38 Eye-Opening Ingredients Found in A Chicken McNugget

Since the dawn of the fast food industry, beef reigned supreme as the most popular meat in America. That is until 1983 when the company Tyson invented the chicken nugget upon request from McDonalds. Chicken has never looked back since becoming widely consumed meat at fast food establishments.

While the chicken nugget is so popular, have you ever thought about what makes up a chicken nugget? Thirty-eight ingredients are used to manufacture the McNugget at McDonalds! Chicken, of course, and lots and lots of corn. The ingredient list becomes strange when synthetic products are used to prevent the nugget from turning rancid as well as toxic substances like dimethylpolysiloxane and even a form of butane (lighter fluid) known as butyl-hydroquinone.

Michael Pollan writes in The Omnivore’s Dilemma,

The nugget consists of its own genre of food for American children, many of whom eat nuggets every day. In appearance and texture a nugget certainly alludes to fried chicken. The ingredients listed suggest a lot goes into a nugget; that and a lot of corn. Of the thirty-eight ingredients it takes to make a McNugget, I counted thirteen that can be derived from:

  • Corn
  • The corn-fed chicken itself
  • Modified cornstarch (to bind the pulverized chicken mean)
  • Mon-, tri-, and diglycerides (emulsifiers, which keep the fats and water from separating)
  • Dextrose
  • Lecithin (another emulsifier)
  • Chicken broth (to restore some of the flavor that processing leaches out)
  • Yellow corn flour and more modified corn starch (for the batter)
  • Corn starch (a filler)
  • Vegetable shortening
  • Partially hydrogenated corn oil
  • Citric acid as a preservative

A couple of other plants take part in the nugget; There’s some wheat in the batter, and on any given day the hydrogenated oil could come from soybeans, canola, or cotton rather than corn, depending on market price and availability.

According to the handout, McNuggets also contain several completely synthetic ingredients, quasiedible substances that ultimately come not from a corn or soybean field but from a petroleum refinery or chemical plant. These chemicals are what make modern processed foods possible, by keeping the organic materials in them from going bad or looking strange after months in the freezer or on the road. Listed first are the “leavening agents”:

  • sodium aluminum phosphate
  • mon-calcium phosphate
  • sodium acid pyrophosphate
  • calcium lactate.

These are antioxidants added to keep the various animal and vegetable fats involved in a nugget from turning rancid. Then there are the “antifoaming agents” like dimethylpolysiloxane, added to the cooking oil to keep the starches from binding to air molecules, so as to produce foam during the fry. The problem is evidently grave enough to warrant adding a toxic chemical to the food: According to the Handbook of Food Additives, dimethylpolysiloxane is a suspected carcinogen and as established mutagen, tumorige, and reproductive effector: it’s also flammable. But perhaps the most alarming ingredient in a Chicken McNugget is a tertiary butyl-hydroquinone, or TBHQ, and antioxidant derived from petroleum that is either sprayed directly on the nugget or the inside of the box it comes in to “preserve freshness.”

According to A Consumers Dictionary of Food Additives, TBHQ is a form of butane (i.e. lighter fluid) the FDA allows processors to use sparingly in our food: It can compromise no more than .02 percent of the oil in a nugget. Which is probably just as well, considering that ingesting a single gram of TBHQ can cause “nausea, vomiting, ringing in the ears, delirium, a sense of suffocation, and collapse.” Ingesting five grams of TBHQ can kill.

With so many exotic molecules organized into a food of such complexity, you would almost expect a chicken nugget to do something more spectacular than taste okay to a child and fill him up inexpensively.

What are you to do?

Next time you don’t feel like cooking and want to feed your family a fast meal, think about what you are actually feeding them. Understand that a chicken nugget is manufactured from 38 ingredients ranging from chicken to corn to ingredients better suited to starting a fire than nourishing your family.

Known carcinogens as well as petroleum based products which can induce nausea, vomiting, ringing in the ears, delirium, etc. even when consumed in small amounts. While the FDA allows trace amounts of these products in your food, these trace amounts are intended for an adult, not a 30lb child. McDonald’s Chicken nuggets come in servings sizes of 4, 6, or 10. It is not uncommon for someone to purchase a “double” (consuming double of what was served, 8, 12, or even 20). You can over consume many of these harmful ingredients in one meal as an adult. If you consume food products at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as snack one and snack two, you may have an accumulative effect on the body in such a short span. What happens when a 30lb child consumes these nuggets? How many can they consume before the side effects take place? Do you think the at home nuggets are any healthier? Do you think the nuggets served at school lunch programs are from free range organic chicken with only a couple of ingredients?

A little McNugget is more than chicken, batter, and oil. It’s a lot and lots of corn and carcinogens!


Steven Zahn

ACE Certified Personal Trainer

NASM Certified Personal Trainer

Pre and Post Partum Certified

Dragondoor Publications: HKC Russian Kettlebell Certified

Email: szahn@lifetimefitness.com