Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Is the Chicken You Eat Carrying Too Much Water Weight?

Does your chicken carry a lot of water weight?

Anyone who has ever been on a serious diet knows the meaning of water weight. It’s the weight you lose that first week or two after you’ve restricted your regular eating to baby carrots with dip and low-sodium chicken broth. Five pounds in a week! You can get the same results after a few days of the stomach bug. It’s just water and it soon returns. Water weighs a lot. I can attest to this every winter when I forget to drain the hose and end up hauling five gallon buckets of water from the pump to the barn.

So what does water weight have to do with chicken? Let me tell you.

If you’ve ever priced organically grown, grass-fed chicken you’ve probably been a little frightened by the sticker price. It is expensive. Plus it’s a little on the scrawny side, too. The first time I brought home a $30 chicken, my husband took one look at it and asked if we were having Cornish hens for dinner. I purchased this chicken at the farmer’s market from Lynn, whose farm I have visited where she regaled me with stories of her early days of raising hundreds of chickens and turkeys on their wooded property as a single mom to the horror of her teenage son. This chicken looked perfectly fine to me, but it certainly wasn’t plump and pink and perfect like the meat that stretches the plastic at the grocery store.

Want to know why? 

Water. Most “all natural” chicken breasts you buy at the grocery store not only come from chickens that were fed a hopped up diet and spent their days crammed in a house with tens of thousands of other chickens, but once butchered they were also shot full of salt water. This added water, salt, and sometimes sugar makes them look plump and pretty plus it keeps them moist even when overcooked, and adds flavor that is lost without a free-range diet. One serving of traditional store-bought chicken will give you enough sodium for the day - and the next one after that. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, “Chicken breasts, pork tenderloins, or other foods enhanced with a salt-water solution can have more than five times as much sodium as occurs naturally in those foods.” 

Maybe you don’t mind a little extra salt and water in your bird, but maybe you would mind a little extra E. coli in your chicken meat. Needle-injected meat has been red-flagged by the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) as a high-risk carrier of E.coli. But not to worry – FSIS recommends (but does not require) processors apply “an allowed antimicrobial agent to the surface of the product prior to processing.” So not to worry, you’ll get a serving of antiseptic with that chicken.

So how do you know if your chicken has been pumped full of salt water? Lucky for us the law requires that processors reveal this information. You’ll find it in the teeny-tiny print most likely lost under the folds of plastic that says: “Contains up to 15% broth.” And don’t imagine that the label is referring to the same thing that you and I think of as broth. This broth isn’t something your grandmother simmered on the stove all day, this broth may contain salt, sugar, and seaweed (carrageenan), but certainly no chicken juices or herbs and spices.

And it’s not just chicken that gets pumped. Beware of the same process on beef and pork. Read the labels. All-natural, fresh, 100% beef are labels you can find on these same products. USDA estimates that 30% of poultry, 15% of beef, and 90% of pork contain added solutions. You’ll find corn syrup and sugar listed in the ingredients of just about every hot dog or processed meat you pick up.

What’s a shopper to do? Well, I’d recommend you find a new meat source. Check out Local Harvest to find suppliers of grass-fed and naturally raised meat in your area. If the price tag of grass-fed meats is beyond your budget, shop for meat at your local butcher. But be sure to ask him if any salt water or sugar is added to the meat he sells.

One more thought – when it comes to meat many of us are eating too much of it. We’ve been raised in a society that teaches us that we need meat at every meal when in reality most of us eat nearly twice the protein we need on a given day. There are health risks that come with overloading on protein. Want to know how much protein you should be eating? Read this.

Maybe the best plan is to eat less meat, but eat better meat. Meat that is naturally grown and carries no water weight.

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