Love chicken nuggets? Eat only occasionally
STAND-UP comedians have long joked that some things, like the actual components of chicken nuggets, should be better left as mysteries.
Recently, Mississippi researchers found out why: Two nuggets which they examined consisted of 50 per cent or less chicken muscle tissue, breast or thigh meat that would come to mind when a customer thinks of "chicken".
The nuggets came from two national fast-food chains in Jackson. The three researchers selected one nugget from each box, preserved, dissected and stained the nuggets, then looked at them under a microscope.
The first nugget was about half muscle, with the rest a mix of fat, blood vessels and nerves. Close inspection revealed cells that line the skin and internal organs of the bird, the authors wrote in the American Journal Of Medicine.
The second nugget was only 40 per cent muscle, and the remainder was fat, cartilage and bone.
"We all know white chicken meat to be one of the best sources of lean protein available, and encourage our patients to eat it," said lead author Richard deShazo.
"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," he said.
"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 nuggets he examined would be okay to eat occasionally, but he worried that, because they are cheap, convenient and taste good, kids eat them often.
His own grandchildren begged for chicken nuggets all the time, and he would compromise by making them at home, pan-frying chicken breasts with a small amount of oil, Dr deShazo said.
Said Ms Ashley Peterson, vice-president of scientific and regulatory affairs for the National Chicken Council, a non-profit trade group representing the United States chicken industry: "Chicken nuggets are an excellent source of protein, especially for kids who might be picky eaters."
A sample size of two nuggets is simply too small to generalise about an entire category of food, she said.
Two nuggets is a small sample size, Dr deShazo acknowledged, and some chains have begun to use primarily white meat in their nuggets - just not the particular restaurants he visited.
The brief chicken-nugget exploration was not meant to be an expose of the chicken industry or fast food in general, but to remind consumers that "not everything that tastes good is good for you", he said.