What’s in your Chicken?

January 26, 2011

By Terry Smiljanich:

The next time you pick up some nice plump chicken or turkey breasts at the supermarket, labeled “All Natural,” look further and see if it is also “enhanced.” Sounds good, right? Well, not so fast.

USDA regulations allow poultry suppliers to “enhance” their products with injections of salt and water and still call them “all natural.” This additional salt water does add flavor to the meat, and makes it look nice and plump, but at a cost to your health and budget.

Too much salt in your diet can be a serious detriment to your health. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the maximum recommended daily amount of sodium you should consume is no more than 2300 milligrams (that’s 2.3 grams) for healthy adults, and only 1500 milligrams of sodium if you are diabetic, have high blood pressure or kidney problems, or are African-American, middle aged or older.

A serving of “enhanced” poultry can have up to 540 milligrams of added salt. For a healthy young adult, that amounts to about 25% of your recommended maximum intake. For those in risk categories, it is 36% of your recommended allowance. Not noticing that the chicken thighs you have purchased (or consumed at a fast food restaurant) are already eating up much of your recommended maximum can easily lead to dangerous levels of sodium in your diet.

Hidden Salt in “All Natural “

Yet how many people know that “all natural” and “enhanced” chicken or turkey have these large amounts of hidden salt?

In addition, whatever price per pound you are paying for that poultry includes extra salt and water, about 15% of its total weight. It has been estimated that Americans are paying more than$2 billion per year for this salt water in their chicken consumption. Turkey is also often sold “enhanced,” adding more to this yearly cost to consumers for what is mostly water.

Only “organic” chicken and chicken that is not labeled “enhanced” do not have this injected salt.

So carefully look at that package of poultry you are thinking of buying. Is it “enhanced?” Can you afford the extra sodium in your diet? Does paying for all that salty water make sense?

There are other ways the poultry we eat is enhanced in one way or another. Over the past 80 years American full grown turkeys have increased from an average size of 13 pounds to 29 pounds, due to selective breading for bigger and bigger birds. All this growth, particularly in their breasts, has made it impossible for most full grown male turkeys to have sex with females, giving rise to the widespread need for artificial insemination of poultry. But that’s another whole story.