When you think of the top foods enjoyed by the American South, you might think of grits, cornbread, BBQ brisket, and you can’t forget about the gold standard…fried chicken!
Fried chicken is a classic main course that is enjoyed at picnics, dinner tables, and backyard BBQs across the United States and across the rest of the world. But is fried chicken a healthy diabetes food?
Let’s explore that now…
Is Fried Chicken Healthy?
How is fried chicken different than a regular old chicken breast? What is it that makes that golden, crispy goodness so irresistible?
Fried chicken is different from your average chicken breast, thigh, or drumstick in two ways.
First, it’s been battered or coated with seasoned flour, which gives it that flaky outer layer and peppy flavor.
Next, as the name implies, that battered chicken is fried. Typically, fried chicken is deep-fried in searing hot peanut, canola, or mixed vegetable oil. This frying process is what gives fried chicken that deeply satisfying crunch when you bite into it.
Based on this method of cooking, you can probably see why fried chicken won’t be appearing on anyone’s “top 10 healthiest foods” list.
Unfortunately, the combination of the processed carbohydrates (batter) and inflammatory fats (poor quality vegetable oil) is a recipe for elevated blood sugar (and maybe a little heart-burn, too)!
So we know that fried chicken can be pretty carb-heavy, but how bad is it?
Let’s compare and contrast a few different kinds of chicken.
This chart shows the nutrition facts for three kinds of fried chicken breast and two kinds of grilled chicken breast. Do you see any obvious differences?
The grilled chicken breasts are much lower in calories, but more importantly, the grilled chicken has zero carbs while the fried chicken options range from 9 to 18g of net carbs per serving.
When you’re on a low carb diet, ultra-processed carbs like the breading on a bucket of fried chicken is not how you want to “spend” your carb allotment. When you do consume carbs, it’s best to enjoy whole-food carbs that also provide a lot of nutrients like low-sugar fruits, non-starchy vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole fat dairy products and others.
You may take a look at this chart and wonder if you’re only allowed to eat grilled chicken and if all fried chicken is off-limits. Grilled chicken is a great source of lean, wholesome protein, but you don’t have to stick to that only.
Don’t worry, fried chicken fanatics, there are a few ways to make fried chicken a little bit healthier…
How to Make Fried Chicken Healthier
The three things that typically make fried chicken unhealthy are the processed carbs (breading), the inflammatory fats (frying oil), and the sugary dipping sauces that you might dip your chicken into for some extra flavor.
You can make adjustments to all three of these factors and make a homemade version of fried chicken that is a little more healthful.
Simply switch out the regular wheat-flour breading/batter and use a low carb flour instead. Almond flour and coconut flour are good lower-carb baking flours you can use.
Just stay away from high carb grain-based flours such as wheat, rice, barley, oat, and corn flour.
Ground nuts can also make a good breading option. And, if you don’t mind shopping online, you can find some low carb breading options.
Skip the Deep Frying
This may sound like an oxymoron, but you can actually make “fried chicken” without dunking it deep-frying oil. You can turn down the grease factor and spare yourself some empty calories by air frying your breaded chicken. There are many types of air fryers available now.
You can achieve a brown and crispy fired chicken by popping it into a countertop air fryer or you can simply use a regular oven. Some toaster ovens also have an “air fryer” setting.
To air fry in a standard oven, you’ll need either an air frying basket or a perforated pan that has holes underneath it to allow the hot air to circulate.
Be sure to spread the pieces of chicken apart from each other on the pan so they don’t touch and set a reminder to turn the food over halfway through cooking to get a nice crispy outer layer.
Choose Sauces Wisely
You might be surprised at just how much sugar can be packed into just one or two tablespoons of your favorite dipping sauce or condiment.
If you plan on using sauce to turn up the flavor on your fried chicken, then choose your sauces carefully to avoid doubling the amount of carbs you’re consuming.
Look for options that have less than 2 g of added sugar per serving.
Buffalo sauce, mustards, and stevia-sweetened ketchups tend to be low in carbs. Finding a low sugar BBQ sauce in stores can be a little more challenging but they are available if you know what to look for. There are also plenty of tasty online options to try, or you can always make your own sauces at home.
Low Carb Fried Chicken Recipe
Give our Herbed Nut Crusted Chicken a try. It’s oven baked and super delicious; and feel free to swap and change the ingredients to experiment!
Sure, lower carb versions aren’t going to be the same as your regular fried chicken, but as a diabetic, your blood sugar levels will sure be happier. And you can make super tasty options.
Make sure you get a copy of our food list while you’re here – there’s more recipes inside too!