- Last month, KFC released a limited run of meatless chicken in partnership with Beyond Meat.
- The vegan chicken sold out in less than five hours, according to a news release.
- Choosing vegan fried chicken over the regular stuff is not necessarily healthier, but can help you incorporate more plant-based foods in your diet.
While KFC stayed out of the best chicken sandwich war happening on social media, they were creating a frenzy of their own. On August 27, they released a limited run of Beyond Meat Beyond Fried Chicken at one store in Atlanta. Customers could get a sample, or choose a meal of nuggets or boneless wings.
While KFC isn’t the first company to jump on the meatless trend—earlier this year, Burger King rolled out the Impossible Whopper and Dunkin’ Donuts debuted the Beyond Meat breakfast sandwich—it is the first to roll out meatless fried “chicken,” according to a statement from Beyond Meat.
It’s Kentucky Fried Chicken but it’s made with @BeyondMeat. It’s confusing, but it’s also delicious. Feast on these Kentucky Fried miracles tomorrow while they last at KFC in Atlanta, Georgia. pic.twitter.com/lC5oYM1cmk— KFC (@kfc) August 26, 2019
But, what exactly is meatless chicken, and how does it stack up nutritionally?
What is meatless chicken, and how healthy is it?
Typically, plant-based chicken is made from a mixture of pea protein, soy protein, flour, oils and seasoning. The Beyond Fried Chicken is made using non-GMO wheat protein mixed with traditional seasonings like garlic, onion and spices to enhance flavor. It is then battered, breaded, and fried, a Beyond Meat spokesperson told Runner’s World.
But if you’re looking for a healthier fast food option, opting to go meat-free won’t make the difference you may think, explains New York City-based dietitian Natalie Rizzo, M.S., R.D.
While meatless proteins tend to be lower in calories than meat-based proteins, their nutrition facts may turn out somewhat similar to meat because of the frying aspect.
“Frying is typically done in lower quality oils that have a high amount of saturated fat,” Rizzo says.
The full nutritional panel on Beyond Fried Chicken nuggets is not being released yet since they are still in the testing phase. However, a Beyond Meat spokesperson was able to give the following comparison to Runner’s World for one of its meatless nuggets versus one of KFC’s traditional popcorn nuggets:
- 60 calories vs. 90 calories
- 3 grams (g) of fat vs. 5 g of fat
- 0 milligrams (mg) of cholesterol vs. 10 mg of cholesterol
- 145 mg of sodium vs. 300 mg sodium
- 5 g protein vs. 5 g protein
(KFC was not able to provide nutritional information per each fried chicken nugget, but full nutrition information per order is available here.)
Along with picking up a dose of unhealthy fat, the frying can also cause other health concerns, too.
“When you fry any food, you’re essentially cooking it in high-calorie oil. If the oil is used over and over again, it can become oxidized, which can cause inflammation in the body,” Rizzo says.
According to research published in BMJ, eating a lot of fried foods is linked to higher chances of premature death. It also ups your risk for cardiovascular- and cancer-related deaths.
What this means is that frying meatless proteins isn’t really any healthier than frying meat-based protein.
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“I think many people are choosing the meatless chicken because of environmental or animal welfare reasons,” Rizzo says. “Even though it’s not necessarily healthier, I think it’s great since it’s persuading people to eat more plants and less meat.”
While grabbing fried food in any capacity doesn’t mean you are making a great nutritional choice, the plant-based nuggets may help persuade you to try other (healthier, non-fried) plant-based meals. That’s important, since adding healthy plant-based meals to your diet can help your health and your performance: Research published in the journal Nutrients has shown that a plant-based diet can help boost your recovery time, since those foods may reduce inflammation.
Bottom line: Like any fried option, consider these meatless nuggets a treat, and consume in moderation. Hopefully, it can help expand your palate to other plant-based options, too.
The August 27 trial run sold out in a matter of hours, so while this is a good indicator of its popularity, you’ll have to wait to see if KFC decides to roll it out to more stores to get your hands on some.
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