Although chicken thighs and breasts are often used interchangeably in cooking, they have very different nutritional profiles that you should consider to decide which is the better option for you.
So, what are the differences between chicken thighs and breasts? The main differences between chicken thighs and breasts are that chicken breasts are lower in calories (-101 kcal) and saturated fat (-3.9 g) but higher in protein (+6.0 g) and nutrients (vitamin B6, selenium, and phosphorus) than chicken thighs.
As a Registered Dietitian, I encourage my clients to eat a variety of protein sources, but there are certainly better options based on an individual’s health and nutrition goals.
Chicken Thighs vs. Breast: Nutritional Information
Chicken thighs and breasts have very different nutritional profiles. To make these differences clear, I’ve created the following table.
The table reflects 100 g of raw chicken thighs compared with 100 g of raw chicken breast.
|Saturated fats (g)||4.5||0.6|
|Monounsaturated fats (g)||6.9||0.7|
|Polyunsaturated fats (g)||3.5||0.4|
One of the biggest differences between chicken thighs and breast is their caloric content. Chicken thighs are higher in calories than chicken breast by 101 calories. However, the caloric difference between the thighs and breasts is due to the skin on the thighs.
The higher caloric content of chicken thighs makes them a better option for those who require more calories per day, like those who are trying to gain weight or those who need higher calories to maintain their weight.
That being said, if you remove the skin on the chicken thighs, then you can reduce the calories by 100 calories (121 g), which is the same calorie content as chicken breasts (+1 kcal).
The protein content is also very different between chicken thighs and breasts, with chicken breasts having more protein (+6 g) than chicken thighs.
If you are someone with a high protein requirement, like those trying to gain muscle, then chicken breasts are a better option.
That being said, you can still eat chicken thighs if you have a high protein requirement, but it will require a larger serving size to achieve the same amount of protein as chicken breast.
For example, 100g of chicken breast has 22.5 grams of protein, but to achieve the same protein content as chicken thighs, you would need a 136 gram serving.
- Related Article: How To Increase Your Protein Intake Without Increasing Fat
Another difference between the nutritional information of chicken thighs and chicken breast is their fat content. Thighs have a higher fat content (+14 g) than breasts, which is six times the amount of fat vs chicken breasts.
The skin of chicken thighs is where most of the fat is located, and unfortunately, the type of fat it contains isn’t the healthiest. The fat in the skin is saturated fat which has been shown to increase the risk of heart disease when overconsumed.
While there are no set guidelines for how much saturated fat you should have per 100 grams of chicken, I recommend consuming less than 5 g of saturated fat per portion (100g).
In this case, chicken thighs are on the higher end of this recommendation with a saturated fat content of 4.5g per 100g serving.
Therefore, if you are going to be eating chicken thighs (which are higher in saturated fats), you should compensate by decreasing other high saturated fat foods like sour cream, butter, and cream cheese throughout the day.
- For more information on foods low in saturated fat, read my other article: 10 best foods that are high in calories but low in saturated fat.
Besides the macronutrient content (carbs, fats, protein), one of the other differences between chicken thighs and breast is the micronutrient content (vitamins and minerals). Chicken breast has a higher nutrient content than chicken thighs.
The following table compares each food’s nutrient content based on each nutrient’s recommended daily value. It is important to note that a value higher than 20% means that the food is considered a significant source of that nutrient.
|Nutrient||Thighs - Daily Recommended Value in 100g portion||Breast - Daily Recommended Value in 100g portion|
The Top Nutrients In Chicken Thighs and Their Benefits
- Niacin. Niacin helps turn the food you eat into usable energy for your body. Additionally, this study has shown that a one-milligram increase in your niacin intake can decrease your blood pressure by 2%.
It’s important to note that Niacin is the main nutrient that chicken thighs have to offer, yet there is much more niacin in chicken breasts than in chicken thighs (+29%).
The Top Nutrients In Breasts and Their Benefits
- Vitamin B6. According to this study, taking vitamin B6 can help reduce PMS symptoms. They found that taking 50 mg of vitamin B6 helped reduce overall symptoms by 57%, emotional symptoms by 69%, and physical symptoms by 52%.
- Selenium. It is a powerful antioxidant that can help reduce inflammation in your body and help boost your immune system to keep you from getting sick.
- Phosphorus. Along with calcium and vitamin D, consuming an adequate amount of phosphorus helps to maintain bone health.
Chicken Thigh vs. Breast: 4 Differences
1. Taste and Texture
The taste and texture of chicken thighs and breasts are very different because of their different fat content. Chicken thighs tend to be juicier and more flavorful than chicken breast, which has a tendency to be drier.
In cooking, fat is flavor, so most people prefer to cook with chicken thighs over chicken breast.
2. Cooking Methods
While the cooking methods of chicken thighs and breast are the same (baking, pan frying, air fryer, frying), the difference between the two is the amount of time they take to cook.
Chicken thighs cook much faster than chicken breast, taking only 10-15 minutes compared to 20-25 minutes.
If you don’t have much time to spend in the kitchen or you’re already starving, chicken thighs are the best option because they’ll be ready 10 minutes sooner than chicken breast.
Winner: Chicken Thighs
Chicken thighs take less time to cook than chicken breast, so they’re more appealing to those with limited time to spare.
There is a significant difference between the cost of chicken thighs and chicken breast, with chicken breast costing twice as much as thighs.
Chicken thighs can cost between $2 to $6 (with Target having the cheaper option), but when it comes to chicken breast, you should expect to pay $4 to $10 per pound.
If you want a budget-friendly protein source, chicken thighs are a better option for you. I’ve created the following table to help you decide where to shop for the best deals on chicken.
|Chicken (1lb)||Walmart||Costco||Target||Whole Foods|
|Thigh (with skin)||$2.84||$7.33||$1.69||-|
While it depends on the store, chicken thighs can be twice as expensive than chicken thighs with skin. Due to the extra processing, that is why the costs might be higher.
One of the differences between them is that you do not get every variety in all stores. For example, at Target, you can only find chicken thighs with skin, while Whole Foods can only find chicken thighs without skin.
Winner: Chicken Thighs
Chicken thighs are cheaper than chicken breasts, making it a more budget-friendly option for those looking to save money, especially when shopping at target.
4. Omega-3 and Omega-6
Another difference between chicken thighs and chicken breast is their Omega-6 content, with chicken thighs having 3091mg and chicken breasts having 170mg.
While Omega-3 is anti-inflammatory and helps reduce inflammation, Omega-6 promotes inflammation. Although inflammation may sound like a bad thing, your body does need some inflammation to function optimally.
For example, inflammation is necessary to signal to your body that there is an infection and to help clear it. Problems only arise when you have more inflammation than your body can handle.
Neither chicken thighs nor breasts are significant sources of Omega-3s, but chicken thighs are fairly high in Omega-6 fatty acids.
In fact, chicken thighs have 18 times more Omega-6s than chicken breasts, which can be a problem for those who are already consuming a large amount of Omega-6 from foods like fried foods, foods cooked in vegetable oils, or fattier meats.
Winner: Chicken Breasts
Chicken breasts are lower in omega-6 fatty acids (170 mg) than chicken thighs (3091 mg), and are therefore less likely to cause unnecessary inflammation.
Chicken Thigh vs. Breast on Different Diets: Which Is Better
Chicken thighs are better for keto since they have a higher fat content. While on a keto diet, you need a higher fat intake to provide your body with the necessary energy to compensate for the lack of carbohydrates.
Chicken thighs and breast are both low in carbs, making them both keto-friendly foods but chicken thighs are a better option because of the fat content they contain.
However, keep in mind that the fat that chicken thighs contain is saturated fats, so it’s important to ensure you’re reducing your saturated fat intake (butter, high-fat cheese, or high-fat meat cuts) in other meals to avoid overconsuming saturated fats.
If you were to choose chicken breast on the keto diet, you should add a fat source like avocado, olive oil, olives, nuts, or seeds to compensate for the lack of fat that chicken breast contains.
Winner: Chicken Thighs
Chicken thighs are the best option since they are high in fat and protein, which are key nutrients for the keto diet.
Chicken breast is a better option for the paleo diet because it is lower in saturated fat and omega-6s. The main goal of the paleo diet is to reduce inflammation, and a higher intake of saturated fat and omega-6 fatty acids can increase inflammation.
Chicken breasts are already less inflammatory than chicken thighs, but to make them an even better fit for the paleo diet, you can add foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3s are very anti-inflammatory, and the chicken itself isn’t a significant source of omega-3, so I recommend pairing your chicken breast with foods like chia seeds, flax seeds, and walnuts which are significant sources of omega-3.
Winner: Chicken Breast
Chicken breast is lower in saturated fat and omega-6 fatty acids, making it less inflammatory than chicken thighs.
- Related Article: Is Chicken a Fast or Slow Digesting Protein? (A Dietitian Answers)
While both are excellent options for intermittent fasting, in my professional experience, one of the main problems people often have with intermittent fasting is not reaching their protein intake.
When you’re intermittent fasting, and there is a limited window to consume your calories, it can be difficult to meet your protein goals because protein is so satiating. For this reason, it’s important to prioritize higher protein foods to make every meal and snack count toward your protein intake.
Adding chicken breasts, which are higher in protein, can help you add more protein to your diet while intermittent fasting than chicken thighs.
If you struggle with reaching your caloric intake while intermittent fasting, consider pairing your chicken breast with higher-calorie foods like avocado, nuts, and seeds to help you reach your caloric intake.
Winner: Chicken Breast
Chicken breasts are better since they can help you achieve your daily protein more easily than chicken thighs in a limited eating window.
Both chicken thighs and breasts are excellent options for a low-sodium diet because they’re naturally low in sodium. However, I recommend reading the nutrition label since sometimes companies inject salt and sugar to make them tastier.
Additionally, I recommend you avoid marinated chicken since it can be high in sodium. If you want to add some low-sodium flavor to your chicken, then marinate it at home, where you can control the spices and herbs involved.
Winner: It’s A Tie
Chicken thighs and breasts are both great options on a low-sodium diet as long as you’re purchasing them without marinade.
Low FODMAP Diet
Since chicken thighs and breasts don’t have any carbs, they are excellent protein options to include on a low FODMAP diet. Therefore those with irritable bowel syndrome can rest assured that the chicken itself won’t cause any digestive distress.
However, if the chicken is marinated, there is a higher risk of the marinade containing onions or garlic which are two of the main triggers for IBS since they are high in FODMAPs.
Winner: It’s A Tie
Chicken thighs and breasts are both low in FODMAPs, as long as they aren’t marinated with garlic and onions.
Chicken Thigh vs. Breast: Which Is Better For Weight Loss?
Chicken breast is a better option for weight loss because it is lower in calories and fat than chicken thighs. To achieve weight loss, you need to be in a caloric deficit (eating fewer calories than your body needs to maintain weight) so the lower-calorie option (chicken breast) is a better choice.
Another benefit of chicken breast for weight loss is that it is higher in protein (+6g) than chicken thighs. High-protein foods can help you feel fuller for longer, which causes you to consume fewer calories throughout the day.
The Winner: Chicken Breast
Chicken breast is a better option since it is lower in calories and higher in protein.
Chicken Thigh vs. Breast: Which Is Better For Muscle Gain?
Chicken thighs are a better option for muscle gain since they are higher in calories than chicken breast. To gain muscle, you need to consume more calories than your body needs to maintain weight, so choosing the higher-calorie option (chicken thighs) is best.
That being said, one of the drawbacks of chicken thighs is that they are lower in protein than chicken breasts, and to build muscle, you need to have adequate protein intake (1 gram of protein per pound of body weight).
To increase your protein intake when choosing chicken thighs, you can add other high-protein foods to your other meals and snacks like protein shakes, greek yogurt, and fish.
On the other hand, if you prefer to have chicken breast because of its higher protein content, you need to compensate for its lower caloric content by adding higher-calorie foods like avocado, nuts, seeds, and olive oil to help you reach your caloric target.
Winner: Chicken Thighs
Chicken thighs are higher in calories, which makes them a better option for muscle gain. However, they are lower in protein, so you need to be careful not to go below your protein requirements.
- Related Article: Are Chicken Thighs Good For Bodybuilding?
Practical Recommendations: Eating Chicken Thighs vs. Breast
Mix Them Up
Even though you may have determined that either chicken breast or thighs are a better option based on your goals, a healthy diet needs plenty of variety.
Each food has different nutritional profiles, so adding a variety of foods helps you consume various nutrients that your body needs to function optimally.
This means that instead of having chicken breast all the time, it would be better to switch it up and consume chicken thighs every once in a while.
The more variety you have, the more nutrients your body gets, which prevents a nutritional deficiency.
The skin of chicken thighs is the primary source of calories and saturated fat, so by purchasing skinless chicken thighs, you can improve their nutritional profile.
|Ingredient||Chicken thighs with skin||Chicken thighs without skin||Chicken breast|
|Saturated fats (g)||4.5||0.9||0.6|
|Monounsaturated fats (g)||6.9||1.2||0.7|
|Polyunsaturated fats (g)||3.5||0.8||0.4|
Cook Them In Different Ways
Chicken thighs and breasts can be boring after a while, especially if you’re eating them the way over and over again.
To avoid getting bored, I suggest you experiment with cooking them with different flavors.
Here are some of my favorite recipes to help you add some variety to your chicken:
- Skillet Chicken Thighs with Creamy Tomato Basil Spinach Sauce
- Crispy Cilantro Lime Chicken
- Honey Garlic Chicken
- Lemon Pepper Chicken
What To Read Next
Check out our other chicken comparison resources:
- Tilapia vs Chicken Breast
- Tofu vs Chicken
- Chicken vs. Lamb
- Turkey vs. Chicken
- Chicken vs. Salmon
- Shrimp vs. Chicken
About The Author
Brenda Peralta is a Registered Dietitian and certified sports nutritionist. In addition to being an author for FeastGood.com, she fact checks the hundreds of articles published across the website to ensure accuracy and consistency of information.