Is marinated chicken high in calories?

Quick Answer

Marinated chicken can be high in calories depending on the type of marinade used. Marinades that are oil-based or contain high-calorie ingredients like sugar or full-fat dairy will result in higher calorie chicken. However, marinades based on herbs, spices, vinegar, lemon juice, or other low-calorie ingredients can allow you to enjoy flavorful chicken without packing on the calories. When dining out or buying pre-marinated chicken, be sure to check the nutrition information to understand the calorie content. With homemade marinades, you can control the ingredients to create lower calorie options.

What is marinated chicken?

Chicken that has been soaked or brushed with a marinade is referred to as marinated chicken. A marinade is a flavored liquid that infuses flavor and moisture into meat, fish, or vegetables. Common marinade ingredients include:

  • Oils such as olive oil, canola oil, or vegetable oil
  • Acids such as vinegar, lemon juice, or wine
  • Herbs and spices such as garlic, rosemary, oregano, cumin, chili powder
  • Soy sauce or tamari
  • Condiments like mustard, ketchup, barbecue sauce
  • Dairy such as yogurt, buttermilk, sour cream
  • Fruit juice or purees
  • Sweeteners like honey, brown sugar, maple syrup

Marinating is a popular way to impart additional flavor and tenderness into chicken before cooking. The salt, acid, and enzymes in a marinade help to break down connective tissue in the meat, resulting in a more tender and juicy finished product. Marinating for as little as 30 minutes can make a noticeable difference, although longer marinating times (4-24 hours) allow the flavors to penetrate deeper into the chicken.

Are marinated chicken calories higher?

Compared to plain chicken, marinated chicken is often slightly higher in calories due to the marinade ingredients. However, the increase in calories can range widely based on the specific marinade used:

  • A marinade based on vinegar, lemon juice, herbs, and spices adds minimal calories.
  • A marinade with olive oil, butter, or cream-based ingredients results in more added fat and calories.
  • Sugary marinades like barbecue sauce, teriyaki, or sweet and sour sauce boost the calorie content.

So a lightly marinated chicken breast may have only around 20-30 extra calories, while a heavily sauced or sugary marinade could add 150 calories or more per serving.

When dining out, be especially mindful that restaurant chefs often create decadent, high-calorie marinades to make their dishes stand out. Pre-marinated meats from the grocery store deli can also contain unexpected calories in the flavoring. Checking nutrition information is the best way to understand the calorie content of store-bought or restaurant marinated chicken.

Low calorie marinade ideas

Luckily, it’s easy to make delicious low calorie marinades at home. Try these ideas:

Fresh herb marinade

Combine minced garlic, chopped fresh herbs like oregano, basil, or parsley, lemon juice, vinegar, mustard, and chicken broth. Let the chicken marinate for 1-2 hours for bright, garden-fresh flavor.

Yogurt marinade

Mix Greek yogurt with lemon juice, garlic, smoked paprika, cumin, and a touch of olive oil. Yogurt helps tenderize the chicken.

Jerk marinade

Blend scallions, spicy chilies, garlic, thyme, allspice, brown sugar, lime juice, vinegar, and black pepper for a Caribbean-inspired marinade.

Asian marinade

Combine ginger, garlic, low-sodium soy sauce or tamari, rice vinegar, sesame oil, chili-garlic paste, and honey for an Asian-flavored marinade.

Chimichurri marinade

Mix parsley, cilantro, garlic, shallots, olive oil, vinegar, crushed red pepper, and oregano. This Argentine green sauce is packed with flavor.

Tandoori marinade

Blend yogurt, lemon juice, Indian spices like coriander, cumin, turmeric, garlic, ginger, chili pepper, and garam masala for tandoori-style chicken.

Tips for lowering marinade calories

If you want to reduce the calorie content of a favorite high-calorie marinade, try these simple tweaks:

  • Use oil-free broth or diluted juice instead of oil as the base.
  • Skip the added sugar or reduce the amount.
  • Use Plain Greek yogurt instead of sour cream or cream-based dressings.
  • Substitute wine, vinegar, lemon juice, or mustard for some of the oil.
  • Boost flavor with extra herbs and spices instead of sugar or salt.
  • Blot away excess marinade from chicken before cooking.
  • Avoid basting chicken with sugary, oily marinades during cooking.

With homemade marinades, you can better control the calorie content while still infusing delicious flavor into chicken.

Marinated chicken nutrition facts

To understand how marinade impacts calorie content, here is a nutrition comparison of 4 ounces of cooked chicken breast prepared plain and with three different marinade types:

Chicken Type Calories Fat (g) Carbs (g)
Plain chicken breast 140 3 0
Chicken with herb marinade 150 5 1
Chicken with oil-based marinade 210 14 2
Chicken with sugary barbecue sauce marinade 180 5 10

As shown, an herb or vinegar-based marinade adds minimal calories and fat. However, oil-based and sugary marinades both increase the calorie and fat or carb content per serving.

Healthiest low-calorie marinade options

To keep marinated chicken as nutritious as possible, choose marinades with these healthy ingredients:

  • Fresh herbs: Packed with antioxidants and phytochemicals that support health.
  • Spices: Provide anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits.
  • Vinegars: Boost flavor for minimal calories, may have antimicrobial properties.
  • Mustard: Contains antioxidants like quercetin that may reduce inflammation.
  • Lemon/lime juice: Naturally brightens flavor while providing vitamin C.
  • Garlic: Contains compounds like allicin linked to improved heart health.
  • Ginger: Supplies anti-inflammatory compounds called gingerols.
  • Chili peppers: Provide capsaicin which may boost metabolism.

Avoid heavy use of sugar, salt, refined oils, and high-calorie sauces like ranch, mayo, or creamy Caesar dressing in marinades.

Baked, grilled, or pan-seared?

The cooking method also impacts the nutrition profile of marinated chicken. Choose lower calorie cooking techniques like these:

  • Baking: Allows the chicken to cook gently in the oven without added fat. Use nonstick foil or pan.
  • Grilling: Imparts delicious charred flavor as the chicken cooks over direct high heat. Keeps it lean.
  • Broiling: Cooks the chicken quickly under the direct oven broiler with no oil needed.
  • Pan searing: Cooks chicken in a hot pan to crispy perfection. Use minimal oil in a nonstick pan.

Deep frying, pan frying in oil, or cooking marinated chicken with fatty basting sauces will ramp up the calorie content.

Best low-calorie marinade recipes

To inspire you, here are some delicious and nutritious marinade ideas for chicken:

1. Greek Yogurt Dill Marinade

  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 3 Tbsp dill
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp pepper

2. Jalapeño Lime Marinade

  • 1/3 cup lime juice
  • 1 jalapeño, diced
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 Tbsp cumin
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped

3. Easy Balsamic Marinade

  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano

4. Rosemary Mustard Marinade

  • 3 Tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp maple syrup
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp minced rosemary

5. Red Curry Coconut Marinade

  • 1/2 cup light coconut milk
  • 1 Tbsp red curry paste
  • 2 Tbsp lime juice
  • 1 Tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tsp brown sugar

Marinated chicken recipes

Here are some tasty marinated chicken recipe ideas to enjoy:

Baked Lemon Herb Chicken

Brush chicken breasts with a lemon, garlic and herb marinade. Bake until juicy and tender. Serve over fresh greens or roasted veggies.

Grilled Tandoori Chicken

Marinate chicken in a yogurt and Indian spice blend. Grill until lightly charred and cooked through. Pair with rice and naan bread.

Jerk Chicken Drumsticks

In a zip top bag, coat chicken drumsticks with a spicy jerk marinade. Bake or grill until cooked through and crispy.

Chicken Fajitas

Marinate thinly sliced chicken breast in lime juice, cumin, chili powder and cilantro. Sear or grill chicken and serve with peppers and onions in warm tortillas.

Balsamic Chicken Salad

Whisk balsamic vinegar, mustard, garlic and herbs into a marinade. Cook chicken and serve over mixed greens, tomatoes and parmesan cheese.

Ginger Soy Chicken Stir Fry

Mix soy sauce, rice vinegar, ginger and garlic into a quick marinade for chicken. Stir fry with snap peas and red pepper. Serve over brown rice.

Is marinated chicken good for weight loss?

Marinated chicken can be a healthy and slimming choice when you opt for lower calorie marinades based on herbs, spices, vinegars, mustards and citrus. Some tips:

  • Use 0% Greek yogurt instead of oil or cream in marinades.
  • Limit high-calorie ingredients like sugar, oil, salt and high-fat sauces.
  • Keep portion sizes around 3-4 ounces cooked chicken.
  • Avoid fried chicken or chicken cooked with buttery, sugary sauces.
  • Enjoy marinated chicken as part of balanced calorie controlled diet.

Pair marinated chicken with non-starchy veggies like broccoli, peppers, leafy greens, etc. Instead of white rice or creamy sauces, choose options like cauliflower rice, quinoa, or fresh salsa.

Is marinated chicken healthy?

Marinated chicken can be a very healthy protein choice when prepared properly. Chicken is an excellent source of lean protein, vitamins and minerals. Be mindful of these nutrition tips:

  • Opt for skinless chicken breasts or tenders to minimize fat.
  • Use fresh, natural marinade ingredients instead of bottled dressings full of preservatives.
  • Avoid excessive sodium from soy sauce, teriyaki or bottled marinades.
  • Minimize added sugars in marinades like barbecue sauce, jelly, or sweet Asian sauces.
  • Skip high-calorie, low-nutrition fried chicken even if it’s marinated.
  • Don’t overcook chicken, which can make it tough and dry.

With the right homemade marinade and healthy cooking method, marinated chicken can absolutely be a nutritious addition to your eating plan. It provides lean protein, healthy fats, vitamins, and antioxidants.


Marinated chicken can range widely in its calorie and nutrition content based on the ingredients in the marinade. Oil, sugar and high-calorie sauces boost the calories of marinated chicken. However, using fresh herbs, spices, vinegars, citrus and other low-calorie flavoring provides a delicious marinade without unwanted calories and fat. With homemade marinades focusing on healthy ingredients, marinated chicken can be a slimming, nutritious choice that adds excitement to healthy eating. Use portion control, choose lean cuts of chicken, and balance it out with veggie sides and whole grains to create healthy and satisfying marinated chicken meals.

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