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. dupeofurl

    I presume Marion Nestle either does NOT eat carrots OR has learned to pronounce betacarotene.

    June 29, 2010 at 09:43 | Report abuse | Reply
    • bob

      A six year old should be capable of pronouncing beta-carotene. My rule of thumb is to not eat POISON or CHEMICALS or JUNK.

      July 15, 2011 at 13:55 | Report abuse |
    • Tony

      Dimethylpolysiloxane, at least, is completely non-toxic. There are only a few drops in several gallons of oils, and you could drink a bottle of the stuff and the worst that would happen is a case of the runs (for the same reason drinking a whole bottle of otherwise delightfully healthy olive oil would give you the runs). BTW, if you buy pills for gas, this is usually what you're taking.

      April 9, 2012 at 07:05 | Report abuse |
  2. dupeofurl

    Drake LaDue – if I recall right, mercury was pulled from thermometers (replaced by red-colored alchohol) BEFORE Love Canal. Ever see the film clip of the people having what looks to be a family reunion dinner in the midst of the DDT spray?? Chilling. BUT, tell people something is safe and "they" WILL find a way to overuse it.

    June 29, 2010 at 09:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Mena

    @ MARE

    Ever heard of packing your own meals before travelling?

    People really need to wake up. With half an ounce of time management skills, fast foods will always fall second to more convenient, cheaper and healthier options. And people who think salad is the only healthy food...you really need to open your mind a bit. A peanut butter sandwich, an apple, a nice wrap...

    Anyway, the "freedom protector" idea that everybody should be responsible for choosing what they eat would work in the ideal conditions of

    A) Full disclosure of ingredients and their medical implications by the corporations
    B) Educated masses
    C) Fair trade incentives and fair prices without favoring genetically modified produce or allowing lobbyism culture.

    June 29, 2010 at 10:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Anna

    MMMMM I love McNuggets!! This article just made me hungry for some McNuggets dunked in a generous amount of BBQ sauce! BTW I can pronounce all of those ingrediants and I am not a chemist.

    To each his own! I know they're not healthy but when I eat them I also know I am treating myself to something I really like regardless of health. Most of the time I eat pretty healthy food but sometimes I have to treat myself or I would binge on greasy fried food more often.

    June 29, 2010 at 14:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • bob

      You get that it isnt just that its fried, right? It's full of a known carcinogen. So your 'treat' is made with a petroleum byproduct. Feel good?

      March 1, 2012 at 20:37 | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      Therein we can see why regulations are so much more lax here in the US. this individual clearly states that she doesn't care her food contains tertiary butylhydroquinone once in a while.

      Nevertheless, If the health food scene wasn't so fraught with misinformation and misleading content like this article, it people like Anna might be more interested in hearing why particular things really might be terribly bad for us to eat.

      January 10, 2013 at 20:22 | Report abuse |
  5. Anna

    Whoops I misspelled ingredients! Before everyone flames me be aware it was just a silly typo. That happens sometimes.

    June 29, 2010 at 14:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Gary

    The comment that is the most valid and helpful is the one conerning the AMOUNTS imbibed with a serving of nuggets. In order to put oneself as risk, one would have to eat the McNuggets around the clock 24/7 based on the gram weights of the suspected "chemicals".

    June 29, 2010 at 15:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Summer

    I think McD just needs to change. If people don't care about there health, fine. But those of us who do and can't be super moms and need a drive thru ever now-and-again ... what options do we have? You have to prepack or for a healthy option get out of the car and get Subway ... but what about those sleeping kids ... wake them?!? Alas ... my husband thinks McD's could open a second restaurant and call if McD's Green (or a seperate menu) and do local produce and preparation and that just as many people would eat it; I tend to think this would be try of your home here in the Seattle area. I will finish with this, we ate a McD's in the Polish country side and when we walked in we could smell the bread baking; we could taste the freshness all around ... it was the BEST McD's I'd ever had. They claim the European food has only minimal differences ... but why are those differences the ones that count?!?

    June 29, 2010 at 20:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Kate

    ... If the pronunciation rule were followed then I get the people that I used to wait on in different restaurants who pronounced 'chicken fajitas' as 'chicken Fuh-GYi-tas' and 'foccacia' as 'Foh-ca-ca' will just have to pick something else.
    I feel bad for any ethnic restaurants if that's the case lol.
    It's a very ignorant way to look at the food you're eating, ie if the person isn't knowledgable enough to know what it is and is encouraged to stay away from something they can't say, do you really think they'll try to learn what it really is?
    Didn't think so.

    June 30, 2010 at 14:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. John C

    Added chemicals should not be a danger to heatlh as long as you're not ingesting them on a regular basis. McDonald's was originally intended and still is intended to be a convenient, occasional and quick meal alternative (fast food), not a cheap alternative to taking the time and work to make your own meal. The danger from ingestion of Tertiary butylhydroquinone (tBHQ) and dimethylpolysiloxane on an occasional basis is far outweighed by the danger of regularly consuming McDonald menu items that are high in fat.

    Each person is responsible for learning howto protect and maintain their health through (among other things) proper nutrition. Responsibility is a characteristic of growing up. This is why children and irresponsi ble adults should be allowed to eat at McDonalds without being accompanied by a responsible adult.

    July 1, 2010 at 13:25 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Teresa

      that's part of the problem though...people don't use it as an occational treat or convenience. to some this is their regular stop to work, or what they feed their kids because it's cheap, easy, and kids like them. Sad, but true

      December 6, 2012 at 09:21 | Report abuse |
  10. Steve E

    I try not to allow anything from McDonalds within 50' of me.

    Gardein Crispy Tenders are REAL FOOD:


    July 1, 2010 at 14:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Andre

    For all those smarties who can pronouce those chemical names – Pronounce away and eat...You will be DEAD before the rest of us, and frankly, that is a good thing! Weed out all the arrogance!

    July 1, 2010 at 17:48 | Report abuse | Reply
    • starzship

      Food additives are in almost everything these days. One thing I'd always like to mention how bad preservatives are in cold cuts, lunch meats, etc. Not to mention salts, etc. But as I was growing up, to help save $ for his many kids, my dad took cold cut sandwiches to work for 20-30 yrs? ok. Maybe total 20 yrs. but he's over 80 years old, walkin, talkin, we just had to stop him from driving (he was getting a little unsafe), and mentally fit as any 80+ year old. I HONESTLY BELIEVE the preservatives helped preserve his body. He also never smoked or drank alcohol. So.....

      February 15, 2012 at 17:03 | Report abuse |
  12. Brian

    Well, as long as everyone knows how to pronounce cyanide, the world is going to be amazing!

    July 1, 2010 at 22:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Aunt Bee

    Super size my double order! I love plastic in my food.


    July 2, 2010 at 12:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. jason M


    July 2, 2010 at 22:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. brandi

    It's called natural selection. Let the stupid people poison themselves, thus removing themselves from the gene pool.

    July 4, 2010 at 00:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. justin

    Iworked at McD for 2 years in my late teens, when I should have been at the peak of healthiness. Looking back, I have never been more unhealthy than I was during that time-getting free and/or discounted food. Since then, I have educated myself on proper nutrition and the dangers of chemicals and additives and never been better. At worst, I catch a cold every two years. Don't trust the government to tell you what is safe or healthy, trust nature. The further a food is from it's natural state, the worse it is.

    July 4, 2010 at 00:17 | Report abuse | Reply
    • starzship

      I ate McDonalds as a kid and adult. Don't be fooled by the hype. Eat, drink and be merry.

      February 15, 2012 at 17:05 | Report abuse |
  17. alex

    Everyone is missing the point of this article....we are being fed plastic, which when introduced into the human blood stream is a known carcinogen. How is this possibly being allowed by the FDA, what's the reason for having an oversight agency when they perform no oversight. Boycott Mc D's until they stop serving plastic with barbecue sauce.

    July 4, 2010 at 01:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. saturn

    These same two ingredients are used in the shortening at Popeye's and Chick-Fil-A. Why is this story about McDonald's? Why isn't it about the chemicals used in fast food in general? It would be more helpful to parents if this story described the widespread use of these chemicals, and gave advice on how to avoid them other than "don't eat McDonald's." I'm trying to find out, with little success, is this just an issue with shortening used with battered chicken? Is it also in shortening used for fries? Is it used at BK or Wendy's? That information would be more useful than "McNuggets are made with a silly putty chemical."

    July 6, 2010 at 08:06 | Report abuse | Reply
    • starzship

      That's what I'm saying. Who knows if this author of the article is being secretly paid by Burger King? SAME CHEMICALS BUT McD's is pointed out. Good point Saturn. Let's go get some nuggets. My treat.

      February 15, 2012 at 17:08 | Report abuse |
  19. TJ

    I don't eat at McDonald's as a general rule (or any fast food for that matter). From time to time I might, but as a general rule, no.

    July 7, 2010 at 10:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Yourallsheep

    Whats hilarious is all of you sheep are discussing the rule of thumb and not the actual debate of whether these foods are safe to eat or not. quit being part of the problem and start being part of the solution. BAAA!! keep following the herd.

    July 8, 2010 at 13:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. jdm

    I love McD's when the mood suits me. I know it's terrible for me, I really don't care. I do not need more regulation on my food; there is enough regulation on everything else. Until I hear of an accredited study proving that people have died because they ate McNuggets, I'm going to consider the minuscule amounts of these chemicals as pretty much harmless. People get worked up over the silliest things sometimes.

    July 14, 2010 at 17:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Beth

    Everyone here who thinks the FDA is actually looking out for you needs to know about how Donald Rumsfeld worked for Searle and had Aspartame pushed through when it is NOT safe. Google fluoride safety. Google aspartame safety. infowars dot com . . is a great site . . educate yourselves!! : D Good luck!! Listen to Alex Jones or something . . mainstream media are puppets of the Global Elite . . sorry CNN . . but I believe that to be true . . I'm just sayin' . . .

    July 16, 2010 at 15:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. lenae

    look iam 11 years old i cant belive ckicken mcnuggets have this stuff in it this is sooo unbelieveable I HATE MCDONALDS NOW LOLZ :[

    August 8, 2010 at 18:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. lenae


    August 8, 2010 at 18:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. King of Chemistry

    Yes, I am the KING of Chemistry. I know everything about chemistry and create some of the world's greatest food preservatives.

    All of you stink' poor people eat many of my creations! You have made me a rich man and for that I thank you!

    Keep on keepin' on!

    August 11, 2010 at 09:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Jeffrey Lee

    It's McDonald's, so why is anyone surprised? Who's supposed to make things better? Politicians? Please....

    September 3, 2010 at 17:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Chris

    If you are stupid enough to eat those things, you deserve the extra fat and chems.

    September 6, 2010 at 16:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. laughs4dads

    So that means that McNuggets contain ingredients used in a bouncy toy, a furniture coating and a bathtub sealant. Fortunately, my daughter never cared much for McNuggets. On the other hand, she is neither athletic, shiny or waterproof. Coincidence? (more at laughs4dads.com)

    September 20, 2010 at 06:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Denise Young

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    November 18, 2010 at 18:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. earli

    The American McDonald's ingredients list also mentions "enriched bleached flour". In Germany – and I think it's also true for the rest of Europe – it is not allowed to bleach flour at all. Bleaching is only done to make bad quality flour look better. Also "enriching" is not done in Germany. Maybe it is not required because all the processing steps common in the US like washing in chlorine are not allowed at all.
    Food has to meet hygienic standards without processing with ammonia and chlorine. EU meat has to have lower levels of germs without that than US meat afterwards. Tells you something about the quality in general (hygienically clean processing facilities with well-trained employees – a butcher in germany is a well-paid three-year trained profession, not a job for desperados). Feeding animals with antibiotics is also forbidden completely, which makes the germs that survive the processing much less dangerous.

    April 10, 2011 at 10:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. michele

    i highly doubt the difference between american and british mcnuggets has to do with "local tastes." i'm willing to bet that it has to do with what the american fda and usda and whatever the british/european regulatory agencies allow to pass as food. the EU also allows gmo food to be labeled as such, so their people can make a choice as to whether or not they wish to eat it. the fda BANS the labeling of gmo foods. their reason? they say it would be too confusing for american consumers. so either they are huge liars who do not regulate the industries they are supposed to regulate (and let them get away with whatever they want), or they think the average american citizen is a moron...which is probably true.

    April 15, 2011 at 23:58 | Report abuse | Reply
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  35. Sheldon W. Helms

    It's nonscientific and idiotic to add in a statement about "not eating things you can't pronounce" and try to pass that off as science. The woman said that dimethylpolysiloxane is NOT dangerous to eat. That's the science. End of story. But of course, that didn't fit with the SCARE TACTIC or corporate-hating angle of the story, so the writer threw in that little tid bit. It's idiotic to think that eating at a fast food restaurant is "healthy," but it's equally idiotic to think that what you eat at home is significantly healthier than fast food. Most people eat absolute garbage at home and sit on their butts 23 hours of the day (the other hour is spent foraging through the kitchen for junk to eat), and then blame McDonald's for their obesity.

    February 10, 2012 at 16:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Larry

    We breath 100 times the chemicals from the air everyday. A few Nuggets does not equal the pounds of garbage that enter your lungs yearly.

    March 16, 2012 at 14:51 | Report abuse | Reply
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    We know that the fat is a very dangerous long term heart attack. So bouncy petroleum aside, it is still unhealthy and should be avoided as if it were carcinogenic. I doubt trace amounts of chemicals with scary origins or names will make much difference.

    April 16, 2012 at 23:29 | Report abuse | Reply
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