myths.
If you are non-vegetarian and eat chicken then you must have come across the many rumours that broiler chicken is unhealthy, especially when compared to free-range chickens. The myth is that broiler chicken is given growth hormone injections, which means that if you consume this broiler chicken the growth hormones will enter your bloodstream and impact your health negatively. In fact, many even believe that these broiler chickens are therefore nutritionally insufficient and compromised and should be avoided as much as possible.
But have you ever wondered if food science actually supports this belief?
In a recent post, food myth-buster and author Krish Ashok explained in detail how the idea that growth hormones given to broiler chicken can impact human health is ridiculous and false for many reasons. A closer look at guidelines and reports by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) as well as multiple studies conducted around the world actually prove that broiler chicken is not bad for health, even if it is given growth hormones—which it really isn’t in India.
Video Credit: YouTube/Sanjeev Kapoor Khazana
Understanding Broiler Chicken vs Free-Range Chicken
For those unaware, broiler chicken is any chicken which has been bred particularly to provide meat to the poultry industry. These broiler chickens are selectively bred in commercial setups like poultry farms until they are roughly four to 14 weeks of age (depending on the poultry farmer’s breed and weight targets). At this point, they are sold out to butchers and slaughtered for human consumption. The idea behind broiler chickens is therefore to provide people with quality chicken meat which weighs and tastes roughly the same while providing ample nutrients.
This is the reason why broiler chickens are bred and raised in very controlled environments and have minimal to no outdoor access. Free-range or organic chickens on the other hand, are not bred and raised in such controlled environments and have plenty of outdoor access. Does this difference in how broiler chicken and free-range chicken are raised also lead to major differences in the amount of nutrition we get from each?
According to a 2017 study published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Food Science and Technology, reveals that free-range chicken may have a bit more protein in the thigh cut because these birds get more exercise. On the other hand, broiler chickens have a slightly higher fat levels in the thigh and drumstick cuts, which may add to their taste. But overall, the nutritional content of free-range and broiler chickens is roughly the same. This means that the idea that broiler chicken is nutritionally unhealthier than free-range chicken is simply not true.
About Growth Hormones In Broiler Chicken
So, given that broiler chicken is in no way worse than free-range chicken, let us address the other myth around the product—which is that broiler chickens are given growth hormones to help them grow large and eating them can expose our bodies to the same hormones. Here, a simple understanding of how the human digestive system works is all you need to begin with.
When we eat any food, whether it be broiler chicken or any other ingredient, it does not automatically enter our bloodstream. Instead, the food is broken down in the digestive system, where the liver, small intestines and other organs also release related enzymes. It is after food is broken down completely that it enters the bloodstream in the form of glucose and other bioactive compounds which get synthesised to make macronutrients and micronutrients like proteins, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
So, even if hormones or antibiotics were given to the broiler chicken while rearing, this does not mean that the same compounds will enter our bloodstream. They will be broken down and utilised as per our own body’s metabolism and needs. Further, as Krish Ashok points out, avian growth hormones are not the same as human growth hormones, so even if you do eat broiler chicken that has been given growth hormones, it won’t impact your health because those hormones won’t work the same way for you.
Beyond this, the biggest nail in the coffin where this myth about broiler chicken and growth hormone injections is provided by the FSSAI itself. In an announcement dated July 2, 2015, the FSSAI revealed that the use of antibiotics, growth hormones and artificial enhancers are either strictly regulated or completely banned. In fact, while the limited use of antibiotics to keep the chicken disease-free is allowed to licensed poultry farmers in India, growth hormones are completely banned. Even when letting poultry or other meats from other countries to be sold in India, the FSSAI asks the exporters to issue certificates that state clearly that these Indian requirements are met.
So, the very notion that broiler chicken produced in India have growth hormones that impact avian health and human health is completely busted by recent food science studies and the FSSAI. The fact of the matter is that protein deficiency is a major concern in India, and broiler chicken is an excellent source of this and other nutrients in a pocket-friendly manner. And while food safety should always be a concern for all, believing in myths like this about foods like broiler chicken can perhaps do more harm than good.