When it comes to choosing chicken meat, it's not merely a matter of taste—the nutritional contrasts between pastured and factory-farmed conventional chicken are substantial. Pastured poultry, reared on pasture or range, offers a plethora of nutritional advantages that render it a superior choice for health-conscious consumers.
A significant distinction between pastured and conventional chicken lies in the content of omega-3 fatty acids within the meat. Omega-3s are indispensable fatty acids that our bodies cannot generate autonomously, and they are instrumental in preserving our health. Pasture-raised chicken meat has been found to be higher in omega-3 fatty acids, which promote heart health, reduce blood pressure, and raise good cholesterol (HDL) levels1. Various studies, including those conducted by the American Pastured Poultry Producers Association and independent university research, corroborate the higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in pastured poultry as compared to non-pastured chicken2. A study even demonstrated that pasture-raised meat from a particular farm had significantly higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, including EPA and DHA3.
Besides a higher omega-3 content, pastured chickens also boast elevated levels of other vital nutrients such as Vitamin E and beta-carotene. Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant that aids in shielding cells from damage, while beta-carotene, a precursor to Vitamin A, is essential for healthy skin, vision, and immune function. Research has shown that the Vitamin E, omega-3, and beta-carotene contents in products from pasture-raised chickens were significantly higher—in fact, more than twice as high—compared to those produced by chickens in confinement with no access to pasture4. A study conducted by Penn State University in 2003 found that organic eggs from pasture-raised chickens had four times more Vitamin E and seven times more beta-carotene than traditionally fed chickens laying conventional eggs5.
Furthermore, pastured chicken has been illustrated to be lower in unhealthy fats such as saturated fat and higher in healthy fats such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. According to a source, pasture-raised chicken has a lower Omega 6:3 ratio which is beneficial for human health6. Another source states that pasture-raised chicken contains 21 percent less saturated fat, making it a healthier choice.
In terms of animal welfare, pastured chickens also enjoy a superior quality of life compared to their factory-farmed counterparts. They can engage in natural behaviors such as foraging for food and dust bathing, which are crucial for their physical and mental well-being. They are also not subjected to the cramped and stressful conditions prevalent in factory farming.
Opting for pastured poultry over factory-farmed conventional chicken offers numerous nutritional and animal welfare benefits. With higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamin E, and beta-carotene, along with a healthier fat profile, pastured poultry provides a more nutritious and flavorful option for those who are nutrition and animal welfare conscious. Direct evidence corroborates the higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in pasture-raised broilers compared to conventionally raised chicken.