What Happens To Your Gut When You Eat Lots Of Chicken

Ever since gut health was found to affect overall health — including the immune system, mental health, sleep, and prevention against autoimmune diseases, diabetes, gut issues, and heart disease — there's been a considerable amount of focus on the foods we eat and how they affect our gut. 

In this regard, animal proteins have unfortunately acquired a bad rap. Generally, though, the recommendation is to mainly stay away from processed and red meats. For example, a 2017 study published in the Journal of Translational Medicine looked at what really happens to your body when you eat red meat: increased levels of trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO) which, in turn, puts you at risk for cardiovascular disease. 

Chicken, on the other hand, is often recommended by experts as a soothing and safe option for those experiencing digestive problems like Crohn's disease. It's a good source of protein and is also easily digestible when compared with other sources of animal protein. Protein doesn't just support a healthy gut; it also helps maintain healthy bones, muscles, skin, and hair. Apart from protein, chicken contains another gut-friendly nutrient: tryptophan. 

How tryptophan found in chicken contributes toward gut health

According to microbiome researcher and BIOHM Health co-founder Mahmoud Ghannoum, eating chicken can have a direct effect on your mood because of how the amino acid tryptophan found in this meat impacts your gut health (via Parade). "[Tryptophan] has been linked to higher levels of the hormone serotonin (the 'feel good' hormone) in our brain," explained Ghannoum, who also highlighted the abundance of vitamin B12, iron, copper, zinc, and choline in the popular poultry. 

Tryptophan is also linked with better sleep, energy levels, and immune system health. A 2021 study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences found that as you get older, your body requires tryptophan to fight off inflammation and maintain a healthy gut microbiome. As study author Dr. Carlos M. Isales, who is also the co-director of the MCG Center for Healthy Aging and chief of the MCG Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism, shared, "We think the microbiome plays an important role in the aging process and we think one of those players in the aging is tryptophan, which produces metabolites that affect every organ function" (via EurekAlert!).

The study also revealed that low levels of tryptophan were linked with a lower level of Mucispirillum and Blautia, two types of gut-friendly bacteria that are also low in people with inflammatory bowel diseases (Crohn's and ulcerative colitis). 

How to eat chicken for gut health

Not all types of chicken offer the same health benefits for your gut health. In fact, you're better off avoiding drumsticks or chicken with skin on, as these contain more fat and can be hard on your digestive system. Fried chicken is also not a gut-friendly option. 

The best kind of chicken to consume, per experts, is skinless chicken; chicken breast is ideal. Try to be mindful of the ingredients you're adding while preparing the meat. For example, those with irritable bowel disease may not tolerate spices and sugars well. Pairing the chicken with other gut-friendly foods like yogurt, leeks, onions, and garlic is also a good way to go. Grilled or baked chicken with just the right amount of extra virgin olive oil to keep your cardiovascular health in mind can make a tasty main dish at your dinner table. Also, be aware that there is such a thing as too much chicken. At the end of the day, it's important to remember that gut health is also about variety. Stick to a diet rich in fiber, whole grains, protein, and healthy fats. What you don't want to happen is that you miss out on the essential nutrients that come with enjoying a balanced meal as opposed to only eating chicken every day.

Another concern with meat of any kind is how you store it. To minimize your risk of food-borne illnesses, avoid leaving chicken outside and unrefrigerated for long periods of time.