A lunchroom favorite of children and adults, chicken nuggets have carved out a special niche when it comes to uniquely American cuisine. Whether you think of nuggets as a tasty, crunchy snack or as a great treat for the kids, you may need to stop thinking of them as chicken at all.
According to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, there’s less chicken in most nuggets than what the name suggests. A sampling of several types of commercially available chicken nuggets found that a more appropriate name might actually be “fat nugget,” which certainly doesn’t sound all that appealing when read off a menu.
The nuggets examined by researchers in the study at best were no more than 50 percent meat. The rest of the nugget was comprised of such edible but questionable materials as connective tissue, nerve endings, blood vessels, fat, and ground bone – much of which you can usually find in brands of dog food.
The results of this study were published in The American Journal of Medicine.
A Not So Tempting Treat
In what researchers admit was an informal test, the study involved chicken nuggets purchased over the counter from two different national fast-food chains located close to the university health center. Not looking to generate negative publicity for either company, the names of the fast-food restaurants visited by researchers were withheld from the published study.
When examined under a microscope, one order of nuggets consisted of just 40 percent skeletal muscle – the part of the animal we tend to consider the “meat” – and only 19 percent protein. Another order contained just 50 percent meat and 18 percent protein. Despite the small sample size, the findings of this study were disturbing nonetheless.
While healthy, lean chicken meat ranks as a great source of protein, what researchers discovered during their examination suggests that commercially sold chicken nuggets offer little nutritional value as they contain more processed chicken parts than meat.
In an episode from the show’s first season, chef Jamie Oliver – an advocate for reforming school lunches and improving children’s diets – demonstrated firsthand to a group of kids what parts of the chicken go into making their favorite snack. Despite the obvious reactions of disgust the children exhibited when shown the bone and blood vessels that comprise a chicken nugget, every child in attendance at the demonstration said they still wanted to eat the nuggets after Chef Oliver had finished preparing them.
Jamie Oliver shows kids how chicken nuggets are made
Unsurprised by these kids’ behavior, researchers cite this episode as an example of how children in the U.S. have become conditioned to eat more on familiarity and flavor than substance. Despite what actually goes into a chicken nugget, children have become so accustomed to enjoying eating nuggets that it doesn’t matter what they’re made of, especially since kids care little whether what they eat is actually nutritious.
While it might be tempting to view chicken nuggets along the lines of bugs, boogers, and other unsavory things children put into their mouths, researchers at Mississippi Medical Center argue that parents need to take a bigger interest in what kids eat.
Currently in Mississippi, one out of every three adults suffer from obesity, and the number of kids suffering from childhood obesity continues to rise. Studies have shown that children who are obese have a much higher risk of becoming obese as adults. Much of this is due to poor dietary habits learned as a child being carried over into adulthood. While chicken nuggets are not solely to blame for the rising rates of obesity in the U.S., they do help to underscore role fried foods with little nutritional value play in American diets.
However, just as telling kids on Halloween that sugar will rot their teeth and require they visit the dentist won’t stop them from eating a bag of candy if left alone after trick or treating, arguing the nutritional merits of a meal won’t cause kids to starting eating healthy. Parents must start taking the lead in what’s for dinner, and try to find ways of preparing more nutritious meals to their kids even if a trip around the drive through is the faster, cheaper, and more popular choice.
For more information on Healthy Meal Planning, check out these links below.
- Chicken Nuggets by iStock
- Dog Food Heart by nancyg48/Flickr
John Nickelbottom is a freelance health writer and father of two.