Fried Chicken: Part of a Healthy Diet?

KFC Ads: 'Colonel' of Truth or Pure Deception?

Medically Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on November 07, 2003

Nov. 7, 2003 -- Can fried chicken actually be healthy and help America lose weight?

Critics are crying "fowl" over two new KFC television ads, saying that they seek "to persuade the public that they can enjoy fried chicken as part of a healthy, balanced diet."

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has filed a complaint about KFC's ads to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The CSPI is asking that the nationally run ads be taken off the air, saying that the ads are deceptive and misleading.

"KFC's ads are so outrageous that an experienced observer of the advertising industry has characterized them as 'naked nonsense,'" writes Michael Jacobson, CSPI executive director, in his letter to the FTC.

"KFC takes what could be a perfectly good food, and makes it almost as bad for you as possible, short of covering it in melted cheese or cream sauce," Jacobson says in a news release. "These ads don't tell the truth. These ads take the truth, dip it in butter, and deep fry it. Colonel Sanders himself would have a hard time swallowing this ad campaign."

Fat, Sodium, and Cholesterol

In one ad, a bucket of KFC fried chicken is presented as one couple's attempt to begin "eating better," says the CSPI release. A bucket of fried chicken has 3,090 calories along with "vast amounts" of saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium, the CSPI adds.

Most KFC outlets fry chicken in hydrogenated shortening, which results in harmful trans fats, says the CSPI.

The ad displays nutrition information for smaller amounts of fried chicken, including -- "laughably," says the CSPI -- pieces with the skin removed.

A second ad gives the impression that eating fried chicken is responsible for a man's "fantastic" looks, presumably due to weight loss, since the ad indicates that fried chicken is for those who are "watching carbs," according to the CSPI.

Both ads flash "brief, tiny, low-contrast, and virtually illegible" disclaimers "confessing" that fried chicken "is not a low fat, low cholesterol, low sodium food," says the CSPI.

KFC Takes The Heat

WebMD unsuccessfully tried to contact KFC for comment. However, a statement was posted on the company's web site.

"We want to set the record straight," says Scott Bergren, KFC's executive vice-president, in the statement. "Consumers should no longer feel guilty about eating fried chicken as part of a healthy, balanced diet. Of course, they should eat all foods in moderation, and balance that with an appropriate amount of exercise -- it's always energy in, energy out."

A KFC Original Recipe Chicken Breast has 19 grams of fat and 380 calories, compared with a Burger King Whopper with 43 grams of fat and 710 calories, the statement says. Removing the skin and breading reduces the fat to 3 grams, zero grams of trans fat, and 140 calories.

Serving Up Mixed Message?

"It concerns me that consumers may yet be getting another mixed message. They may end up confused with who to believe," says Cindy Moore, MS, RD, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

"Clearly, they're not getting the whole picture -- if the disclaimers are that hard to read," Moore, who is also director of nutrition therapy at The Cleveland Clinic, tells WebMD.

Sure, she says, "chicken can be a healthy food, but if you bread it and fry it in oil, you're going to be adding more calories from fat, and it's likely that trans fats will be in that fat."

'Colonel' of Truth?

It's true, fried chicken fits into the Atkins diet -- because fat is not limited in that diet. The high-protein and low-carb components of Atkins are fine for most people, but it's the unlimited fat that concerns nutritionists.

"Most nutritionists prefer the South Beach diet because it limits fats," Moore tells WebMD. "What these KFC ads may be perpetuating is Atkins, but under the guise that it's healthful."

Certainly, all foods can fit into a healthy diet, she adds. "But it has to be balanced with other foods they are eating. If they're eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, that's one thing. But are they eating french fries, biscuits?"

Most of all, she says, "I would hate people to get the mistaken impression that some reformulation of fried chicken makes it a healthful choice now."

Show Sources

SOURCES: Center for Science in the Public Interest. KFC Corp. web site. Cindy Moore, MS, RD, director of nutrition therapy, The Cleveland Clinic.

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