By Mary Parsons, MS, RD
When surveying a restaurant menu with healthy goals in mind, we often gravitate toward two words: grilled chicken! Its reputation as a reliable healthy choice is well-deserved: chicken breast is a good source of lean protein, and grilling is a go-to cooking technique for creating great flavor without relying on much added fat. But what amount of calories and fat can you expect from a grilled chicken breast entree? To answer this question, it’s important to consider that not all chicken breasts are created equally.
The first variable is serving size; a single cooked chicken breast can range anywhere from a modest 4 ounces to a monstrous half pound. One 5 ounce serving of plain, boneless/skinless chicken breast – without any marinade or seasoning – has about 230 calories and 5 grams of fat (with only 1.5 grams saturated fat). This is a reasonable size for an entree portion – any larger and you may want to consider packing up half of your meal to save for later.
But even if a restaurant is serving a 5 ounce breast, can we really expect that amount of calories to arrive on our plate? If only it were that simple! Don’t forget to pay attention to seasonings, sauces and the side dishes that accompany your entree; these extras can add up quickly. In general, some of the more nutritious choices for toppings are salsas, vinaigrette, and marinara sauces.
And what about the health-conscious diner’s faithful standby – the grilled chicken salad? A bed of lettuce is a good start, but what else is in the bowl? Cheese, bacon, croutons, crunchy tortillas, heavy dressings? Ingredients high in saturated fat, sodium, and refined carbohydrates can sabotage your healthy efforts! To maximize the health of your grilled chicken salad, ask for dressing on the side and choose salads that get their flavor from an abundance of fresh vegetables rather than added fats and salts.