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Chicken Nuggets Loaded With Fat, Salt

Chicken Nuggets May Taste Great to Kids, but They Often Lack Nutritional Value

By Bill Hendrick
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Laura J. Martin, MD

May 4, 2010 -- Chicken nuggets may be a hit with kids and some adults, but for the most part, their nutritional value is minimal, says a new investigation by Consumer Reports Health.

What's more, many brands make claims that are misleading, using terms like "whole grain," "all natural," or "organic" -- which make some people think of the little chicken bites as healthy dinner choices, Consumer Reports Health says.

But whether store-bought or purchased from McDonald's or other fast food establishments, chicken nuggets pack a wallop of fat and sodium, the publication says in a news release.

Rating Chicken Nuggets

Trained investigators sampled 12 brands of chicken nuggets and two made of soy. Thirty-one boys and girls aged 6 to 17 assisted with the taste testing.

Among the major findings:

  • Perdue Baked nuggets scored a "good" rating for nutrition, even though a single 3-4 ounce serving had 160 calories, 8 grams of fat, and 370 milligrams of sodium. It touts its nuggets as having "whole grain breading," but a serving contains just 1 gram of fiber.
  • Tyson's chicken nuggets, which claim truthfully they are "100% natural," contain 17 grams of fat and 470 milligrams of sodium. Tyson's earned a "fair" rating for nutrition.
  • Three brands earned a "very good" taste rating, but only "good" for nutrition. Market Pantry, by Target, contains 500 milligrams of sodium and 10 grams of fat; Bell & Evans Breaded came in second in taste, with 360 milligrams of sodium and nine grams of fat; Kirkland Signature Disney (Costco) contains 370 milligrams of sodium and 9 grams of fat.

Consumer Reports Health says Market Pantry and Kirkland Signature earned its best buy designation at 53 cents and 48 cents per serving, respectively. But the report adds that although "the Kirkland brand is cheap, you have to buy a 5-pound bag." Nuggets by Bell & Evans were much more expensive, at $2.18 per serving, Consumer Reports Health says.

The Boca nuggets had 500 milligrams and the Morningstar brand 600 milligrams of sodium. Those brands, though, do have a minor nutritional advantage because they contain more fiber — 3 or 4 grams compared with 0-2 grams for most others. Even two soy-based nuggets, Boca Original Meatless Chik'n and Morningstar Farms Chik'n, contain "a heaping" of sodium, Consumer Reports Health says.

Just one of the 14 brands tested, Health is Wealth, scored a "very good" rating for nutrition, but it didn't pass muster with the taste testers.

"There's the rub," Gayle Williams, deputy editor of Consumer Reports Health, says in a news release. "The brand may be more nutritious than others, but if your kids won't eat it, what good is it?"

Chicken Nuggets: Read the Label

Williams tells WebMD that Consumer Reports Health isn't recommending that parents stop eating nuggets or feeding them to their kids because that wouldn't be realistic.

"The reality is, many parents and kids eat nuggets," she says. "I wouldn't say what we found is a cause to avoid nuggets, but there probably are better food choices. If you are going to eat them, we are trying to tell you which ones have the best taste in terms of nutrition."

Nutrition scores were for the 3- to 4-ounce servings suggested by most manufacturers, Consumer Reports Health says, but "double the size and most tested nuggets would score fair or poor."

Kids who gobbled nuggets from McDonald's restaurants said their food tasted very good, but the items, tested at Consumer Reports' headquarters, rated fair for nutrition.

"Most members of our kids' panel preferred McDonald's nuggets to those from Market Pantry and Bell & Evans, though they liked all three," the Consumer Reports article states.

The publication urges consumers to read health claims on packaging, conceding nuggets aren't the best option for most people.

"Busy parents who are trying to get dinner on the table really do have their work cut out for them," Williams says in the news release. "You want to feed the kids something they'll like — and kids do like chicken nuggets — but you don't want to overwhelm them with fat and sodium. The best you can do is keep an eye on those labels and try to round out the meal with some fruits and vegetables."

The average person gets about 3,500 milligrams of sodium daily, which is considerably more than the maximum daily recommended amount of 2,300 milligrams. About 77% of sodium in the American diet comes from packaged and restaurant foods, Consumer Reports says.

SOURCES: News release, Consumer Reports Health.

Consumer Reports, June 2010.

Gayle Williams, deputy editor, Consumer Reports Health.

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