What's really in a chicken nugget?

10:02 PM, May 2, 2011   |    comments
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Jamie Allman

By Jamie Allman, Special for NewsChannel 5

St. Louis, MO (KSDK) - Are chicken nuggets your kids' default meal every time you hit the drive-thru, or take them out for dinner? Have you ever wondered how healthy or unhealthy they really are?

If you're like most busy parents, you probably feed your kids chicken nuggets maybe two, three or five times a week?

Now, I know your kids love them and they're certainly convenient to eat in the backseat of your Suburban. But have you ever thought about what really goes into a chicken nugget?

It all starts on a chicken farm. Usually, only retired egg layers are destined for nugget fame, since their meat is dirt cheap. Tendons, tissue, cartilage, organs, and other chicken extras are ground up into a fine poultry paste. Because that paste is typically crawling with bacteria, it's washed with ammonia, and treated with an artificial flavoring. To get rid of that pink color, the paste is dyed.

Doesn't sound too appetizing, but plenty of kids are making it part of their regular diet and not collapsing, so it can't all be bad, can it?

"We basically looked at the nuggets like these and determined that they're 53 percent meat," said Dr. Bruce Hemming, a microbiologist with Mircrobe Inotech Laboratories.

What about the rest of the nugget?

"Breading and other components that make-up the coating of the nugget," Hemming said. "The big issue is the nutritional content here, but you have to talk to a nutritionist."

A nutritionist describes a chicken nugget as "half chicken, half nugget, more than half fat." And that fat is hydrogenated fat.

So only half of the nugget is chicken, or parts thereof. The other half is not chicken. And remember, half of those calories are coming from fat. The rule of thumb is that for every 100 calories, look for three grams of fat or less. Most chicken nuggets don't pass the test.

As for protein? The nugget NewsChannel 5 tested had only 85 percent of the expected value of meat. They're made up of the worst parts of retired egg layers, ground up, turned into a pink paste, and loaded with fat.

For our study, we chose a "top-of-the-line" nugget. Our nutritionist said a less expensive nugget may contain even less meat. And while she said eating nuggets once a week is acceptable, she suggests looking for nuggets labeled "white meat chicken" since they're better for you.

By law, the ingredients on the package should be listed by weight and chicken should always be the first ingredient.

If you have an issue that warrants further investigation, one that you've wondered about or defies common sense, email us at imjustsayin@ksdk.com.

NewsChannel 5 Clarification: Retired egg layers are used in nugget production, however they are not the exclusive source. Some nuggets are made from a paste, as described above, other nuggets are not made from paste. Ammonia may be used in the manufacturing process, however, most nuggets are not washed with ammonia.


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