- Fast-food chain Popeyes released a new chicken sandwich in August that quickly sold out due to overwhelming popularity.
- The new menu item is a direct shot at competitor Chick-fil-A and has ignited a playful “chicken sandwich war” between the two companies.
- While neither sandwich should be considered healthy, Popeyes’ appears to be the bigger nutrition bomb, clocking in at 690 calories versus Chick-fil-A’s 440 calories.
- KFC also released a new item that quickly sold out: a plant-based chicken from Beyond Meat. While some may think this is a healthier alternative to regular fried chicken, experts warn the plant-based chicken alternative is still a heavily processed food and should be treated no differently than its meatier counterparts.
The country has been embroiled in a contentious battle in recent weeks. No, it has nothing to do with politics.
It’s a war over chicken — chicken sandwiches, to be precise.
Fast-food chain Popeyes released a fried chicken sandwich in August, a direct shot at competitor Chick-fil-A, which has held a firm grip on the chicken sandwich market for quite some time.
Indeed, their motto — We didn’t invent the chicken, just the chicken sandwich — tells you how firmly they plant their flag in their signature item.
But as other restaurants have been coming for their claim with not so cleverly disguised menu items like “Southern Chicken Sandwich” (Chick-fil-A is headquartered in Georgia), the Popeyes offering seemed the most threatening.
And it has been a huge success.
The sandwich, which Popeyes said in a press release was “a delicious buttermilk battered and hand breaded white meat chicken filet, served on a buttery, toasted brioche bun with two barrel cured pickles and guests’ choice of classic mayo or spicy Cajun spread” has sold out. Restaurants were inundated, with lines of cars and people wrapping around buildings and blocks.
While we can’t vouch for the flavor of either — and wouldn’t dare if we wanted to as opinions and feelings are quite strong on both sides — we can venture to look at these options from a health and nutrition standpoint.
Popeyes doesn’t currently list the chicken sandwich on their website, but the company did confirm to Prevention the number of calories it contains: 690.
Chick-fil-A has their sandwich information listed in their nutrition guide. The numbers in a nutshell:
- 440 calories
- 19 grams of fat
- 4 grams of saturated fat
- 1,350 milligrams of sodium
- 2 grams of fiber
- 28 grams of protein
“One thing is for sure, the fried chicken sandwich wars have nothing to do with nutrition,” Allison Knott, MS, RDN, CSSD, a registered dietitian based in New York City, told Healthline.
Indeed, every dietitian Healthline spoke with made it clear there’s nothing healthy about either of the sandwiches.
“Even though we don’t have the confirmed nutrition facts for the new Popeyes Chicken Sandwich, it is safe to say that it is similar to the Chick-fil-A Chicken Sandwich, which is over 200 calories lower than the Popeyes version,” Knott said.
“It will be interesting to see which one of the sandwiches is lower in sodium and saturated fat, but either way, neither is recommended as an option on a regular basis.”
But if we’re declaring the overall nutrition winner, that title goes to the Chick-fil-A Chicken Sandwich. It has lower sodium and less saturated fat, said Christina Crowder, MS, RDN/LD, CNSC, CDE, a registered dietitian and certified specialist in nutrition support.
“It appears that the Popeyes Chicken Sandwich packs a heavier caloric punch, which can be attributed to what looks like thicker breading, than the Chick-fil-A sandwich. More bread equals more oil absorption during frying,” Crowder said.
“The brioche bun also tends to have more calories, carbs, and fat than a traditional hamburger bun. You could always ditch half the bun if you wanted to lower the calorie and carb count.”
What’s more, the chicken sandwich from Popeyes likely exceeds the daily sodium recommendation, since Chick-fil-A’s, at more than 1,500 milligrams (the Deluxe version), is very near the maximum.
“Fried chicken isn’t the greatest choice compared to grilled, but if you love a good ol’ fried chicken sandwich every now and again — which isn’t wrong — you may go to Chick-fil-A to keep your nutrition in check,” Crowder said.
Just as Popeyes and Chick-fil-A were going head-to-head in the drive-thru and on Twitter, another chicken company was staking claim to a new chicken trend: plant-based chicken.
KFC released plant-based chicken from Beyond Meat at a single restaurant in Atlanta, selling out in hours.
But this vegan chicken may not be healthy enough to eat regularly.
In fact, Rachel Fine, MS, RD, a registered dietitian, nutritionist, and founder of To The Pointe Nutrition, said these foods are heavily processed and should be treated just like their meatier counterparts.
“These options are questionable from a nutrition standpoint given the high sodium levels. My biggest concern, however, is the ‘health halo’ that surrounds these options, which can result in people overeating these plant-based alternatives simply because they ‘think they’re healthier.’ When in fact, the nutritional comparisons do not necessarily make them lighter alternatives,” Fine said.
“The addition of vegan meat to fast-food menus has not been met without controversy,” Knott added.
“Two things are fueling the debate. One is the fact that most of the vegan meat alternatives are cooked on or in the same equipment as meat (making it not vegan), and two, the vegan meat alternatives are often confused as a healthier alternative.”
Knott explained further, “It’s important to realize that many of the vegan meat alternatives, like the KFC Beyond Fried Chicken, aren’t automatically a healthier alternative simply because they’re meat-free. The nutrition facts should still be considered, and each version needs to be treated individually.”
Beyond Meat confirmed to Prevention that each chicken piece has 60 calories, 3 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 145 milligrams of sodium, 2 grams of carbohydrates, and 5 grams of protein. KFC doesn’t currently have the food listed on their website.
“It is still a fried protein that is high in saturated fat and sodium,” Knott said.
“It’s likely that 5 to 10 nuggets will be served (depending on the order size), putting the KFC Beyond Fried Chicken nuggets at 7.5 g to 15 g saturated fat and 725 mg to 1450 mg sodium per order. This is significantly different from the Beyond Chicken Strips previously sold in stores with 0 grams saturated fat and 330 milligrams sodium per 3 ounces.”
If you’re splurging, you can certainly make room for either of the chicken sandwiches or KFC’s Beyond Fried Chicken (assuming these newer items return to the menu at some point).
But for everyday dining, it’s better to look elsewhere on the menu, nutritionists told Healthline.
At Chick-fil-A, the restaurant’s Grilled Chicken Sandwich offers 330 calories, 6 grams of fat, 4 grams of fiber, and 29 grams of protein. Ask for it without the Honey Roasted BBQ Sauce (or for the sauce on the side so you can control how much is used) and cut back on sugar and sodium.
Popeyes has a menu full of fried chicken, but you can sort out some good picks, like 5-Piece Blackened Handcrafted Tenders, which have 283 calories, 3 grams of fat, 917 milligrams of sodium, and 43 grams of protein. Enjoy with a side of green beans.
Fried chicken is still fried chicken, and that means calories, fat, and sodium. Whether you decide to try the chicken so you can take a side in the Twitter wars or just plan to leave the bird battles to others, one thing is clear: There are healthier alternatives on the menu.