What's Really in That Chicken Nugget?

Chicken nugget ingredients—you might be sorry you asked.

October 8, 2013

A chicken nugget autopsy reveals blood vessels, bone fragments, and connective tissue.

Halloween is right around the corner, and this may be spooky, but we can assure you it's no joke. A study investigating the anatomy of fast-food chicken nuggets found some, um, shall we say, ghastly results. The University of Mississippi Medical Center's (UMMC's) recent analysis of chicken nugget ingredients found that chicken isn't necessary the main component, especially the white meat portion many people believe they're eating when they chomp down on a nugget.


In fact, the study—published online in The American Journal of Medicine—suggests they may as well be called fat and blood vessel nuggets, since that's what most of the food is. Dissecting nuggets from two different national fast-food chains, researchers found some are composed of about 50 percent skeletal muscle, with the rest consisting of fat, blood vessels, and nerves. (Ack!)

"I was floored," Richard deShazo, MD, UMMC distinguished professor of medicine, pediatrics, and immunology. "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."

A microscopic look at another nugget brought equally unappetizing results; the nugget boasted high levels of connective tissue and bone fragments.

"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," Dr. deShazo adds. "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 study didn't even get into the issue that most fast-food nuggets come from factory-farmed chickens, ones given chronic doses of antibiotics, arsenic, and other drugs.

For the best chicken, purchase meat from grass-fed birds that also were only fed organic grains. The chickens live a better life and yield healthier meat under those conditions. Visit LocalHarvest.org to find farmers in your area that raise meat the way you want it.

For more disturbing poultry news, read 3 Dirty Chicken Facts Exposed.