Stand-up comedians have long joked that some things, like
the actual components of chicken nuggets, are better left mysterious.
Recently, Mississippi researchers found out why: two nuggets
they examined consisted of 50% or less chicken muscle tissue, the breast or
thigh meat that comes to mind when a customer thinks of "chicken". The
nuggets came from two national fast food chains in Jackson. The three
researchers selected one nugget from each box, preserved, dissected and stained
the nuggets, then looked at them under a microscope.
The first nugget was about half muscle, with the rest a mix
of fat, blood vessels and nerves. Close inspection revealed cells that line the
skin and internal organs of the bird, the authors write in the American Journal
The second nugget was only 40% muscle, and the remainder was
fat, cartilage and pieces of bone. "We all know white chicken meat to be
one of the best sources of lean protein available and encourage our patients to
eat it," lead author Dr Richard D deShazo of the University of Mississippi
Medical Centre in Jackson, said. "What has happened is that some companies
have chosen to use an artificial mixture of chicken parts rather than low-fat
chicken white meat, batter it up and fry it and still call it chicken,"
deShazo told Reuters Health.
"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. "The nuggets he examined
would be okay to eat occasionally, but he worries that since they are cheap,
convenient and taste good, kids eat them often.
His own grandchildren "beg" for chicken nuggets
all the time, and he compromises by making them at home by pan-frying chicken
breasts with a small amount of oil, deShazo said.
"Chicken nuggets are an excellent source of protein,
especially for kids who might be picky eaters," said Ashley Peterson, vice
president of scientific and regulatory affairs for the National Chicken Council
(NCC), a non-profit trade group representing the US chicken industry.
According to the NCC, its member producers and processors
account for about 95% of the chicken produced in the US. "This study
evaluates only two chicken nugget samples out of the billions of chicken
nuggets that are made every year," Peterson said.
A sample size of two
nuggets is simply too small to generalise to an entire category of food, she
told Reuters Health. Two nuggets is a small sample size, deShazo acknowledged,
and some chains have begun to use primarily white meat in their nuggets just
not the particular restaurants he visited.
"Chicken nuggets tend to have an elevated fat content
because they are breaded and fried. But it's no secret what is in a chicken
nugget and most quick service restaurants have nutritional information posted in
the store or on their website," Peterson said. "And every package of
chicken nuggets in the grocery store by law contains an ingredient list and a
complete nutritional profile, including fat content," she said.
The brief chicken nugget exploration was not meant to be an
exposé of the chicken industry or fast food generally, but to remind consumers
that "not everything that tastes good is good for you," deShazo said.
He and his colleagues chose not to reveal which chain
restaurants they visited. Consumers aren't necessarily being misled, since much
of the nutritional information they need is readily available, he said. "We
just don't take the time to understand basic nutritional facts."
Picture: Chicken nuggets from Shutterstock