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Monday, November 30, 2015

"Chicken" Nuggets or "Greasy, Grimey Parts"?

It's December and the Nugget War has broken out in America. Most likely you've seen the Burger King commercials touting 10 "nuggets" for $1.49. At 15 cents per nugget, about half that item’s regular price of $2.99, according to Bloomberg, the price is also cheaper than the rate that McDonald’s sells its 50-piece chicken McNuggets at ($9.99 for 50 or 20 cents per nugget).

An unbelievable deal for chicken, right? Well, not so fast. My inquisitive and astute brother told me to investigate why the name "chicken nuggets" wasn't an accurate description of Burger King's colossal menu deal.

BK advertises the chicken product like this ...

"Made with white meat, our bite-sized Chicken Nuggets are tender and juicy on the inside and crispy on the outside. Coated in a homestyle seasoned breading, they are perfect for dipping in any of our delicious dipping sauces."

Any, I want to be clear about any potential accusations here. Maria Gody, Senior editor/host of James Beard-award winning blog "The Salt," says ...

"Burger King says its nuggets are made with 'premium white meat,' McDonald's boasts 'USDA-inspected white meat,' KFC touts 'premium, 100% breast meat,' and Chick-Fil-A declares its nuggets are 'all breast meat.'"

(Maria Godoy. "What's In That Chicken Nugget? Maybe You Don't Want To Know."
The Salt. October 12, 2013.)

But ...

A recent paper (2013) published online by The American Journal of Medicine looked at two nuggets from two different, unidentified (for obvious reasons) national fast food chains: Each was comprised of just 50 percent or less muscle tissue, which is what we typically define as chicken, Reuters reported. The rest of the pair of nuggets was made up of a hodgepodge of pure fat, blood vessels, ground bone, nerves and cartilage. The latter is usually stuff that ends up in dog food.

"What has happened is that 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," lead author Dr. Richard D. deShazo, of the University of Mississippi Medical Center, told Reuters Health. "It is really a chicken by-product high in calories, salt, sugar and fat that is a very unhealthy choice."

(Laura Schocker. "What's Really Inside a Chicken Nugget?"
The Huffington Post. October 30, 2013.)

Dr. deShazo says ...

"Our sampling shows that some commercially available chicken nuggets are actually fat nuggets. Their name is a misnomer." 

The chicken nuggets the researchers looked at were a "poor source of proteins" with limited nutritional value.

(Maria Godoy. "What's In That Chicken Nugget? Maybe You Don't Want To Know."
The Salt. October 12, 2013.)

Are the popular nuggets fast food restaurants peddle comprised of white, chicken breast meat, or grey chicken ground into a slurry and poured into molds? You decide. I'm just reporting the news.

Even the seemingly "yucky" chicken parts, themselves, probably aren't harmful says Richard Prayson, M.D., section head of Cleveland Clinic's Department of Anatomic Pathology. Yet, he states, "Chemical additives and preservatives are potentially the issue."

In another study, David Katz, M.D., founding director of Yale University's Prevention Research Center and author of the book Disease Proof, surveyed four fast food companies' nuggets and discovered additives and preservatives were numerous, to say the least. Among those ingredients (generally recognized as "safe" by the FDA but not necessarily proven "unsafe") Katz found were the following:

* Dimethylpolysiloxane, an anti-foaming agent also used in Silly Putty 
* Propylene glycol, a chemical found in antifreeze

Katz speaks about so-called "safe" ingredients the vague, catch-all term "artificial ingredients" ...

"If something is clearly not the way it ought to be, assume potential harm until it's proven to be safe. I would invoke the precautionary principle and say that something that sounds dubious should be considered harmful... If it's not a native part of the food supply, I wouldn't eat it.

"Artificial ingredients' are not really food at all, so they are inevitably a bad idea, adding that this doesn't mean 'natural ingredients' are healthy, either. 'Natural 'doesn't mean good for us; pure lard is natural. (And sometimes 'natural ingredients' aren't what most anyone would consider edible.)"

(Laura Schocker. "What's Really Inside a Chicken Nugget?"
The Huffington Post. October 30, 2013.)

And, of course, nugget studies show the product to be disturbingly high in sugar and sodium.

In defense of nuggets, the National Chicken Council has issued a statement that says you can't really make "scientifically justifiable" inferences "about an entire product category given a sample size of two" (referring to the work of Dr. deShazo).

The Council claims ...

"Chicken nuggets tend to have an elevated fat content because they are breaded and fried. But it's no secret what is in a chicken nugget — most quick service restaurants have nutritional information posted in the store or on their Website, noting that nuggets sold in grocery stores also list a complete nutritional profile."

DeShazo agrees that not all chicken nuggets are created equal. Some grilled or baked ones may be much better. The goal, he says, is to get people to read and understand food labels.

To Nugget or Not To Nugget?

Doesn't some simple common sense lead consumers to logical conclusions about just what nuggets are? I mean, any thrifty grocery shopper knows the best parts of a chicken are more expensive than the low menu price of fast-food nuggets would allow. If a combination of ingredients -- meat parts, additives, and preservatives -- are staring you in the fact for the price of 15 cents a nugget, chances are claims of "pure meat delight" are cackles of puffery. If you're "chicken," just pass, or else eat those mysterious, perfectly formed nuggets at your own risk and don't consider the composition.

On the other hand, you probably don't want to know what is on the inside of that ballpark favorite, the Great American Hot Dog either. How can anyone attend a game without eating at least one of those glorious tube steaks? I know I can't, and I realize hot dogs are just junk food. Yet, people consume dogs as if they are a great delicacy. Go to a Columbus Clippers "Dime-a-Dog" night and watch thousands of hungry fans eat them by the armload ... smiling all the while they swallow the cheap fare.

Mystery meat surprises abound. And, most everyone has at least one favorite. Hell, I'm still wondering what's really in a White Castle slider. No, I'm not -- just give me a dozen and watch me feast while tossing those little boxes aside.

Also, I remember the high school cafeteria serving what they called "Salisbury steak," which came in the form of a circular, thin patty that absolutely defied being cut into pieces with a spork. Most students would simple spear the middle of the meat and eat it from the outside in. A challenge to eat in any mannerly way, the "steak" (which in no way contained the slightest particle of any steak cut known to man), earned the well-deserved title of the "Official Problem-Solving Meal" for its resistance to human consummation.

I know the next time I do eat a nugget, I'll wonder about what the heck it is made of ... but I'll still most likely drown it in one of those assorted dipping sauces and throw the sucker into my mouth. At least, my skinflint mind will rest easy with the meager price paid for the bargain meal even if my stomach does not. Bon appetit. What do you expect for chicken feed?

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