How Unhealthy Are Chicken Nuggets?

Chicken nuggets are a popular meal for kids and remain a popular meal for many adults. The basic idea of this dish — chicken that has been breaded and cooked — isn't horrible, but the nutritional value of chicken nuggets can vary wildly. Fast food options are rarely good for you. For example, a six-piece serving of Popeyes chicken nuggets contains 225 calories, 14 grams of fat, and 345 milligrams of sodium (via Health). Considering that six chicken nuggets are not very filling, this isn't a great nutrient profile.

McDonald's chicken nuggets are some of the worst. Even though white boneless chicken is listed as the first ingredient, there's no way to know exactly how much real chicken is in their nuggets. "White boneless chicken is almost a pure protein, boasting a phenomenal 0.2 protein (grams) [to] kcal ratio with less than 20% fat," Christopher Ochner, PhD, a research associate at New York Obesity Nutrition Research Center at St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital Center, told Livestrong. "McNuggets, on the other hand, have a very mediocre 0.046 protein [to] kcal ratio with 57% of kcal from fat. This seems to suggest that the other ingredients, besides chicken, are the primary driver of the macro-nutrient profile."

Pay attention to the ingredients and cooking process of chicken nuggets

Most chicken nuggets contain some real chicken meat, but that doesn't mean they're a healthy option. According to Eat This, Not That!, many nuggets have extra ingredients and fillers that add a lot of fat and calories. Most are also fried to get their crispy exterior, which also adds fat and calories.

Amy Gorin, MS, RDN said that chicken nuggets can be enjoyed as long as you pay attention to a few key details. This includes the quality of meat used and the amount of sodium and protein in each serving. She also said to keep an eye on the breading, which can account for a good chunk of calories. "Ideally the breading should be made with whole-grain ingredients such as whole-wheat flour or corn—or a starchy vegetable like potatoes," Gorin told Eat This, Not That!. "I also recommend looking for baked nuggets, versus fried ones, to cut down on the fat content."

You can make healthy chicken nuggets at home by breading chicken breast chunks with whole-wheat flour or another whole grain. Instead of frying, bake them in the oven to avoid any extra oil.