Chicken Nuggets

Ultra Processed Foods – Why Chicken Nuggets Are Not Food

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Many of us relish visiting a fast-food giant like McDonald’s for their chicken nuggets. For many people, a chicken nugget is one of their favorite meals.

There’s no harm in occasionally indulging, but it’s crucial to recognize that these nuggets are a form of ultra-processed food. The issue arises when chicken nuggets become a regular part of our diet or when we mistakenly assume they’re simply chunks of chicken and nothing more. Join me as we delve into why chicken nuggets are classified as ultra-processed foods and what ingredients they contain.

Table of Contents

Ultra-Processed Foods: Why Chicken Nuggets Are Not Food

Many have fond memories of biting into a warm, crispy McDonald’s Chicken Nugget. A beloved staple of fast-food menus, it’s adored by both children and adults alike.

However, as delicious as they seem, chicken nuggets have a darker side. Contrary to their name, chicken nuggets are far from pure chicken meat. They fall under the category of ultra-processed foods, a term that’s become increasingly concerning for healthcare professionals.

What Are Ultra-Processed Foods?

At the Cleveland Clinic, a registered dietitian explained this about Ultra-processed foods and why she, like me, lists chicken nuggets as Ultra Processed Food:

“Ultra-processed foods take it a few steps further. Instead of just adding vitamins and minerals, these products also include added ingredients that significantly change the makeup of the original food. 
“Ultra-processed foods are foods that have not only been processed, but have also had other substances — like salt, sugar, fat, preservatives and food dyes — added to them for flavor and to make them shelf-stable,” Czerwony explains.”  

Registered dietitian – Beth Czerwony, RD, LD – Cleveland clinic

Ultra-processed foods are far removed from their natural state and packed with additives, preservatives, and other artificial ingredients. They are created using industrial methods and may include substances not commonly found in a household kitchen.

These foods are engineered for extended shelf life, and while they may be convenient and inexpensive, they often lack nutritional value. Also, the scientists who create them often make them addictive so that you will crave them or want to eat more.

The Ingredients: What’s Really In Those McDonald’s Chicken Nuggets?

Let’s examine what makes up a four-piece serving of McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets:

Ingredients (4 Pcs McDonalds Chicken Nuggets: White Boneless Chicken, Water, Vegetable Oil (canola Oil, Corn Oil, Soybean Oil, Hydrogenated Soybean Oil), Enriched Flour (bleached Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Bleached Wheat Flour, Yellow Corn Flour, Vegetable Starch (modified Corn, Wheat, Rice, Pea, Corn), Salt, Leavening (baking Soda, Sodium Aluminum Phosphate, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Calcium Lactate, Monocalcium Phosphate), Spices, Yeast Extract, Lemon Juice Solids, Dextrose, Natural Flavors.

Mc Donalds Website

As you can see, many of these ingredients aren’t simple, whole foods. The list contains various vegetable oils, multiple kinds of flours, and various additives, some of which serve as emulsifiers and preservatives.

Let’s not forget the dipping sauces, which are equally problematic. For example, here are the ingredients for McDonald’s Honey Mustard Dipping Sauce:

Honey Mustard Sauce (1 Container): Ingredients: Water, Sugar, Soybean Oil, Distilled Vinegar, Mustard Seed, Honey, Corn Syrup Solids, Egg Yolks, Contains 2% Or Less: Salt, Cellulose Gel, White Wine, Xanthan Gum, Spices, Turmeric And Paprika Extract (color), Sodium Benzoate (preservative), Yeast Extract, Cellulose Gum, Natural Flavor, Maltodextrin.

Mc Donalds WebsitE

The sauce is another concoction of sugars, oils, and preservatives.

The classification of chicken nuggets and their accompanying sauces as ultra-processed foods becomes apparent when you examine the list of ingredients.

Far from containing just chicken and basic condiments, these products are packed with various chemical additives and preservatives. These are substances that most of us wouldn’t consider “food” in the traditional sense; instead, they often serve as flavor enhancers, preservatives, or texturizers.

Whether it’s additives like sodium benzoate in the sauce or hydrogenated oils in the nuggets, many ingredients fall into categories that are more chemical than culinary.

So, when discussing ultra-processed foods, we’re discussing products extensively altered from their original state through industrial processes and laden with synthetic substances.

These aren’t just minor modifications to preserve the food; these are substantial transformations that often involve non-food chemicals. In this way, what you’re consuming starts to look less and less like “food” in the natural or traditional sense and more like a chemically engineered product designed for long shelf life and hyper-palatability rather than nutritional value.

Why Are Ultra-Processed Foods Harmful?

Numerous studies have indicated that high consumption of ultra-processed foods is associated with obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and even some cancers. The simple reason? These foods are more chemical than nutritional sustenance.

Profit Over Public Health

A significant driving force behind the ubiquity of ultra-processed foods is the higher profit margins they offer to food companies and retailers. These products are cheaper to produce, can be sold for a long time, and are less likely to be returned, leading to higher profits but worse health outcomes for consumers.

The Way Forward To Learn About Ultra-Processed Foods

Knowing what goes into these food items, the real question becomes: are they worth the convenience and the price? As consumers, it is crucial to be informed and make choices that favor our long-term health. Here are some tips to navigate away from ultra-processed foods:

Read Labels:

Always check the ingredients. If a product contains things that can’t pronounce, it’s a sign to put it back on the shelf.

Plan Meals:

Preparing meals at home allows you to control the ingredients.

Fresh Over Fast:

Opt for fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats over processed options.

Mind The Sauces:

If you must have sauces, look for natural or organic options without added sugars or preservatives.


Ensure your family and friends know the risks associated with ultra-processed fits.

While it’s okay to indulge occasionally, consuming ultra-processed foods like chicken nuggets could have long-lasting impacts on our health. The key is to strike a balance and make informed choices.

So the next time you find yourself craving a chicken nugget, maybe consider going for a piece of grilled chicken instead—it’s a small change that could make a big difference in your health.

Reluctant Low Carb Life explores all aspects of keto and low-carb lifestyle, fitness, health, wellness, and aging gracefully. At the Reluctant Low Carb Life, we strive to give honest and accurate information to people trying to live the low-carb and keto lifestyle while improving their fitness and health.

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All About Emulsifiers In Ultra-Processed Foods

One ingredient that frequently shows up in ultra-processed foods is emulsifiers. So, you might wonder, are emulsifiers excellent or bad for you? Should you be worried about consuming them? Keep reading as we delve deeper into the role of emulsifiers in ultra-processed foods.

You can read more about All About Emulsifiers In Ultra-Processed Foods by clicking here.

Ultra-Processed Foods: A Global Threat To Public Health

This change coincides with the introducing of fast food and ultra-processed foods into their daily diets. Given this reality, it’s hardly surprising to learn that such foods are detrimental to our well-being and can lead to various health issues. Join me as we delve deeper into this topic and examine Nestlé’s floating supermarket venture in the Amazon and its concerning aftermath.

You can read more about Ultra-Processed Foods: A Global Threat To Public Health by clicking here.

Are Sausages Ultra-Processed Foods?

Sausages often fall into this ultra-processed category, mainly due to the chemicals and additives they contain. Keep reading to explore why sausages are generally considered ultra-processed and why you might want to think twice before making them a staple.

You can read more about Are Sausages Ultra-Processed Foods? by clicking here.

Anita Hummel
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Reluctant Low Carb Life explores the keto and low carb lifestyles, fitness, health, wellness, and aging gracefully. We give you honest advice, accurate information, and real stories about what it means to change your life.


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