There’s something about chicken nuggets that children love and food purists really hate. Since McDonald’s came out with the McNugget worldwide in 1983 and created the category, critics of the modern food system have repeatedly jumped on the fact that nuggets are not exactly health food.
“When it comes to childhood nutrition, few foods are as unhealthy and insidious as the chicken nugget,” Tara Parker Pope wrote in the Wall Street Journal in 2004.
Morgan Spurlock gorged on chicken nuggets and other fare at McDonald’s while gaining 24
pounds for his 2004 documentary, “SuperSize Me.” Spurlock also launched the spurious notion that nuggets were made from “old chickens” that could no longer lay eggs and are ground up into a “mash.”
A blog posting on that theme made the rounds a few years ago, supported by an authentic video showing the production of mechanically separated poultry (MSP), which consists of bits of meat squeezed off the frames (bone structures) of turkeys and chickens. The resulting paste-like product is used in frankfurters and other “pegboard” products but is not typically used in nuggets. But the blog insisted not only that MSP is used in nuggets, but it is treated with ammonia to kill germs – which is also untrue.
The latest blast against nuggets comes from Richard D. deShazo, an allergist and immunologist at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson. “The composition of the present day chicken nugget is not well understood,” the authors wrote. He and two colleagues bought chicken nuggets at two local fast-food chains and examined sections from them under a microscope. A grand total of two nuggets – one from store – were studied.
In a two-page “brief observation” published in the American Journal of Medicine, they professed horror at what they found – blood vessels, nerve endings, and connective tissue! Imagine that!
But is it really unusual to find blood vessels, nerve endings and connective tissue in muscle meat? Doesn’t all muscle require blood and feeling? And doesn’t it have to be connected to bones and other structures? What’s the news here?
The researchers commented on the fact that there is more fat than protein in the two nuggets they examined. You don’t need a microscope to determine that, however. That information, far from being “not well understood,” is readily available from the websites of the fast-food chains.
Based on proximity of restaurants to the medical center and on the exact match with data from another source that is mentioned by the authors, it appears certain that the nuggets came from McDonald’s and Wendy’s.
Both chains post detailed nutritional information on their websites. McDonald’s says four McNuggets pack 190 calories and have more fat than protein (12 grams to 9 grams). Wendy’s four-piece nuggets check in at 180 calories, 100 of which are from fat, and the same amount of fat and protein as McD’s. Both also carry about 350 mg of sodium – 15 percent of the recommended daily intake.
McDonald’s and Wendy’s state that their nuggets are made from “white meat” (McDonald’s) or ”chicken breast” (Wendy’s). No mystery ingredients here.
In a video interview provided by the medical center, Dr. deShazo refers darkly to mechanically separated chicken, which he says is mixed up with other ingredients into a “goo” and warns that “some fast-food restaurants” use it in their nuggets. But he doesn’t say which ones.
DeShazo is no stranger to controversy. He is something of a crusader for better health, and does a public-radio show on wellness.
Mississippi has the dubious distinction of leading the nation in obesity. Obviously Mississippians need some nutrition education. If anyone down there is trying to live on McNuggets, they should be counseled to try the broiled chicken sandwich instead. But to defame the whole category and suggest that it contains ingredients that it probably doesn’t is misleading and unfair. It’s sad to find doctors and scientists who ought to know better joining the bloggers and propagandists who spread misinformation about a common food product.
Copyright 2013 by Richard L. Lobb