Are Chicken Thighs Healthy? Here's What a Dietitian Has to Say

Many people prefer this dark-meat chicken part, but are chicken thighs healthy? Here we take a look at chicken thigh nutrition and more.

Even though chicken thighs are endeared by many, chicken breast seems to get all of the love when it comes to healthy recipes and diets. Sure, chicken breast is a lean source of high-quality protein that is incredibly versatile and satisfying. But if you aren't a chicken breast lover, you may be wondering if opting for a thigh is an equally good-for-you choice—or if it is better to just skip the bird altogether.

If you are a dark meat lover, you know that there aren't many things that taste as good as biting into a piece of juicy and flavorful chicken thigh. And with a little know-how, enjoying them as part of an overall healthy diet is entirely possible.

A chicken thigh is a super-tender and flavorful protein source that is a fantastic addition to dishes like casseroles, gumbos and pasta dishes. Unfortunately, chicken thighs have gotten a bad rap over the years. While it is true that the thigh does contain more fat than its white meat counterparts, this cut of meat has somehow become labeled as a lesser choice if you are following a healthy diet and lifestyle.

Thankfully, we now know that chicken thighs contain a slew of good-for-you nutrients and can absolutely be a healthy addition to your diet.

Chicken Thigh Nutrition

Here's the nutrition information for a 3-ounce serving of skinless chicken thigh, per the USDA:

  • 164 calories
  • 9 grams fat
  • 2.4 g saturated fat
  • 0 g carbohydrates
  • 20 g protein
  • 20 micrograms selenium
  • 223 milligrams potassium
  • 1.7 mg zinc
  • 0.4 mcg vitamin B12
  • 0.9 mg iron

If you don't remove the skin before you chow down, for a roasted chicken thigh, you will consume 182 calories, 12 grams of fat and 3.5 grams of saturated fat per 3-ounce serving, according to the USDA.

Chicken is considered to be a complete protein, meaning that it contains all nine essential amino acids that our bodies cannot make on their own. Plus, all cuts of chicken, including thighs, have tryptophan, an amino acid that is responsible for raising serotonin, or the "feel good" neurochemical that can help support a healthy mood, according to a 2021 review in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences.

And if you are using chicken thighs in your beloved chicken soup when you are feeling under the weather, you will be giving your body important hydration from the broth along with immune-supporting nutrients like zinc.

Lemon Chicken-and-Egg Soup
Leigh Beisch

Pictured Recipe: Lemon Chicken-and-Egg Soup

Are Chicken Thighs Healthy?

Finding ways to consume nutrient-dense and cost-effective foods can be a challenge for many people. And while it is true that chicken thighs tend to contain more fat and cholesterol than the breast meat (which has 3 grams total fat and 0.7 gram saturated fat per 3-ounce serving, per the USDA), both can can easily fit into the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommendations for fat intake. This ranges from 20% to 35% of total calories from fat, with 10% or less of total calories coming from saturated fat.

Not to mention, chicken thighs are often a more affordable alternative to other meat or fish products, making them a great source of protein if you are on a budget. According to a 2020 review in the Journal of Obesity & Metabolic Syndrome, eating foods that contain protein can support weight-management goals. Protein can also support bone health, among many other potential benefits, per a 2019 review in Nutrition Today.

Ultimately, chicken thighs can be a healthy addition to your diet as long as they're prepared in a good-for-you way. If you are trying to limit your fat intake, prepare chicken thighs in ways that don't use much added oil, like grilling, baking or stir-frying. Also be mindful of the sodium that you add during cooking. Herbs and spices are a great salt-free way to boost a dish's flavor. Pair chicken thighs with whole grains and vegetables to balance out the nutrition and give your meal more staying power.

The Bottom Line

If you are on team dark meat and prefer the taste of juicy chicken thighs to that of leaner chicken breast, feel free to enjoy it. Between their protein and the boatload of nutrients that they provide, including chicken thighs in an overall healthy diet is A-OK. Just focus on trying to prepare the thighs in a healthy way and pairing them with vegetables and whole grains for extra staying power. With recipes like our Honey-Garlic Chicken Thighs with Carrots & Broccoli or Skillet Lemon Chicken & Potatoes with Kale, you can enjoy a nutrient-packed meal that is both simple and satisfying.

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