Carolinas HealthCare System

Which should come first in your diet: the chicken or the fish? Both are touted as healthy alternatives to red meat. But does one prevail over another in a healthful diet? Read on to find out.


What you pay at the meat or seafood counter can vary widely, depending on the type of cut, whether the product is organic, what type of fish, etc. Boneless chicken breasts, for example, will set you back more than $3 a pound, according to recent USDA numbers. Fish is very market-driven and prices can vary widely from week to week. In general, chicken is the less expensive option.


The great thing about chicken and fish is they can be easily dressed up and made appealing to even the pickiest taste buds. Try seasoning chicken with curry for exotic Indian flavor, or drizzle low-fat Italian dressing on fish and bake for a change of pace.

Nutritional Value

These two are dueling protein powerhouses. The part of the chicken or the variety of fish you choose affects protein content. For example, a 3-ounce portion of grilled boneless, skinless chicken breasts will give you almost 26 grams of protein, while the same serving size of baked Atlantic cod will net you about 19½ grams. Both are also low in calories – 128 calories in 3 ounces of chicken, 89 calories in the cod; and both are low in fat – 2.7 grams in chicken, less than 1 gram in the fish. (To keep fat to a minimum, try cooking with a dry-heat method, such as broiling, baking or grilling.)'

Where fish triumphs over chicken is in omega-3 fatty acids – in particular, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which helps with cognitive functions such as memory. You can find it in fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, halibut, sardines and herring. “When possible, choose wild-caught fish which typically has three times more omega-3 fatty acids than farm raised fish,” said Laurie Ross, Carolinas HealthCare System registered dietitian. She also recommends eating fish at least twice a week.

Natural Value

Labels that claim “100 percent natural” or “grain fed” on chicken typically indicate no artificial ingredients or that the chickens were not fed animal byproducts. But, you have to take the manufacturer’s word on this since USDA inspections don’t certify those claims. The challenge with fish is finding products that are not only healthy for you, but good for the environment, too. Being at the bottom of the food chain, smaller fish such as sardines and mackerel contain less mercury; Alaskan seafood such as salmon and halibut are not only safe for you but also not overfished. When possible, buy American products, which are caught under stricter standards, and wild fish instead of those that are farmed.

We Have a Winner

While chicken generally costs less, and both are excellent sources of vitamins and minerals and are low in fat, the slight edge goes to fish because of the overall variety and omega-3s.