It finally happened, the thing I had been dreading since she started to have playdates away from my watchful eye. My nine-year-old daughter came home from a friend’s house and sheepishly announced that she had eaten McDonald’s chicken McNuggets.“Oh, really,” I said, nonchalantly, attempting to hide my shock and disappointment. Even though I raised my daughter on organic produce with little or no processed food, I knew this day would come. She would eventually eat this highly processed food made of reconstituted chicken, which is battered and breaded and mixed with toxic additives and preservatives, then deep fried in trans fat laden, partially hydrogenated oil.
“How’d it taste?” I asked, afraid to hear her answer. “OK,” she replied. “I only ate two.” I was relieved. Thankfully, she neither loved them nor ate that many, but what if she had? Millions of people around the world do. They’re fed to our troops in Iraq; whole generations of kids have grown up eating McNuggets as a staple in their diet.
In 1983, McDonald’s, seeking a “healthier” white meat, began producing a boneless chicken finger food. McNuggets continue to be one of the most profitable and popular products on McDonald’s menu. The company estimates that one-fifth of the nation eats Chicken McNuggets at some time during the year – totaling 4.8 billion nuggets per year. The nugget says Michael Pollan in his bestselling new book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, is the reason chicken has supplanted beef as the most popular meat in America.
If you think that Chicken McNuggets are just pieces of chicken fried in a pan, you would be wrong. According to the McDonald’s Brochure on Nutritional Values, they are made from 38 ingredients including:Chicken (53%), water, salt, modified corn starch (to bind the pulverized chicken meat), sodium phosphates, chicken broth powder (to restore some of the flavor that processing leaches out), seasoning (vegetable oil, extracts of rosemary, mono, di- and triglycerides, lecithin). Battered and breaded with water, enriched bleached wheat flour (niacin, iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), yellow corn flour, bleached wheat flour, modified corn starch, salt, leavening (baking soda, sodium acid pyrophosphate, sodium aluminum phosphate, monocalcium phosphate, calcium lactate), spices, wheat starch, dried whey, corn starch. Batter is set in vegetable shortening. Cooked in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, (may contain partially hydrogenated soybean oil and/or partially hydrogenated corn oil and/or partially hydrogenated canola oil and/or cottonseed oil and/or sunflower oil and/or corn oil).Then there’s citric acid and Dimethylpolysiloxane (added as an anti-foaming agent). According to the Handbook of Food Additives this “is a suspected carcinogen and an established mutagen, tumorigen and reproductive effector: it’s also flammable.”
If that’s not enough, here’s the kicker: TBHQ is added to help preserve freshness. Pollan says in his book, “Perhaps the most alarming ingredient in a Chicken McNugget is tertiary butylhydroquinone, or TBHQ, an antioxidant derived from petroleum that is either sprayed directly on the nugget or the inside of the box it comes in to ‘help preserve freshness.’ According to A Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives, TBHQ is a form of butane (i.e. lighter fluid) the FDA allows processors to use sparingly in our food.”
Like much of the manufactured foods we eat today, the McNugget is so highly processed that its taste and texture depend almost entirely on engineering and additives which disguise the fact that it might contain cheap or adulterated food. The 2004 documentary “Super Size Me” alleged that McNuggets were, at one point in time, made from sick and/or old chickens that were unable to lay eggs.
So, do yourself a favor. The next time you’re eating out with the kids, think about skipping the chicken nuggets, not only at fast food places, but even at good restaurants. Many times the chefs will deep fry the chicken in partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, leaving them with up to 20 grams of fat per 3-ounce serving. Better yet, try making this version at home.
Here’s a healthier recipe from chefmom.com:
- 2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 3 tablespoons butter, melted, or olive oil
- 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 cup dried bread crumbs (plain or Italian)
- 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Cut chicken into 1 inch pieces. Combine chicken, melted butter or oil, and Worcestershire in a 1 quart freezer bag. Combine the bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese in a second freezer bag. Tape the two bags together. Label and freeze.To prepare for serving, thaw and remove the chicken pieces from the marinade. Shake them in the bread crumb bag to coat, a few at a time.Preheat oven to 450. Arrange chicken on a greased cookie sheet. Bake 7-9 minutes or until no longer pink in the center.
Prep time: 20-30 minutes.Serves 4