June 25th, 2010
03:44 PM ET

All McNuggets not created equal

All McDonald’s   nuggets are not created equal.

U.S. McNuggets not only contain more calories and fat than their British counterparts, but also chemicals not found across the Atlantic.

CNN investigated the differences after receiving a  blog comment asking about them.

American McNuggets (190 calories, 12 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat for 4 pieces) contain the chemical preservative tBHQ, tertiary butylhydroquinone, a petroleum-based product. They also contain dimethylpolysiloxane, “an anti-foaming agent” also used in Silly Putty.

By contrast, British McNuggets (170 calories, 9 grams of fat, 1 gram of saturated fat for 4 pieces) lists neither chemical among its ingredients.

“I would certainly choose the British nuggets over the American” says Ruth Winter, author of  “A Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives.”

McDonald’s says the differences are based on the local tastes: In the United States, McNuggets are coated and then cooked, in the United Kingdom, they are cooked and then coated. As a result, the British McNuggets absorb less oil and have less fat.

"You would find that if you looked at any of our core food items. You'd see little, regional differences," says Lisa McComb, who handles global media relations for McDonald's, which has more than 32,000 restaurants in 117 countries. "We do taste testing of all our food items on an ongoing basis."

One apparent difference is only a matter of labeling, according to McComb. U.K. McNuggets list ground celery and pepper, which are labeled simply as "spices" in the United States, she says.

Marion Nestle, a New York University professor and author of “What to Eat,” says the tertiary butylhydroquinone and dimethylpolysiloxane in the McNuggets probably pose no health risks. As a general rule, though, she advocates not eating  any food with an ingredient you can’t pronounce.

Dimethylpolysiloxane is used as a matter of safety to keep the oil from foaming, McComb says. The chemical is a form of silicone also used in cosmetics and Silly Putty.  A review of animal studies by The World Health Organization found no adverse health effects associated with dimethylpolysiloxane.

TBHQ is a preservative for vegetable oils and animal fats, limited to .02 percent of the oil in the nugget. One gram (one-thirtieth of an ounce) can cause "nausea, vomiting, ringing in the ears, delirium, a sense of suffocation, and collapse," according to “A Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives.”

In 2003, McDonald’s launched smaller, all-white-meat McNuggets after a federal judge dubbed the food “a McFrankenstein creation of various elements not utilized by the home cook." Among the ingredients that remained in the new McNuggets: tBHQ and dimethylpolysiloxane.

Christopher Kimball, the founder and publisher of Cook’s Illustrated magazine and host of the syndicated cooking show America’s Test Kitchen, says he suspects these chemicals are required for the nuggets to hold their shape and texture after being extruded into nugget-shaped molds.

“The regulations in Europe, in general, around food are much stricter than the U.S.,” Kimball says.

soundoff (1,904 Responses)
  1. blondegeisha

    I can't believe people eat those things period.

    June 27, 2010 at 14:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. RobWarwick

    blech.....what else can you say. Why do we continue to allow ourselves to be served this kind of fake-food from these fast-"food" entities?????

    June 27, 2010 at 14:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Clayton

    Glad I don't eat any McDonalds anyways lol. I hope we get some stricter standards on food here in the USA. Some people may not like it, but honestly these companies are out there for the $$. They could care less how it effects the health of Americans. Then again, some Americans are too ignorant to care what they eat. Guess that's why we have so many fat people. I live near Seattle and go up to Canada all the time. It's kind of a shock to see how many people are skinny up there. I always assume that the fat people there must be American. Canadian girls are hot too, so don't hate. Gotta love Vancouver!! <3

    June 27, 2010 at 15:01 | Report abuse | Reply
    • vanessa

      sadly, the same people that are harmed most by the deregulation of the food supply are the ones who will fight you tooth and nail to keep things as is. Fox News told them to.

      June 27, 2010 at 16:22 | Report abuse |
  4. RobWarwick

    maybe we can take all the mcnuggets in the world and drop them in the Gulf of Mexico. They might absorb all the oil. What the hell.....sounds about as good as shoving golf balls and tires into the hole.

    June 27, 2010 at 15:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Dee

    One thing I notice that's refreshing when I pick up food produced in the EU: a cake will contain something like "flour, eggs, sugar, salt, baking powder." Here in the US I don't even know what most of these things are in my food. We eat a bunch of empty chemical that don't satisfy and then wonder why we keep eating till we're obese.

    June 27, 2010 at 15:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. maddog

    Why anyone would eat more than one bite of a chicken mcnugget is a mystery to me...they are greasy, salty, lousy tasting pieces of manufactured food that do very bad things to your body. Us 'mericans sure do have some goofy eating habits. When I see some very overweight person cramming them into their mouths followed by a nice handful of greasy french fries in spite of the health risks, seems kind of like heroin addiction to me.

    June 27, 2010 at 15:12 | Report abuse | Reply
    • gorn

      I'm pretty sure only kids eat them, and kids don't know any better.

      Never mind the grease, fat, and salt, but the lack of actual meat in these things is what really gets me. What passes for meat is more like a mash of cartilage, bone, and maybe the scrapings from the slaughterhouse that can't be packaged for sale as meat.

      Compare that to, say, the chicken breast strips at Jack in the Box, which are actual solid cuts of chicken breast, and coated in a decent breading rather than a nasty chemical batter. Still not exactly healthy, but at least it's real food that is reasonable to consume now and then.

      June 27, 2010 at 15:25 | Report abuse |
  7. PaulC

    I think everyone has been hearing for years that, as a general rule, fast food are not healthy. People will quit smoking but continue to eat junk food.

    June 27, 2010 at 15:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Matthew

    Just wondering.... Last time I checked, it is 28 grams to an ounce, not 13.

    June 27, 2010 at 15:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Matthew

      By the way, I have not been to McD's in over a year because the food is always cold, the service sucks, and I'm afraid of what they are doing to the food to make it taste the way it does.

      June 27, 2010 at 15:42 | Report abuse |
  9. Pessimyst

    After reading most of the comments here I think most of you will be stunned to learn McDonald's, Burger King and every other fast food establishment use huge quantities of dihydrogen monoxide in and around their food. This stuff is everywhere and in some forms it is lethal. Beware!

    June 27, 2010 at 16:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Bobby

    "Chemicals" or synthetic substances aren't automatically bad. WATER is a chemical. The sheep who ignorantly flock to organic food should try thinking logically once in a while.

    June 27, 2010 at 16:07 | Report abuse | Reply
    • TM8

      Wow. Philosophy killed the cat.

      June 27, 2010 at 16:13 | Report abuse |
  11. vanessa

    So, Professor Nestle sees no risk? I've been a dietetics student for 2 years now, so granted, the good professor has a more educated opinion than I do, but assertion that this poses little risk seems absurd.

    I will check my textbooks to see what foodgroup "petroleum byproducts" should fall into, and what the recommended daily intake should be.

    June 27, 2010 at 16:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Greg

    Since topics like this have now become the standard in “Front Page News” throughout the world, no matter what news media source it comes from, I am moving to the jungles of South America where there are no radios, newspapers, magazines, computers or televisions. Goodbye.

    June 27, 2010 at 16:26 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Farmer Brown

      Bye Greg.

      June 27, 2010 at 16:29 | Report abuse |
  13. Ian

    Ah ah ah ah, I'm lovin' it!

    June 27, 2010 at 16:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Farmer Brown

    Talk about sheep! Big business run government says it is 'ok' to consume man made chemicals put in by the company strictly for their shipping and storage purposes and because it is said, so it is believed. That's okay with me. Pancreatic cancer and a few of the others illnesses will thin the herd. Eat up folks. Consume the very stuff that kills vegetation but is told it does you no harm. The stuff that destroys insects but is told it is safe for you. Above all, do not use your brain, just believe what you are told by the very ones making a profit off you.

    June 27, 2010 at 16:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Stacey

    http://www.feingold.org – I used to think these people were nuts until I had an out of control kid. They know what they are talking about. When will people realize we were not meant to eat chemicals?

    June 27, 2010 at 16:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Stacey

    You got it Farmer Brown! I'm with you 100%

    June 27, 2010 at 16:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. mike

    frankly, those nuggets sound delicious

    June 27, 2010 at 16:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. James

    when speaking of mcdonalds foods, its always about the nuggets, beef, or anything that is edible but what about whats drinkable at mickey Ds? There drinks come out of fountains that are already pre-arranged just like their foods, so does anyone know whats made up of their soft drinks?

    June 27, 2010 at 16:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Pieter

    As a fellow chemist, I'm with Ed. The rest who commented on his post were probably to stupid to pay attention during chemistry class in school. The food expert was trying to dumb it down for you folks, not realizing the majority of this nation effectively can't read or complete a full sentence.

    June 27, 2010 at 16:51 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Corvus1

      "The rest who commented on his post were probably to stupid to pay attention during chemistry class in school."

      I love irony.

      June 27, 2010 at 17:56 | Report abuse |
  20. minivanhalen

    Have you ever seen a chicken's nugget?

    June 27, 2010 at 17:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. sayheysandiego

    Hey, I betcha that if you put fuzz on a lump of silly putty you'd get the same thing as a "mikeyd nugget"!! LOL!!

    June 27, 2010 at 17:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. dave

    They are really good if you wash em down with lots of beer.

    June 27, 2010 at 17:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Corvus1

    The fries are light years better over there, too.

    June 27, 2010 at 17:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Chemistry Student

    hooray for SHASTA.

    and i don't think ed was acting smart. i think he is smart. and those that are mad at ed are mad because they are probably not half as smart as he is.

    June 27, 2010 at 18:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Martin

    A good first step towards improving public health, would be mandatory labeling of all ingredients in processed food.

    June 27, 2010 at 18:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Dani

    Chicken mcnuggets bounce?

    June 27, 2010 at 19:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Roy Berry

    DiHydrogen Monoxide... ROFL... Good one 🙂
    Yeah, lay-people should really avoid it.... Us "smart" ones will have extra water 🙂

    June 27, 2010 at 20:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Peter Live!

    McNuggets can be BAD for you? How can this be?

    But, Marsha,


    The addition (or subtraction) of a few compounds does NOT make these battered chicken pieces "good," for you....no matter where they are served, nor whether they are "coated, then fried," or "fried, and then coated."

    The MOFOS are poisonous no matter how you slice it, and petrochemicals are EVERYWHERE (like, Marsha, in margarine, isn't that way cool?)

    Get over your fear of a few trace compunds and start fearing these chicken-containing fat blobs.....

    Nothing like watching the 400 pounder head to the counter and order "4 Big Macs, 20 piece McNuggest, 2 large fries.....and a small diet Coke please!!!"

    June 27, 2010 at 20:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. joe

    I've eaten at McDonalds for years and it killed me. Amazingly, the chemicals preserved my body and allows me to continue functioning.
    Yes, I'm making light of it. If you want to eat it, eat it. If not, don't. Geez.

    June 27, 2010 at 23:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Emily

    Just another reason why I am a vegetarian and don't eat at fast food places

    June 28, 2010 at 00:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Sandie

    Out of work, out of money = dollar menu at times. I am sure many, especially in this economy, are grateful for whatever food is available to them, chemically laden or not.

    June 28, 2010 at 02:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Kyyyle

    am I the only one that saw 1 gram is 1/13th of an oz? wouldn't it be 1/28th of an oz?

    June 28, 2010 at 05:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Valerie

    Actually, pound for pound, it is much more cost effective and healthier to make your own "nuggets" at home. My sons LOVE when I make homemade nuggets or chicken strips.......

    June 28, 2010 at 10:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. INOK

    @joseph, where I work I actually come into contact with people living on disability. And as a matter of fact the amount rec'd does fluctuate based on where you live. If you live in Washington state or Alaska, your income would be triple or double what you receive here in Oklahoma – I know for a fact about these two states as I have had clients move here from those states. In states where the cost of living is higher their disability will fluctuate to match the governments "amount" that it costs to live their. I agree though, disability usually isn't enough to live on but I also know through my job that there are a lot of people on disability that shouldn't be – just because a person can't read doesn't mean they should be drawing disability – if it bothers them that much they can learn to read and get a real job. If you have drunk yourself (or drugged yourself) into being disabled then that's your problem – you shouldn't receive disability – you did it to yourself. That's my two cents and sorry none of it was about chicken nuggets.

    June 28, 2010 at 10:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • INOK

      oops, I meant "...live there" not their.

      June 28, 2010 at 11:00 | Report abuse |
  35. Dr. Darth Vader

    I stopped eating all food 4 years ago. I now exist through subsiding on photosynthesis and absorbing nutrients through the air.

    I vote with my stomach and what I put in it. join my movement, go food free with me!!

    June 28, 2010 at 11:03 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Alex

      I cannot pronouce photosynthesis; I don't think you should be eating that.

      June 28, 2010 at 13:20 | Report abuse |
  36. Dave

    I wonder if they have a £ menu. Do you still get 4 McNuggets?

    June 28, 2010 at 11:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. KK

    For further comparison, this is the composition of McNuggets in Japan:

    5 nuggets

    289 calories
    16.2 grams protein
    19.6 grams fat
    60mg cholestrol

    Nothing listed for saturated fat on the website and no ingredient list either though they do say it may come in contact with gelatin...

    June 28, 2010 at 11:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. HugzArbiter

    @ people who are living on limited budgets. I understand your frustrations and agony over having to eat this garbage just to survive. There are many options that are just as inexpensive and healthier for you. Do you have a large stock pot? An Onion? Buy a bag of dried beans and make yourself some soup! Not only is it healthy, full of protein and iron, but one bag of beans will make at least two meals.

    And by the way ~ I can pronounce these words and ingredients, and I'm nothing more than a stay at home mom of 4. ;] Even though my intelligence level may be substandard to the majority of Chemists on this page, I will continue to try and avoid all of this processed junk as much as possible. The arrogance in some of these posts is depressing. Instead of belittling your fellow men (in regards to chemistry education), why not try to inform them of your knowledge on the subject? Or are we all just too stupid to understand your capacious amount of McNugget awareness?

    In speaking of chemical additives to food, look on the back of processed foods in the grocery store (i.e., Hamburger Helper, Frozen Entrees, etc.) You may think you're doing better for yourself by buying those...but in reality...it's just as bad. Make your own food with your own ingredients! =]

    June 28, 2010 at 11:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Dr. Darth Vader

    "Buy a bag of dried beans and make yourself some soup!"

    Not a good idea, as this could lead to increased methane production, thus damaging our planet through global warming.

    June 28, 2010 at 11:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. My Opinion....

    Not tellin'.....

    June 28, 2010 at 11:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. John K.

    Now that I know what chemicals lurk in those nuggets, I can only imagine what else might be in McDonald's products

    June 28, 2010 at 11:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Mark in the Heartland

    Christopher Kimball is an idiot. Apparently he knows nothing about food science and why various additivies are present.

    I see all these crap stories about food additivies trying to build terror and fear among the masses, but I do not see such stories about Botox. Botox is where you pay someone to inject the most deadly compound known to man into your face. Why don't we have similar fear-mongering stories there?

    June 28, 2010 at 11:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Raymond Lulling

    Chicken Nuggets used to be great. They have changed the recipe several times though, to save cost, or to fix them for health reasons, to save fat, etc. But seriously any one who likes the current nasty nuggets is totally off their rocker. They probably are the healthiest they have ever been, nearly pure chicken, and at the same time, they are now the ONLY chicken I will not eat.

    Bring back the 1996 nuggets. I remember they used to have a nugget that was made from this processed meat that was always a slightly foamy texture but it was very flavorful. Then they changed the recipe twice. for a white the chicken was fairly plain and processed, but it was Chicken, also the breading always had a buttery flavor. I used to buy these in the 20 pack boxes.
    Currently the chicken has little to no flavor, even though its real meat, and the breading is bitter. They have also changed the boxes. Just as well eating just a few, and I quickly loose my appetite.

    Ohh ya and one last thing. I just about grew up on those old style nuggets. I never got fat, not once. So to you folks who have, you have a disease, genetic disorder, or your just plain lazy. Go out side and get some air, swim, jog, get medicated, something, whatever it takes. But seriously quit screwing with the good stuff cause your too screwed up. It's easy to make your problems some one elses, but it seems the hardest for any one to take responsibility for their own.

    June 28, 2010 at 11:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. scoob1e

    We demand equal rights for all McNuggets! They should all be the same!!

    June 28, 2010 at 11:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Sparky49

    This food is basically for the lower economic, social and minority classes and as such the preservatives are ncessary to enhance the tastes of this group. These chemicals preserve food and allow them to be produced very inexpensively – so the loser class can purchasethem. Consequently, they are needed. Such additives have been around for years to enhance taste and in some cases to create a desire for a certain taste. (ever wonder why french fries always taste the same regardless of where you are?). While the risks may be present, the lower classes need them to survive as they are not going to spend the required amount of money for quality, drug free food in fine restaurants.

    June 28, 2010 at 11:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. Drake LaDue

    Not to get caught up in the banter but we are actively boycotting and protesting the horrific situation in the gulf which has only been going on for a little over two months now. But, McDonalds has been knowingly poisoning our children and adult population for decades. And all you folks can come up with is "Who can properly pronounce the chemicals", you should all be ashamed including myself. I just let my 8 year old read what they put in his food, we had already shown him "supersize it" and he has made a conscious decision never to eat there again.

    Good for him!

    June 28, 2010 at 12:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. Kevin

    They say it's safe.....for now, wait until they find out otherwise.

    June 28, 2010 at 12:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. Bubba

    Every fifth McNugget seems to be a chicken's tail, breaded and fried and disgusting. I quit even trying to eat those things years ago.

    June 28, 2010 at 12:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Lydia

    I haven't eaten anything from McDonald's for years, and it has nothing to do with "Supersize Me" or articles like this one. It has everything to do with the fact that I always feel sick after eating at McDonald's. If that's not indication enough that you need to stop eating something, I don't know what is. It's not just McD's, either–the list of restaurants I can eat at in my area is a very short one, and grocery shopping can be a grueling chore, but the rewards far outweigh the effort. I'm not sick as often, I've finally achieved a healthy bodyweight for the first time in my life, and I can enjoy my food a lot more now than I ever did before. I think in general most people don't think about or realize how many toxic chemicals are used in their foods. Sure, the amount they put in chicken nuggets isn't enough to make most people sick, but think about everything else you eat in the day that can have that chemical included in the ingredients. It adds up.

    June 28, 2010 at 12:22 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Valerie

      Not to give too much information, but I agree with you completely...the last time I ate at McDonalds (about 4 years ago), I was on the toilet for 12 hours.....not fun! Never again......

      June 28, 2010 at 14:41 | Report abuse |
  50. Sybaris

    Garbage in, garbage out.

    June 28, 2010 at 12:22 | Report abuse | Reply
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