Eating chicken as part of a balanced diet can help control cholesterol levels. However, this depends on the part of the chicken a person consumes and how they prepare it.

Cholesterol is necessary for healthy body function, but too much can cause serious health problems. The liver naturally produces cholesterol in adequate amounts to fuel cell growth and hormone production, among other processes. Humans take in additional cholesterol through their diet. Dairy and meat, including poultry, all have cholesterol, which can potentially increase levels to unhealthy ranges.

Chicken is typically a lean meat with a low fat content. However, the level of cholesterol that chicken contains varies according to the part that people consume, whether the skin is present, and how a person prepares it.

This article will explore:

  • the function of cholesterol in the body
  • the health hazards of too much cholesterol
  • the cholesterol content of chicken by part
  • cholesterol levels in popular chicken dishes
  • how to lower cholesterol
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Susan Brooks-Dammann/Stocksy

Cholesterol exists in every cell of the body. The body uses it to produce hormones and vitamins and to digest foods. The body produces all the cholesterol it needs in the liver, but humans also consume dietary cholesterol through food.

When too much cholesterol enters the bloodstream, it mixes with other products and forms artery-blocking plaques. This plaque can contribute to blood clots, angina, heart attack, stroke, carotid artery disease, and peripheral artery disease.

Several factors can increase the risk of high cholesterol. It can run in families, so hereditary factors may play a role. Race can also be a factor. Black Americans often have higher cholesterol levels than white Americans, as racism, environmental stressors, and other social determinants of health can affect people in numerous ways.

Carrying excess body weight also increases a person’s risk of developing high cholesterol. Cholesterol levels usually get higher as people age.

Chicken is a lean meat if a person removes its skin. The skin on chicken can contain 80% of its total fat calories. Cholesterol levels vary by the portion of chicken a person consumes. If an individual is looking for the leanest portion of meat, they should opt for the breast.

Cholesterol levels of each part of the chicken (raw):

  • breast, 100 grams (g), without skin: 73 milligrams (mg)
  • breast, 100 g with skin: 64 mg
  • thigh, 100 g, with skin: 98 mg
  • thigh, 100 g without skin: 94 mg
  • leg, 100 g with skin: 93 mg
  • leg, 100 g, without skin: 91 mg
  • wing, 100 g: 111 mg
  • back, 100 g, meat only: 81 mg

Although cholesterol is important in the body, too much can have detrimental effects. For this reason, eating a low cholesterol diet is important for anyone interested in managing their cholesterol intake.

How a person prepares chicken can affect the amount of cholesterol it contains. For example, the same piece of chicken will have different cholesterol content depending on whether someone cooks it on a grill or breads it and fries it in oil.

Here are a few of the most popular ways to prepare chicken and their average cholesterol content:

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

There are lifestyle and medication options to lower a person’s cholesterol. A doctor may prescribe a combination of both if high cholesterol is a concern or if someone has a diagnosis of high cholesterol.

Lifestyle considerations include:

  • Diet: Limiting saturated fats and trans fats can help reduce cholesterol. Following a diet that is rich in a variety of nutritious foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats, can also help.
  • Maintaining moderate weight: Carrying excess weight and having a waist measurement over 40 inches for males and 35 inches for females creates increased risk factors. A combination of reduced high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels, high triglycerides, and increased weight puts an individual at risk for metabolic syndrome. This is a group of conditions that increases the risk of stroke, diabetes, and coronary heart disease.
  • Activity: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week.
  • Managing stress: Regular or chronic stress can increase levels of “bad” cholesterol in the cardiovascular system and lower levels of “good” cholesterol.
  • Quitting smoking: Smoking has many detrimental health effects, including raising levels of low-density lipoprotein, or bad cholesterol, and lowering HDL, or good cholesterol.

For some, medication is necessary to further supplement a treatment plan. For those with a diagnosis of familial hypercholesterolemia, an inherited form of high cholesterol, there is also a treatment called lipoprotein apheresis. During this treatment, a machine filters LDL cholesterol from the bloodstream and filters the blood back into the body.

Cholesterol forms in the body through liver function, but humans also obtain it from the food they eat. While chicken is a low fat food, it still contains cholesterol. Which part of the chicken someone consumes and how they prepare it can greatly impact how much it contains.

Chicken breasts are generally the portion of the bird featuring the lowest cholesterol content, but preparation and cooking methods can affect the amounts.

To manage cholesterol, an individual can make dietary and exercise changes, weight management, quit smoking if applicable, and manage stress. If these lifestyle management tools are not enough, there are medications and other medical interventions a person can try.