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Study: Not So Much Chicken in Chicken Nuggets


A recent analysis of two chicken nuggets from two popular restaurants revealed they only contained 40 to 50 percent meat. (<a href="http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Foster_Farms_breast_nuggets_frozen.JPG">Creative Commons</a>)

A recent analysis of two chicken nuggets from two popular restaurants revealed they only contained 40 to 50 percent meat. (<a href="http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Foster_Farms_breast_nuggets_frozen.JPG">Creative Commons</a>)

That chicken nugget you’re eating may only contain 40 to 50 percent meat, according to a new study that analyzed chicken nuggets from two major fast-food chains.

What made up the rest of the nuggets? Researchers said “fat, skin, connective tissue, blood vessels, nerves and bone fragments.”

While all edible, the ingredients don't add up to a good choice, said Dr. Richard deShazo, a professor of medicine, pediatrics and immunology at the University of Mississippi Medical Center where the analysis took place.

“I was floored,” deShazo said. “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.”

White chicken meat is one of the best sources of lean protein available, deShazo said, and physicians often encourage their patients to eat it.

“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. 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,” he said.

For the examination, deShazo worked with Dr. Steven Bigler, a pathologist at Baptist Health Systems in Jackson, Mississippi, who stained, fixed, sliced and analyzed the nugget sections.

In their paper, the physicians wrote that meat constituted about half of nugget No. 1.

“The nugget from the first restaurant was composed of approximately 50 percent skeletal muscle, with the remainder composed primarily of fat, with some blood vessels and nerve present. Higher-power views showed generous quantities of epithelium and associated supportive tissue including squamous epithelium from skin or viscera,” they wrote.

“The nugget from the second restaurant was composed of approximately 40 percent skeletal muscle. Here, too, there were generous quantities of fat and other tissue, including connective tissue and bone spicules.”

DeShazo cautions that the experiment wasn’t designed as a comprehensive study of nuggets from all major fast-food chains. Nor do the results from two randomly selected nuggets from two prominent chains represent all chicken nugget offerings available.

The National Chicken Council (NCC), a national, non-profit trade association representing the U.S. chicken industry echoed that sentiment.

“This study evaluates only two chicken nugget samples out of the billions of chicken nuggets that are made every year,” said Ashley Peterson, Ph.D., the NCC vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs. “It is not scientifically justifiable to make inferences about an entire product category given a sample size of two.”

She added that NCC members “use quality ingredients and adhere to all food safety laws and regulations” to create nuggets.

“Chicken nuggets are an excellent source of protein, especially for kids who might be picky eaters,” she said.

The American Journal of Medicine published deShazo's findings online in September ahead of its print issue.

Here's a short video about the analysis:

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