Back when "The Price is Right" first aired, Americans were eating fewer than 20 pounds of chicken per year. Flash forward 54 years and our annual chicken poundage has jumped closer to 60. That’s an increase of more than 300 percent.
So what accounts for the hike? Obesity, heart disease, diabetes — you name it. As studies began linking fatty diets to a litany of maladies, meat eaters started looking for an alternative to beef, and chicken farmers began cranking out the birds. Not long after, pork was relegated to its inferior position as “the other white meat.”
But as chicken sales took flight, there was another trend dominating American eating habits. That was the growth of a monolithic restaurant industry that now pulls in about half of our total food dollars. And the battle to get the biggest share of those dollars led to some unsettling practices. Innovative restaurateurs began adding flavor by injecting salt and monosodium glutamate. They rolled chicken in breading, dropped it in hot grease, marinated it in oil, and smothered it with cream and butter — all the while still promoting the idea of a “healthy” alternative to beef. And get this: According to "Eat This, Not That!" research, the average piece of chicken has 266 percent more fat than it did in 1971, while its protein content has dropped one-third!
Looks like we should have listened to Alfred Hitchcock. When he filmed “The Birds” in 1963, just as chicken sales were starting to climb, he must have been trying to warn us about what we were up against: killer birds. Don’t believe it? Take a look at the sorry state of chicken today, compliments of the best-selling “Eat This, Not That!” series.
Worst chicken sandwich
Chili’s Buffalo Chicken Ranch Sandwich
- 1,560 calories
- 86 g fat (14 g saturated)
- 4,010 mg sodium
Take a minute to free associate. What comes to mind when you hear “chicken sandwich”? A light-and-healthy dinner? A good post-workout lunch? Both of those sound about right. But here’s where this sandwich veers from expectations: It sucks up three-fourths of your day’s calorie allotment. Plus it exceeds your daily recommendation for both fat and sodium. That’s what you call a dirty bird.
Equivalent: This dish has as many calories as in 7 scoops of Haagen-Dazs Five Vanilla Bean ice cream
Eat this instead!
Guiltless Grill Grilled Chicken Sandwich w/Veggies
- 610 calories
- 12 g fat (5 g saturated)
- 1,310 mg sodium
Worst chicken rice dish
Applebee’s Crispy Orange Chicken Bowl
- 1,880 calories
- 13 g saturated fat
- 4,250 mg sodium
Applebee’s is making strides toward a healthier menu, but as of yet the chain still has a lot of ground to cover. To its credit, it recently launched a sub-menu featuring entrees that all fall beneath 550 calories. Unfortunately, the regular menu still carries caloric catastrophes like this. For starters, the Crispy Orange Chicken Bowl delivers nearly a day’s worth of calories, but to top that, it throws in more sodium than you’d find in a dozen large orders of McDonald’s French Fries. That might be good for thawing your driveway, but it’s not so great for fueling your body. The good news: There are always healthier options.
Equivalent: There’s as much sodium in this dish as in 12 large orders of McDonald’s French Fries!
Eat This Instead!
- 700 calories
- 8 g saturated fat
- 2,420 mg sodium
Worst chicken nachos
Baja Fresh Charbroiled Chicken Nachos
- 2,020 calories
- 110 g fat (41 g saturated, 4 g trans)
- 2,980 mg sodium
Okay, so you probably already knew Nachos were trouble, but could you have ever predicted anything like this? Even if you split this dish among three of your friends, you’re each still consuming over 500 calories — and that’s before the main meal even arrives. Put it this way: If you’re looking for a Mexican chicken dish, don’t order one that comes teeming with fatty and caloric extras, like heaps of cheese and carbo-loaded chips.
Equivalent: There are more calories in this one dish than in 17 servings of Chewy Chips Ahoy chocolate chip cookies! (It’s about 2 cookies per serving, so you could say as many calories as in 34 cookies!)
Eat this instead!
Original Chicken Tacos (3)
- 630 calories
- 15 g fat (3 g saturated)
- 690 mg sodium
Worst chicken appetizer
Outback Steakhouse Alice Springs Chicken Quesadilla
- 2,141 calories
- 133 g fat (61 g saturated fat)
- 3,477 mg sodium
Video: Is that chicken making you chunky? (on this page) Since 2008 we’ve been harping on Outback to clean up its act, but so far the chain has refused. In fact, the only reason we were able to track down this nutrition information is that New York and California laws forced restaurant franchises to disclose their numbers. And only after we made it public did Outback start offering it to all its customers. A victory for nutrition? Not with numbers like these.
Equivalent: There are as many calories in this dish as in 15 White Castle burgers!
Eat this instead!
Walkabout Soup of the Day — Cup
- 281 calories
- 21 g fat (13 g saturated)
- 1,175 mg sodium
Worst chicken entree in America
The Cheesecake Factory Farfalle with Chicken and Roasted Garlic
- 2,579 calories
- 62 g saturated fat
- 1,983 mg sodium
Healthy it may sound, but chicken-in-pasta is the culinary equivalent of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. In fact, The Cheesecake Factory’s menu features fully half a dozen chicken-pasta entrees in excess of 2,000 calories apiece. That’s a full day’s energy needs in one meal. Level that with the rest of the oversized entrees and The Factory emerges as the absolute worst restaurant in the country. Which is a shame, since a healthy diet isn’t complicated.
Equivalent: There’s as much saturated fat in this dish as in 62 strips of Oscar Mayer bacon.
Eat this Instead!
One-Half Chicken Salad Sandwich
- 548 calories
- 8 g saturated fat
- 850 mg sodium
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