Healthier Chicken Wings Do Exist!

By Anne Palumbo

Chicken wingsAre you sitting down? Last year, on Super Bowl Sunday, we Americans consumed 1.4 billion chicken wings.

Holy hot sauce! That’s a lotta wings! But no surprise, right? Football and wings go together like chips and dip.

Decades ago, before kids, my husband and I wolfed down a basket of chicken wings every Friday. We were on a mission to find the best wings in town. Our focus? Taste and crisp-factor. Our lack of focus? Nutrition. Never, not once, did we even wonder about fat, calories or sodium back then.

Chicken wings can have that effect. They’re so delicious, so addictive, so (for some) special-occasion, that you just want to enjoy them without the guilt.

Are you still sitting down?

Chicken wing consumption doesn’t have to be riddled with guilt! With a few tweaks here and a few bad-for-you ingredients slashed there, you can easily make this popular appetizer a whole lot healthier.

But before we delve into wing do-overs, let’s talk nutrition.

While clearly there are healthier parts of the chicken to be had, wings still have something to cluck about. When roasted in the oven, one drumette with skin provides about 100 calories, 9 grams of protein, and decent amounts of both niacin and selenium. Apart from passing a drug test, niacin has a multitude of uses in health and medicine, and helps to lower cholesterol as well as regulate blood sugar. Read more in this article:

An essential nutrient that powers many chemical reactions in our body, protein helps to keep our muscles and bones strong, which is important for maintaining balance and mobility as we age. Niacin, a B vitamin, helps convert food to energy and influences how we process cholesterol, while selenium, a powerful antioxidant, plays an important role in the health of our immune system and helps to protect our body from damage caused by oxidative stress.

Unadulterated, chicken wings are super low in sodium and fairly low in cholesterol. Wings are, however, the fattiest part of the chicken, delivering about 6.5 grams per wing (2 grams saturated). So, what happens to sodium, cholesterol and fat when wings are drenched in flour, deep-fried in oil and slathered with hot sauce? All levels skyrocket. As an example, a popular chain restaurant posts the following amounts for 10 fried Buffalo wings: 5,020 mg of sodium, 515 mg of cholesterol, and 69 grams total fat (18 grams saturated).

To shed perspective on these amounts: The USDA recommends that healthy adults limit their sodium intake to less than 2,400 mg per day, their cholesterol intake to no more than 300 mg per day, and their total fat intake from 44 to 78 grams per day (with saturated fat making up no more than 22 grams). Again, that’s per day, not per appetizer!

Healthy Cooking and Eating Tips

Grill or bake wings. Read wing sauce labels, opting for one with less sugar, sodium and calories. If recipe calls for adding butter to the sauce, replace it with heart-healthy olive oil or better yet, skip it altogether. Make your own blue cheese dipping sauce with Greek yogurt. Be mindful of your intake: calories quickly add up!

Crispy Baked Chicken Wings

2 pounds chicken wings (about 20 drumettes and wingettes)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon smoked (or regular) paprika
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons onion powder
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 ½ teaspoons coarse black pepper
Celery, trimmed and cut into sticks
Hot sauce of choice (optional)

Blue Cheese Dipping Sauce

4 tablespoons blue cheese or gorgonzola crumbles
½ cup nonfat Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon each salt and coarse black pepper
pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with foil and place an oven-safe rack on top of the foil. Coat the rack with cooking spray or a light layer of canola oil.

Pat chicken wings dry to remove moisture. Place wings in a large bowl and rub olive oil well into each piece. Combine all seasonings in a small bowl; sprinkle over wings; toss until thoroughly coated.

Arrange wings in a single layer on the prepared rack and bake for 30 minutes. Flip wings and bake 20 minutes more or until the skin is crispy.

To make the dip: Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and mix well.

Serve wings with celery, blue cheese dip and (optional) a small bowl of hot sauce for dunking.

Anne Palumbo is a lifestyle columnist, food guru, and seasoned cook, who has perfected the art of preparing nutritious, calorie-conscious dishes. She is hungry for your questions and comments about SmartBites, so be in touch with Anne at