Just How Much Chicken Meat Is In Your Chicken Nugget?

The study does not reveal which two national fast food chains the researchers used for their "autopsy." (photo: Morton Fox)

The study does not reveal which two national fast food chains the researchers used for their “autopsy.” (photo: Morton Fox)

Chicken nuggets remain a source of mystery for many fast food customers (who often don’t hesitate to chow down after briefly pondering why that one piece looks like a boot), as they generally don’t come from unprocessed cuts of white or dark meat. And so researchers at the University of Mississippi Medical Center performed an “autopsy” on some nuggets to see what they came up with.

For their paper, published in the American Journal of Medicine, the doctors bought some nuggets from area fast food chains (they do not identify which ones, though they did describe chains as “national”), dissected and stained the materials contained therein to see if they could tell muscle from fat, blood vessels, internal organs, skin, cartilage, bones, and nerves.

One chain’s nugget contained about 50% muscle tissue, the other had even less meat, at only 40% muscle.

“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,” one of the researchers tells Reuters. “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.”

A rep for the National Chicken Council, which sounds more like a gag from an Aardman Studios film than an actual thing representing a very real industry, contends that “Chicken nuggets are an excellent source of protein, especially for kids who might be picky eaters.”

The NCC also took exception to the admittedly small sample size of the study. Though, given the fast food industry’s consistency compulsion — wanting to ensure the customer has the same experience at all stores — it isn’t completely out of the realm of possibility that the samples were representative of the whole.

The researchers admit that, nutritionally speaking, all the information that the consumer would need to know is on the labels of chicken nugget products or available from the restaurant chains, but “We just don’t take the time to understand basic nutritional facts.”

Just what is in that chicken nugget? [Reuters]