Nugget Nutrition: Which Chicken Nuggets Are The Best (and Worst) for You?

Image source: Thinkstock
Image source: Thinkstock

A very small study (seriously, they only studied two chicken nuggets) has revealed to us that chicken nuggets aren’t all what they seem. Researchers at the University of Mississippi Medical Center examined the nutritional content of chicken nuggets from two unidentified national chains. The results, delightfully titled “The Autopsy of Chicken Nuggets Reads ‘Chicken Little,'” were published in the American Journal of Medicine.

The first nugget was approximately 50 percent “striated muscle”–you know, meat. The rest was primarily fat, with some blood vessels, skin, and nerve cells thrown in for good measure. Mmmmm. Nerve cells.

The second nugget was a mere 40 percent actual meat, with “generous quantities of fat and other tissue, including connective tissue and bone spicules.” Dude, I think you meant bonus spicules, amirite? Delish.

In only examining one nugget each from two restaurants, this clearly isn’t an indictment of all fast food offerings. Lead study author Richard deShazo, MD said that fast food chains aren’t necessarily misleading consumers.

“We just don’t take the time to understand basic nutritional facts – this is a health literacy issue – and to push back when our kids and grandkids, who do not know the risks of being obese, beg for unhealthy foods,” Dr. deShazo said in a statement.

The study authors chose not to identify the restaurants where they bought the nuggets, saying only that “we bought an order of chicken nuggets at each of two national fast food chain restaurants near our academic health center in Jackson, Miss.”

Okay, fine, don’t tell us. And yes, obviously I already did a Google map search to see which fast food joints are near the center, and the answer is all of them.

Mostly I’m disappointed that the study doesn’t tell us whether the fat content of the tested nuggets matched up with the restaurant’s stated nutritional data. Who doesn’t want to enjoy that kind of Seinfeld-esque hilarity?

Since Dr. DeShazo and friends won’t give us that info, the least we can do is take a look at the nutritional data available for the major chains that offer chicken nuggets. The best nuggets have significantly more protein than fat; the worst has almost twice as much fat as protein.

Here’s how the nuggets stacked up, from worst to best:

Jack in the Box

Jack in the Box’s smallest serving of chicken nuggets is five pieces, and weighs 77 grams, or about a half an ounce larger than most of the other chains’ smallest servings. Even keeping the larger serving size in mind, its nutritional content makes it by far the worst choice of the ones I reviewed, with almost twice as much fat as protein. It contains:

Calories: 238

Protein: 9 grams

Fat: 17 grams

Sodium: 604 mg

(Nutritional Data: Jack in the Box)

Burger King

A four-piece serving of chicken nuggets at Burger King weighs 62 grams. The nutritional content of Burger King’s chicken nuggets is nearly identical to that of McDonald’s and Wendy’s, but with a slightly poorer ratio of protein to fat, I ranked it lower. It contains:

Calories: 190

Protein: 8 grams

Fat: 11 grams

Sodium: 360 mg

(Nutritional Data: Burger King)


A four-piece serving size of McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets is 65 grams.

Calories: 190

Protein: 9 grams

Fat: 12 grams

Sodium: 360 mg

(Nutritional Data: McDonald’s)


A four-piece chicken nugget serving at Wendy’s weighs 60 grams. To be clear, there’s not much nutritional difference between Wendy’s, McDonald’s, and Burger King’s chicken nuggets. I gave Wendy’s the edge for having a little bit less sodium overall in the serving; however the serving itself is ever-so-slightly smaller. Wendy’s four-piece chicken nuggets contain:

Calories: 180

Protein: 9 grams

Fat: 12 grams

Sodium: 350 mg

(Nutritional Data: Wendy’s)


A four-piece kid’s serving of Chick-fil-A chicken nuggets weighs 57 grams. Like KFC’s nuggets, Chick-fil-A’s nuggets contain a lot of sodium, but the protein-to-fat ratio here is much better than most competitors’. It contains:

Calories: 130

Protein: 14 grams

Fat: 6 grams

Sodium: 530 mg

(Nutritional Data: Chick-fil-A)


A four-piece of KFC’s Original Recipe Bites weighs 67 grams. Although its sodium content is on the high side, it has the best protein-to-fat ratio of all the chicken nuggets I reviewed. It contains:

Calories: 130

Protein: 15 grams

Fat: 6 grams

Sodium: 440 mg

(Nutritional Data: KFC)

Or, make your own

At this point, you may just be ready to make this stuff at home. I found two super-healthy recipes for you to try–one that uses ground chicken, and one that uses chunks of chicken breast. The one using ground chicken also incorporates extra veggies: find the recipe for Sneaky Zucchini Chicken Nuggets here on Babble.

The blog Skinnytaste has a great-looking recipe for Healthy Baked Chicken Nuggets, pictured above. Not surprisingly, this is by far a better nutritional choice than fast food. The weight of the serving isn’t listed, but based on the ingredients, it looks like the serving size is about 4 ounces, or about twice what you’d have from a fast food place. Even with that larger serving, you’re still getting fewer calories, less fat, and more protein.  Check it out:

Calories: 165

Protein: 22 grams

Fat: 4.6 grams

Sodium: 190 mg (Sodium isn’t listed in the nutritional content for this recipe, and it calls for salt “to taste.” Without adding any salt, and given the other ingredients, I calculated it at about 190 mg per serving.)

Article Posted 5 years Ago

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