Autopsy of a Chicken Nugget By UMMC Researchers Reveals Fowl Play

This Chicken is shocked by the results of this study.

What exactly are in those chicken nuggets your kids love so much?  Suspecting fowl play, researchers at the University of Mississippi Medical Center performed an “autopsy” on the fast-food favorite and were “floored” and “astounded” by what they saw—and not in a good way.

The heavily processed globs of so-called chicken meat aren’t really chicken at all, according to a study by Richard D. deShazo, MD, a distinguished professor of medicine and pediatrics at UMMC, and his colleagues, pathologist Steven Bigler, MD, of Baptist Medical Center in Jackson and Leigh Baldwin Skipworth of UMMC.

The researchers put two chicken nuggets—purchased at a pair of unnamed national fast-food chain restaurants near UMMC—under the microscope and published the results in the American Journal of Medicine. Their conclusion: “Chicken nuggets are mostly fat, and their name is a misnomer.”

Or more to the point, deShazo noted in an interview with The Atlantic, “It’s almost like super glue that we’re eating.”

Richard D. deShazo, MD

“When chicken is processed, there’s some chicken left on the bone,” deShazo explained to The Atlantic. “You can actually vibrate that stuff off, and you get these chicken leftovers, and you can put it together, mix it up with other substances, and come out with a goo that you can fry and call a chicken nugget. It’s a combination of chicken, carbohydrates and fats, and other substances that make it glue together.”

The study found that one of the nuggets, minus the breading, was about half skeletal muscle—that is, actual meat—and a whole lot of fat, along with some blood vessels, nerve tissue and “generous quantities of epithelium [from skin and visceral organs] and associated supportive tissue” thrown in for good measure. All in all, the nugget contained 56 percent fat, 25 percent carbohydrates and 19 percent protein.

The second nugget, from a different restaurant, boasted 40 percent skeletal muscle while the rest consisted of “generous quantities of fat and other tissue, including connective tissue and bone spicules.” It amounted to 58 percent fat, 24 percent carbs and 18 percent protein.


“We’ve taken a very healthy product—lean white meat—and processed it, gooed it up with fat, sugar and salt,” deShazo told The Atlantic. Sadly, he adds, “the predominant components aren’t chicken”—at least, not chicken meat.

The chicken industry, not surprisingly, got its feathers a mite ruffled. When Reuters ran its own story on the UMMC study, Ashley Peterson of the National Chicken Council noted the study “evaluates only two chicken nugget samples out of the billions of chicken nuggets that are made every year”—too small a sample for any meaningful conclusions, she believes. She added that some fast-food chains have begun to use mostly white meat in their nuggets.

Children, of course, don’t care what the nuggets are made of, but parents need to pay more attention, deShazo said. “It really is a chicken byproduct high in calories, salt, sugar and fat that is a very unhealthy choice,” he told Reuters. “Even worse, it tastes great and kids love it and it is marketed to them.”


By Rick Hynum, an Oxford-based magazine editor and journalist.

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