Love Chicken Wings? Here’s How to Make Them Healthier

Fall is football season, and, for many, chicken wings are a requisite for a proper tailgating spread. Chicken is often considered a lean protein choice; however, when it’s deep-fried and slathered in sugar-packed sauces, as is typically the case with wings, the nutritional negatives far outweigh that positive.

What’s the problem? “Several cups of oil or animal fat are used when deep-frying,” explains Roper St. Francis Healthcare affiliated dietitian Jillian Morgan, RD, LD, CDE. “And one quarter-cup of oil alone can have as many as 480 calories.” Buffalo Wild Wings fries their wings in beef shortening, making them higher in saturated fat—the type that can raise blood cholesterol levels—as well. The sauces that commonly coat wings include buffalo, which is traditionally made with a base of melted butter, and BBQ, the first ingredient in which is often high-fructose corn syrup (an added sugar). When blue cheese and/or ranch dipping sauces are added, the fat and sodium content can exceed daily recommendations.

The result: A medium-size order of 14 wings at Buffalo Wild Wings includes 1,010 calories, 57g fat, 19g saturated fat, 1.5g trans fat and 370mg sodium—without any sauce or seasoning. Honey BBQ sauce adds 140 calories and 28g sugar, while hot sauce tacks on 90 calories, 8g fat and 2,200mg sodium.

The fix: You can still enjoy a proper serving size of wings (four) without busting your diet. When eating out, opt for a dry rub as it limits the extra calories and saturated fats found in sauces. Add extra celery or a side salad to increase the meal’s nutritional content and ward off overindulging. When cooking wings at home, start with raw chicken (many frozen wings have already been deep-fried) and use a homemade dry rub with minimal salt to curb sodium. “The best cooking methods would be to grill, roast in the oven or use an air fryer—the latter of which can provide a crisp exterior without the excess oils needed to deep-fry,” says Morgan. As a fun alternative, some restaurants serve buffalo cauliflower wings. While cauliflower is a nutritional powerhouse, the dish is still deep-fried, so opt for another veggie, if you’re looking for a healthy app.

Try this! To make a lightened-up ranch dipping sauce, use plain low-fat Greek yogurt in lieu of mayonnaise or sour cream to up the protein and lower the fat content. Mix the yogurt with garlic, fresh or dried herbs, a small amount of buttermilk and lemon juice or vinegar.


Photographs by (fried chicken) gowithstock/shutterstock; (sauced wings) Joshua Resnick/shutterstock; (grill) photka/shutterstock; (celery) baibaz/shutterstock; (spices) xpixel/shutterstock; (yogurt & garlic) MaraZe/shutterstock; & (lemons) Tanya_mtv/shutterstock