Dr. Andrea Middleton - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Andrea Middleton

Are Chicken Thighs Bad For You?



Short answer

Chicken thighs, when consumed in moderation and prepared using healthy methods like grilling or baking, are not bad for you. They are rich in protein, B vitamins, and important minerals. Although they have more fat, including saturated fat, than chicken breasts, they can still fit into a balanced diet. It's advisable to opt for skinless thighs to reduce fat intake and be mindful of cholesterol if you have heart health concerns.



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Long answer

Nutritional Content of Chicken Thighs

Chicken thighs are a popular choice for those seeking a cost-effective and flavorful alternative to leaner cuts of poultry, such as chicken breast. The nutritional composition of chicken thighs includes a combination of macronutrients (fats, proteins, and carbohydrates), vitamins, and minerals essential for maintaining good health. Understanding the detailed nutritional content helps consumers make informed dietary choices.

Protein is a vital macronutrient for the body's various functions, including muscle repair and growth. A typical serving of skinless chicken thighs provides a generous amount of high-quality protein. According to the USDA, a 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of cooked, skinless chicken thigh contains approximately 26 grams of protein. This amount can significantly contribute to the recommended dietary intake for adults, which varies depending on age, sex, and level of physical activity.

In addition to protein, chicken thighs are well-known for their higher fat content compared to chicken breasts. The same serving size contains about 9 grams of fat, in which 2.6 grams are saturated. Despite being higher in fats, the presence of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats contributes positively to cardiovascular health when consumed in moderation.

Chicken thighs are also a source of essential vitamins and minerals. They are particularly rich in B vitamins such as niacin (B3), which supports enzyme function and energy production, and vitamin B6, crucial for metabolism and brain health. Minerals present in chicken thighs include selenium, phosphorus, zinc, and iron; these support immune function, bone health, and oxygen transport, respectively. Here is a breakdown of key nutrients per 100 grams of cooked skinless chicken thigh:

Nutrient Amount
Calories 209
Protein 26 g
Total Fat 9 g
Saturated Fat 2.6 g
Monounsaturated Fat 3.8 g
Polyunsaturated Fat 2 g
Cholesterol 138 mg
Niacin (B3) 6.5 mg
Vitamin B6 0.5 mg
Selenium 26.3 µg
Phosphorus 196 mg
Zinc 2.4 mg
Iron 1.3 mg

Though these nutrients make chicken thighs seem like an excellent choice for a nutritious meal, it's also important to consider the cholesterol content. Chicken thighs contain a higher amount of cholesterol compared to other parts of the chicken. The American Heart Association recommends watching cholesterol intake to maintain heart health, suggesting that individuals should eat no more than 300 mg of cholesterol per day.

The way chicken thighs are prepared can also have a significant influence on their final nutritional profile. Grilling, baking, or braising are healthier cooking methods that preserve the nutrient content without adding excess fat. Meanwhile, frying chicken thighs can increase the fat content, particularly if the skin is left on. The addition of heavy sauces or marinades can also add calories and sodium which might affect the overall healthiness of the meal.

In summary, when consumed in moderation and prepared using healthy cooking methods, chicken thighs can be a nutritious component of a balanced diet. Their rich nutrient content, particularly in protein and essential minerals, can support various body functions and provide a satiating, flavorsome experience in culinary applications.

Comparison Between Chicken Thighs and Chicken Breasts

When debating the health implications of chicken thighs versus chicken breasts, it's critical to examine the nutrient profile of each. Understanding the differences may help you make informed dietary choices based on your personal health goals and nutritional needs.

Nutrient Content: Chicken breasts are renowned for their high protein content and lower fat content when compared to thighs. This makes them a popular choice for individuals looking to increase protein intake without significantly raising fat consumption. Chicken thighs, while also rich in protein, contain a higher amount of fat, particularly saturated fat. However, they also offer a richer source of certain vitamins and minerals.

Caloric Comparison: A 3-ounce serving of skinless chicken breast contains about 140 calories and 3 grams of fat, whereas the same serving of skinless chicken thighs contains about 170 calories and 9 grams of fat. The calorie difference is primarily due to the higher fat content in the thighs.

Flavor and Preparation: Due to the higher fat content, chicken thighs often have a more robust flavor and moister texture than breast meat. This can influence the cooking method and the need for additional ingredients, which can affect the nutritional value of the prepared dish.

Recommended Servings: The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend lean proteins, and while both cuts can be part of a healthy diet, portion control is important, especially when consuming the higher-fat chicken thighs.

Taste Preference and Diet Variability: Personal preference and dietary restrictions play significant roles in choosing between chicken thighs and breasts. Those adhering to a ketogenic diet, for instance, may prefer the higher fat content of thighs, while someone following a low-fat diet would likely choose breast meat.

In summary, neither chicken thighs nor breasts are inherently "bad" for you, but they do offer different nutritional values that should be considered within the context of your overall dietary pattern.

Reference studies:

  • A study conducted by the USDA has provided a detailed comparison of the nutrient content in various cuts of chicken.
  • The American Heart Association provides guidelines on recommended fat intake, which can be considered when choosing between chicken thighs and breasts.
  • Dietary research published in the "Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics" often highlights the role of lean meats in a balanced diet, applicable to the chicken breast preference.

Expert opinions:

  • Nutritionists often emphasize the importance of considering overall dietary fat intake when choosing between cuts of chicken, with particular attention to saturated fat and its influence on heart health.
  • Culinary experts may note that while chicken thighs are higher in fat, they also contribute to a richer flavor in recipes, which may reduce the need for additional fats or oils during cooking.

Saturated Fat and Cholesterol in Chicken Thighs: A Deep Dive

When we look at the nutritional content of chicken thighs, it becomes clear that they hold a mix of both beneficial and less desirable components. Let's delve into the saturated fat and cholesterol content, which are often subjects of dietary scrutiny.

Firstly, chicken thighs are known to have a higher fat content compared to chicken breasts. This is mainly due to the fact that thigh meat comes from a part of the chicken that is more active and thus has more connective tissue and fat. A skinless, cooked chicken thigh typically contains around 7 grams of total fat, with 2 grams being saturated fat. Consuming skin-on chicken thighs significantly ramps up these figures, where the saturated fat content can double or even triple, depending on the size of the thigh and cooking method.

The dietary guidelines suggest limiting saturated fat intake to less than 10% of calories per day. For a 2000-calorie diet, this translates to about 22 grams of saturated fat per day. By comparing this guideline with the saturated fat content in chicken thighs, it's apparent that they can fit into a balanced diet if consumed in moderation and prepared with methods that don’t add extra fat, like grilling or baking.

As for cholesterol, a single skinless chicken thigh contains approximately 95 milligrams of cholesterol. The current dietary guidelines no longer set a specific limit for dietary cholesterol for healthy adults, as research has shown that dietary cholesterol is not as closely linked to blood cholesterol levels as once thought. However, individuals with hyperlipidemia, particularly those with compelling risks for heart disease or stroke, are still advised by the American Heart Association to be cautious of their cholesterol intake.

It's essential to consider individual dietary needs when assessing the saturated fat and cholesterol in chicken thighs. For someone with a heart condition or high cholesterol, consuming leaner cuts of meat like chicken breast may be more appropriate. Conversely, someone engaging in a higher-fat diet, such as a ketogenic diet, may find chicken thighs to be a suitable choice.

Evidence suggests that the type of fat is also important. Chicken thighs contain monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which are considered heart-healthier options. These fats can potentially help in the reduction of bad cholesterol levels when they replace saturated fats in the diet.

A study published in the "Journal of the American Medical Association" indicates that not all saturated fats have the same health impact. The presence of stearic acid, a type of saturated fat found in chicken, is often metabolized by the body differently than saturated fat from red meat, and it may have a neutral or even beneficial effect on heart health.

In summary, while chicken thighs do contain higher levels of saturated fat and cholesterol compared to some other parts of the chicken, they can still be part of a balanced diet. It's advisable to consider how chicken thighs fit into the overall dietary pattern, and to prioritize cooking methods that do not add additional fat. Individuals with specific health conditions should follow the guidance of their healthcare provider or a registered dietitian nutritionist when including chicken thighs in their meal planning.

Cooking Methods and Their Impact on Health

When it comes to poultry, the method by which chicken thighs are cooked can significantly influence their health effects. Different cooking techniques can alter the nutritional profile of chicken, impacting the calorie, fat, and nutrient content, as well as the formation of harmful compounds. It's essential to consider not only the part of the chicken we eat but also how we prepare it to make informed dietary choices.

Baking or Roasting

Baking or roasting chicken thighs in the oven can be one of the healthier cooking options. This method requires minimal added fats and can help to render out some of the excess fat found within the skin and meat. Also, baking allows for the inclusion of a variety of herbs and spices, enhancing flavor without increasing calorie content. A study published in the Journal of Food Science suggests that oven-roasting poultry can help retain more antioxidants and nutrients compared to deep-frying.


Grilling imparts a smoky flavor and can be a method that requires little to no added fat. However, it's important to be cautious with grilling temperatures. High-heat grilling can lead to the formation of heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are compounds associated with increased cancer risk according to research from the National Cancer Institute. To minimize these risks, marinate chicken thighs prior to grilling, which has been shown to reduce the formation of these compounds, as mentioned in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.


The nutritional drawbacks of frying are widely recognized, particularly deep frying. This cooking method can significantly increase the fat and calorie content of chicken thighs. Moreover, frying at high temperatures can produce trans fatty acids, a type of fat linked to heart disease. Additionally, when chicken is fried, particularly if breaded and fried in reused oil, the potential for creating advanced glycation end products (AGEs) arises, which have been implicated in the development of chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Nutrition experts often recommend limiting fried foods in the diet for these reasons.

Boiling or Poaching

Boiling or poaching chicken thighs can be a health-conscious choice, as these methods do not introduce additional fat into the dish. Nutrients do leach into the cooking water, but this can be viewed positively if the liquid is consumed as part of a soup or broth, thus retaining the nutrients. Boiling, according to a study in the International Journal of Gastronomy and Food Science, can also result in the reduction of fat content in meat, making it a leaner option.

Sous Vide

Sous vide is a cooking technique that involves vacuum-sealing food in a bag and cooking it to a precise temperature in a water bath. This method can be beneficial as it requires no additional fats and can preserve nutrients and moisture within the chicken thighs. While research on sous vide and its effects on health is still emerging, early indications in the International Journal of Gastronomy and Food Science suggest that this method may lead to minimal nutrient loss and the retention of natural flavors.

In conclusion, how you cook your chicken thighs plays a crucial role in determining their healthfulness. Methods such as baking, roasting, grilling (with caution), boiling, poaching, and sous vide offer healthier alternatives to frying, particularly deep frying. By preferring techniques that minimize added fats, avoid high-temperature cooking, and preserve the nutritional quality of the chicken, you can incorporate chicken thighs into a balanced diet without significant health drawbacks.

Role of Chicken Thighs in a Balanced Diet

When it comes to incorporating chicken thighs into a balanced diet, it's important to consider their nutritional profile in comparison to other parts of the chicken. While they are often touted for their flavor, chicken thighs hold both benefits and drawbacks nutritionally.

One of the critical aspects of chicken thighs is their macronutrient composition—rich in protein, which is essential for muscle repair, immune function, and overall health. Chicken thighs offer a more calorie-dense option due to their higher fat content. However, it's exactly this fat that provides the juiciness and richer flavor compared to chicken breasts.

It's also important to note that chicken thighs contain valuable micronutrients such as zinc, iron, and B vitamins, particularly niacin and vitamin B6, which play vital roles in energy metabolism and neurological health. When skinless, chicken thighs can be an acceptable part of a diet focused on lean proteins, but with the skin, they can contribute to increased intake of saturated fats.

In terms of a balanced diet, moderation is key. Chicken thighs can be included as a part of a healthy eating pattern if they are prepared using cooking methods that do not add excessive amounts of fat, such as baking, grilling, or sautéing with minimal oil.

For individuals monitoring their calorie or fat intake for weight management or to control certain health conditions like heart disease, skinless chicken thighs are a better option. They provide the nutritional benefits of meat while keeping the calorie and fat content in check.

Let's break down the role of chicken thighs in a balanced diet by considering:

  • Portion Size: Eating chicken thighs in appropriate portions helps manage calorie and fat intake while still enjoying their flavor.
  • Frequency: Including chicken thighs occasionally in your meals can diversify your protein sources without significantly impacting your dietary fat limit.
  • Preparation Method: Opt for cooking methods that do not add extra fat. Steaming, broiling, and baking are healthier options than frying.
  • Skin-on vs. Skinless: Choosing skinless thighs can reduce the overall fat content, making it a leaner option.

Balance is indeed the cornerstone of any healthy diet, and chicken thighs can find their place within that balance. By understanding and applying these concepts, chicken thighs can be part of a nutritionally sound meal plan that supports health and wellness goals.

When planning meals with chicken thighs, it's also worth considering the botanical diversity of the accompanying foods. Pairing them with a variety of vegetables, whole grains, and legumes can offset the higher fat content and ensure a well-rounded meal. This not only provides a spectrum of essential vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber but also supports overall dietary balance.

Frequently asked questions

Chicken thighs are an excellent source of protein, with a 3.5-ounce serving providing about 26 grams of high-quality protein, making them comparable to other meats. They offer the added benefit of certain B vitamins and minerals, essential for various bodily functions.

Yes, chicken thighs can be included in a heart-healthy diet when consumed in moderation and prepared using methods that limit additional fats, such as baking or grilling. Opting for skinless thighs can also reduce saturated fat intake. Balancing your diet with plenty of vegetables, whole grains, and other lean proteins is essential.

Cooking methods greatly affect the healthiness of chicken thighs. Healthier options like baking, roasting, and grilling without excess oil retain nutrients and minimize added fats. Frying, especially deep frying, increases the fat and calorie content and may create harmful chemicals linked to health risks.

While chicken thighs do contain cholesterol, dietary cholesterol has a more complex relationship with blood cholesterol levels than previously thought. For those concerned about cholesterol, it is advisable to eat skinless thighs in moderation, choose healthier cooking methods, and consult with a healthcare provider or dietitian.

Ask a question about Chicken Thighs and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible long-term side effects

  • increased cholesterol
  • higher saturated fat intake

Ingredients to be aware of


  • high-quality protein
  • rich in b vitamins
  • essential minerals
  • supports muscle repair
  • immune function boost
  • energy metabolism
  • neurological health

Healthier alternatives

  • grilling
  • baking
  • braising
  • boiling
  • poaching
  • sous vide

Our Wellness Pick (what is this?)

Fresh Chicken Breast Fillets

  • 100% Natural
  • Boneless & Skinless
  • High in protein
  • Versatile cooking options
  • Minimally processed
Learn More!

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 12-30-2023

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 12-30-2023

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