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Try black chicken to improve your heart health

Kadaknath is a local delicacy in tribal Madhya Pradesh and costs about Rs 1,000 per kg, but there’s quite a lot of truth behind the hype and folk lore.

columns Updated: Apr 01, 2018 08:08 IST
Sanchita Sharma
Sanchita Sharma
Hindustan Times
Kadaknath,MP,Kali masi
These chickens are one of only three varieties in the world to have black meat, the other two being Silkie in China and Ayam Cemani in Indonesia. Their meat is stained by melanin, and has a lean, gamey texture. (HT File Photo)

In a move that will boost the incomes of impoverished Bhil and Bhilala tribals, India is set to grant the GI (geographical indication) tag for Kadaknath chicken to the tribal district of Jhabua in western Madhya Pradesh, for “possessing certain qualities exclusive to its land of origin”.

When I was in Jhabua at the end of February for a series of articles on malnutrition, all conversations, irrespective of person, place or context, began with me being asked if I had eaten the local delicacy Kadaknath or ‘kali masi’ — the fowl with black flesh.

I quickly realised that Kadaknath is to conversations in Jhabua what the weather is to the British and politics is to the rest of India. On day two, I feasted on curried kali masi with maize chapatis and was thereafter invited into several homes and yards to admire the iridescent black plumage, beak, comb, wattles, legs and tongue (yes!) of this one-of-a-kind species in India.

Kadaknath is one of only three varieties of chicken in the world to have black meat, Silkie in China and Ayam Cemani in Indonesia being the other two. These chickens get the dark staining from melanin and are high in protein and low in fats, including cholesterol.

It is not just the flavourful meat’s lean, gamey texture that makes it popular, but also its supposed medicinal properties. Urban legend has it that it raises haemoglobin levels, keeps asthma and other respiratory disorders in check, helps heal childbirth-related complications and acts as an aphrodisiac for men and men. It is these legendary medicinal properties that make it popular in the region and beyond — the fowl costs between Rs 900 and Rs 1,200 per kg.

While the claims that it can ‘increase vigour’ and cure respiratory illness remain questionable, the high protein and low cholesterol in the black meat are enough turn it into a superfood for health-conscious people with discerning palates.

While the claims that it can ‘increase vigour’ and cure respiratory illness remain questionable, the high protein and low cholesterol in the black meat are enough turn it into a superfood for health-conscious people with discerning palates.

New research shows that a diet high in fat and cholesterol depletes artery-protecting immune cells, turning them into promoters of inflammation, which raises plaque (fatty deposits) buildup inside the walls of arteries. These thicken the arterial walls, both hardening and narrowing them, which makes the heart pump harder to keep the blood flowing. Plaque sometimes breaks, fully or partially, and clogs the arteries, stopping blood flow to trigger a heart attack or stroke.

Inflammation is also a major contributor to the hardening and narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis), according to the study, published in the journal, Nature Communications. Arterial blockage can occur when the immune system reacts to excess cholesterol and lipids in the walls of blood vessels.

The damage can be countered by taking in more high density lipoproteins (HDL) or ‘good cholesterol’, the kind found in nuts (almonds, walnuts, pistachios, peanuts etc), seeds (flaxeed, pumpkin seeds etc), beans, legumes, whole grains, olive oil and fish. High HDL levels in the blood help the immune cells to keep the arteries clear.

Meat low in cholesterol bears the double benefit of weight loss and reducing cholesterol — food from plants sources has zero cholesterol, which is found only in animal products such as meat, dairy and eggs.

Being overweight is a risk factor for several diseases, including in persons who are ‘fat and fit’, with normal blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Underscoring the importance of a healthy weight even in the absence of other cardiovascular risk factors, a large multi-country study from Europe found that overweight people who are otherwise healthy are more likely to develop heart disease than people who are not overweight.

Compared with people at a healthy weight, those who were overweight or obese had up to a 28% higher risk of developing heart disease, found the study, which compared data from more than 7,600 cases of heart disease collected over 12 years. The findings are true even for overweight people with no metabolic markers such as high blood pressure, diabetes, elevated triglycerides (a type of blood fat) and high cholesterol, said the study, which was published in August last year in the European Heart Journal.

Being overweight or obese are independent risk factors for cardiovascular disease, so it makes sense to cut back on saturated fats found in red meats, poultry with skin, butter and saturated oils that solidify at room temperature, such as ghee, coconut oil, palm oil and hydrogenated vegetable oils such as vanaspati.

First Published: Mar 31, 2018 17:17 IST