What’s in a Chicken Nugget, Anyway?

Chicken nuggets, often (and not-so-fondly) referred to as “deep fried mystery meat,” have become the staple of many American’s daily meal plan. With many fast-food restaurants using clever advertising to make their food choices appear healthy and all-natural, many US adults have bought-in to the idea that these finger foods will actually provide nutrients for the body. While the viral claims that McDonald’s® Chicken McNuggets are made from a pink goop have been proven to be false, these crunchy pieces of once-lean meat are still not a good option.

In fact, a group of researchers from the University of Mississippi conducted a study to determine the contents of chicken nuggets from 2 national food chains. According to the results, “chicken nuggets are mostly fat, and their name is a misnomer.” One researcher, Richard deShazo, continued by saying, “it is really a chicken by-product high in calories, salt, sugar and fat that is a very unhealthy choice. Even worse, it tastes great and kids love it and it is marketed to them” (DeShazo).

Chicken Nuggets – Revealing the Secrets Behind the Mystery Meat

Let’s talk about the anatomy of a chicken nugget:

  1. “Pre-chewed” Meat. Most fast-food and commercially purchased chicken nuggets will be made by chopping up assorted pieces of chicken meat, blending with texture-enhancing binders, and forming the mixture into bite-sized nuggets. Now, doesn’t that sound tasty?!
  2. Breading. High in sodium and low in any nutritional value, chicken nuggets are battered and breaded (often multiple times) with a mixture that usually contains a version of corn flower, like Yellow Corn Flower or Modified Corn Starch. As corn has been shown to have inflammatory properties in the human body, these ingredients are not good for weight loss.
  3. Holy Sodium Batman! When you take a look at the nutrition facts for McDonald’s, Wendy’s® and Burger King®, the amount of sodium is a bit ridiculous. A 6-piece Chicken McNuggets® contains 540mg of sodium, and a 6-piece Chicken Nuggets from Wendy’s will take up 520mg of your daily sodium allowance. That’s nothing compared to the whopping 1130mg of sodium in a 3-piece Chicken Strips from Burger King.
  4. It’s a Bite-Sized Heart Attack. With anywhere between 40-55mg of cholesterol for 6 nuggets at these top fast-food chains, chicken nuggets are quite literally a heart attack waiting to happen.
  5. Fiber? Don’t waste your time trying to find a reasonable fiber content in these chicken nuggets. McDonald’s and Wendy’s tout 1g of fiber for 6 nuggets. Fiber helps with digestion, makes us feel fuller for longer and is extremely important for a healthy and well-balanced meal. Sorry nuggets, but your fiber content doesn’t quite cut it.
  6. Fat Content. While a 6-piece McNugget contains 280 calories, 160 of those calories come from fat, which means that around 57% of the calories are coming from fat instead of useful nutrients. And no, these fats are not the good fats we like for weight loss.

Instead of hitting the fast-food line for these empty-calorie nuggets, try making them with healthful ingredients at home! We love this recipe for SlimGenics approved healthy chicken nuggets – they’re perfect for family dinners and even as a bite-sized party appetizer.



DeShazo, Richard D., MD, Steven Bigler, MD, and Leigh Baldwin Skipworth, BA. “The Autopsy of Chicken Nuggets Reads “Chicken Little”” The American Journal of Medicine. The American Journal of Medicine, 13 Sept. 2013. Web. 4 Aug. 2014.

Nutrition facts for McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King obtained from respective company’s website.