Why is it that most chicken recipes say to remove the skin from chicken portions? I do not skin the chicken parts I cook, as when my cooking is finished the skin itself is baked brown, dry, and devoid of any underlying fat. And when I was growing up, I always put a claim in for the parson's nose - skin and all the underlying fat. Your thoughts?

My thoughts are that most debates about food and health end up grossly oversimplified.

The "food pyramid", the "war on cholesterol" and the "low-carb diet" are more about stirring popular appeal than about health science. I say, enjoy your bit of dry-roasted chicken skin if that's what makes you happy.

A skinless chicken breast does have one-third fewer calories and 90 per cent less saturated fat than a breast with the skin left on.

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But is chicken skin public enemy No 1? Not really.

But when I say this, I'm making an assumption that you're not in one of the very high-risk groups for heart disease: smokers, diabetics and the obese. It's fun to debate the merits of egg yolks, organic foods, chicken skin or palm oil, but the real risk factors are in a league all their own. Obesity, smoking, and diabetes each literally take years off your life-expectancy.

If you are in one or more of these groups, the discussion shouldn't be about chicken skin, it should be about changing every aspect of your life as if your life depended on it.

Quit smoking. Use aids like nicotine patches to increase your chances of quitting or at least cutting back. Eat healthy foods. Prepare all your food yourself, control your portions and regulate your snacking, set limits for your energy intake and get evaluated for surgical weight loss if other means of weight-control fail. Control your diabetes through diet and medications, but even more effectively, through losing excess weight.

If you're not high-risk, excuse the sermon. Enjoy your baked chicken skin in modest amounts. But the parson's nose (the large ball of fat that makes up a chicken's tail stump)? It's basically a lump of butter with skin on it. Abstain if you can.

Gary Payinda MD is an emergency medicine consultant in Whangarei.
Have a science, health topic or question you'd like addressed? Email: drpayinda@gmail.com
(This column provides general information and is not a substitute for the medical advice of your personal doctor.)