What’s In Your Chicken Nugget: Ingredients Will Surprise You


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Do you know what's in those nuggets? Image by Evan-Amos

Do you know what’s in those nuggets? Image by Evan-Amos

Think you’re getting 100 percent white meat when you order your chicken nuggets? In reality, you could be getting only 40 to 50 percent chicken meat, reports the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

Researchers from the University of Mississippi Medical Center found that chicken nuggets from two major fast food chain aren’t all that you think they are.

What’s in the Nugget?

Researchers examined two chicken nuggets from two different fast food chains – they dissected them, stained them, and put them under a microscope.

The first nugget contained 50 percent muscle tissue from either the breast or the thigh. The rest was composed of fat, cartilage, bone, and cells that lined the skin and internal organs of the chicken.

The second chicken nugget didn’t come out any better, this nugget contained 40 percent muscle, while more than half of the nugget was fat, cartilage, and bone.

Sounds like something yummy, right?

Dr. Richard deShazo of the University of Mississippi Medical Center, when discovering the findings said, “I was floored, I had read what other reports have said is in them and I didn’t believe it. I was astonished actually seeing it under the microscope.”

Dr. deShazo goes on to say that these extra parts in the nugget are edible; however, they don’t make a good nutritional choice.

Unfortunately, the researchers won’t name the two popular fast food chains that contained these extra ingredients, so there’s no way to know exactly what’s in your order of nuggets at the drive-through window.

One negative aspect of this issue, aside from the obvious stomach-turning thought of eating byproducts, is that chicken nuggets are marketed towards kids and they taste good. Since they’re not exactly nutritious, are we teaching kids to make good food choices when we feed them chicken-ish nuggets?

According to Dr. deShazo, white chicken meat is one of the best sources for lean protein, and people maybe thinking about that when they order chicken nuggets. Unfortunately, some companies have decided to use fillers to cut costs, so what you are really getting is a chicken byproduct that is full of fat, salt, and sugar, among other things.

Fast Food Facts

Eating fast food is unhealthy; however, many Americans still consume these foods that are filled with sugar, salt, and fat. In 2009, CBS published a story about fast food and dished out these less-than-appetizing facts:

  • In 2009 Americans will spend over $110 billion on fast food!
  • Children often recognize the McDonald’s logo before they can recognize their own name. Children also receive about a quarter of their total vegetable servings from potato chips or French fries.
  • Your fast-food hamburger is made up of meat from dozens, possibly even hundreds of cattle, all in one patty.
  • Due to the amount of food processing that fast food goes through, a lot of the natural flavor is destroyed, so special chemicals are added to the food, to make it taste like food. Go ahead, read that again…. They add chemicals to fast food so it will taste like food.

Eating fast food can lead to an unhealthy weight gain and cause many people to become overweight or obese. Being obese increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 35.7 percent of Americans are obese;  fast food isn’t the only thing to blame for America’s growing waistline, but it sure isn’t helping.

Chicken Nuggets: Not A Healthy Choice

So next time you get hungry, you might think twice about ordering chicken nuggets. Although Dr. deShazo admits that the sample size was small and that other companies have changed to 100 percent white meat, companies are looking to sell more product and make more money without spending more money – and this decreases the quality of your food. Knowing where your food comes from is also important – remember, soon fast food chains maybe getting their chicken from China. You are what you eat, so choose healthy, whole foods when possible, but at least avoid the bits that have to be chemically adjusted to taste like food.


CBS News. Americans Are Obsessed with Fast Food: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal. (2009). Accessed October 7, 2013.

Castillo, Michelle. Report: Chicken nuggets not just meat but  blood vessels, nerve cells. (2013). CBS News. Accessed October 7, 2013.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Adult Obesity Facts. (2013). Accessed October 7, 2013.

The University of Mississippi Medical Center. Chicken nugget autopsy finds meat, bone, connective tissue, fat, and poorer health implications. (2013). Accessed October 7, 2013.

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