The Boston Globe

Ever break open the inside of a chicken nugget and wonder what the white stuff was beneath the breading? It turns out chicken muscle—what we traditionally think of as meat—makes up less than half of the chicken in nuggets sold at two popular fast-food chains. The rest is ground up fat, bones, blood vessels and skin from the chicken, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Medicine.

The study authors declined to name the two chains where they purchased the deep-fried nuggets and analyzed their contents under a microscope, but they did conclude that “chicken nuggets are mostly fat, and their name is a misnomer.”

While white meat chicken is one of the best sources of lean protein, “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,” study author Dr. Richard D. deShazo of the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson said in an interview with Reuters Health.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

I did a little searching on the dieting website CalorieKing.com to see how the nutritional value stacks up among chicken nuggets at various popular chains. (These are all for plain nuggets without the sauce.) The last in the list clearly comes out on top.

1. McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets: The chain’s website says the nuggets “are made with USDA-inspected white meat.” A four-piece serving contains 190 calories, 9 grams of protein, and 12 grams of fat—plus 12 grams of carbohydrates which is largely the flour-based batter.

2. Burger King Chicken Nuggets: Made with “premium white meat,” four nuggets contain 190 calories, 8 grams of protein, 11 grams of fat, and 13 grams of carbohydrates.

3. Wendy’s Chicken Nuggets: The fast-food chain proclaims on its website that “our nuggets are made with all white-meat chicken.” A four-piece serving contains 180 calories, 9 grams of protein, 12 grams of fat, and 10 grams of carbohydrates.

4. Popeye’s Chicken Tenders: Four nuggets contain 153 calories, 7 grams of protein, 9 grams of fat, and 9 grams of carbohydrates. Popeye’s claims that its tenders—which are batter fried and nugget shaped—contain “100% whole breast meat”. Note: Each nugget is 0.4 ounces, somewhat smaller than the other chains with nuggets weighing 0.5 to 0.6 ounces.

5. Kentucky Fried Chicken Original Recipe Bites: These look like the best among all the options. Four bites, weighing 0.6 ounces each, contain 132 calories, 6 grams of fat, and 5 grams of carbohydrates. And they pack a notable 15 grams of protein. That’s a much better fat-protein ratio than the other options. The KFC website says each bite contains “100% breast meat,” and they likely use less batter in every bite.