When You Eat Fried Chicken Every Day, This Is What Happens To Your Body

For many, the sizzling of chicken flesh as it delves into the deep fryer inspires ecstatic anticipation. In fact, as an article in Inverse explains, the psychologist Charles Spence places the sound of food close to the center of why we enjoy it: "Why else, after all, are [chips] so popular?" he writes. "It certainly cannot be for nutritional content nor is the flavor all that great when you come to think about it. Rather, the success of this product is surely all about the sonic stimulation — the crispy crunch." Inverse then proceeds to show why the act of deep frying chicken to exact crispiness is its secret ingredient, not white pepper, as Kentucky Fried Chicken claims.

The process of deep frying ensures the satisfying crunch through breading into a smooth chicken interior. However, it also creates almost every reason why you shouldn't indulge in the food too often. In 2019, the BMJ, a weekly medical journal, published an article that found an unsurprising association between fried food consumption, especially chicken and fish, and an increased risk in cardiovascular mortality (or heart disease) in women who ate at least one serving of fried chicken each day. "Poultry and fish are generally regarded as 'heart healthy' dietary choices but the process of frying changes the health consequences," Dr. Clyde Yancy, a professor at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, informed Reuters. So, we must examine what fries the chicken to see what it does to our bodies.

Breading chicken in sodium and carbs

For their fourth mistake in their list of 9 common mistakes made when cooking fried chicken, Chef Works asks if you omitted the breading: "Seriously? Why are you even making fried chicken if you're thinking about omitting the breading?" After saying that they were kidding and they understand some people may simply trying to be healthy, they reaffirm the point that the breading is central to a fried chicken's success.

The basic recipe for a breaded fried chicken dunks the meat into a flour and salt mixture. As Mel Magazine points out in a chart of healthiest to least healthy fried chicken products, this basic fried chicken on its own isn't the worst. "[Church's Chicken Original Leg] has fewest calories and is the most 'naturally-occurring' product on the list," Dana Hunnes, the dietitian with whom Mel Magazine collaborated to make the list, explains. However, the sodium level of the leg averages at 400 milligrams while the American Heart Association says the ideal daily consumption is 1,500 milligrams. So, eating more than a few legs a day could put you at risk for heart and kidney disease (especially if the rest of your diet is packed with sodium), according to World Kidney Day.

Moreover, the carbs included in the fried chicken, especially fast food versions, tend to be unrefined carbs, which doesn't digest properly and influences you to eat more than your body would naturally require by, in a 2019 study's estimate, around 500 calories, leading to weight gain and other related conditions.

Frying the chicken in trans fats

Of course, the real transformation is due to the frying. One really can't expect to let a slab of chicken soak in an oily vat without health concerns developing. However, the actual science behind fried chicken may be worse than you thought.

The bubbles that arise when the meat is submerged aren't due to the oil boiling, as Scott Andrew Paulson, a physicist at James Madison University, told NPR, "you're boiling the water very near the surface of the food" instead. As the boiled water leaves the chicken, it allows the oil to seep, suffusing the meat with even more fats and oils. Some of these oils — again, the oils typically used in a takeout place — contain artificial trans fats, which are more difficult for your body to break down than both regular fats and naturally-occurring trans fats.

An article in PubMed gives a conservative estimate that 30,000 deaths occur prematurely due to the various artery diseases caused by the excessive consumption of trans fats without any known nutritional benefits. In more grounded terms, the American Heart Association lays out the effects trans fats wreck on your body: "Trans fats raise your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and lower your good (HDL) cholesterol levels. Eating trans fats increases your risk of developing heart disease and stroke. It's also associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes." It's that feeling of your veins thickening upon seeing buckets of chicken.

Finding a fried-chicken test subject

These are a lot of somewhat abstracted physical effects. It would be helpful for us to have a person who did eat way too much fried chicken. Fortunately, we do.

In November 2019, Lad Bible reported the story of Mike Jeavons, a native of Bedfordhsire who only consumed KFC foodstuffs for a week as his own take on the experiment conducted in Supersize Me. At the end of the week, Jeavons lost 2 pounds and £136. So, the issue at first seems to be more with his wallet than his waistline. However, there are three things to keep in mind. First, unlike Supersize Me, he only consumed 2000 calories a day. The second and more important caveat was that he already started feeling ill effects by the end of the week. His salt intake increased by 150 percent and his fat by 250 percent. "After I stopped the experiment," he informed Lad Bible," the week after I felt constantly thirsty and had headaches. I also really missed KFC!" 

A possible alternative

Before we bother to burn each and every Kentucky Fried Chicken to the ground, however, we should reexamine the BMJ article. At the end, they note that the increase in mortality was not corroborated by data from the Mediterranean. Now, this does not mean that deep-frying is still healthy, but, as the BBC reports, a switch to healthier oils, like olive oil, could promote better health because a healthier oil would be entering the chicken.

After quickly cautioning that eating a Mediterranean diet means more than simply switching oils, Victoria Taylor, a senior heart health dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, told the BBC, "Participants in this study used unsaturated fats such as olive and sunflower oil to fry their food. We currently recommend swapping saturated fats like butter, lard, or palm oil for unsaturated fats as a way of keeping your cholesterol down." 

As the materials and practices that go into making a finger lickin' good fried chicken can devastate our bodies, altering these factors can do a lot to mitigate the risks while still finding a fleshy meat substance that still inspires ecstatic anticipation.