Nutritional value of chicken nuggets ranked

by Bryan Salvage
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YONKERS, N.Y. -- Two panels recently tasted 12 brands of chicken nuggets and two made of soy at the Consumer Reports Health foods and sensory labs. Although some common ground was reached between kid testers, ages 6-17, and grownup trained testers, and two Consumer Reports "Best Buys" were identified, many of the tested chicken nuggets contained high levels of fat and sodium and provide little nutritional value, according to Consumer Reports (C.R.).

Product labels featured descriptors such as "whole grain," "organic," and "100% all natural." As a result, parents may assume chicken nuggets, available frozen and refrigerated, are a healthy dinner choice. But these labels can be misleading, C.R. charged.

Perdue Baked cites "whole grain breading" when a single serving contains only one gram of fiber, C.R. added. It gave the Perdue nuggets a "Good" rating for nutrition. Luis Luna, Perdue’s vice president of corporate communications, told MEATPOULTRY.com shortly before his company’s 90th anniversary celebration began on May 4 that Perdue has been upgrading and improving its products systematically.

“Perdue fared fairly well [in this study],” he said. “Perdue nuggets in their current formulation were already among the lowest in fat, calories and sodium of all the nuggets they tested. Perdue’s new frozen product is going to enhance the whole grain and fiber content even more.”

What Mr. Luna is describing is a new Perdue Frozen Breaded Nugget that is rolling out this summer. “It is a frozen breaded nugget that has 8 grams of whole grain and 4 grams of fiber per serving, which meets the recommended daily allowance for whole grain and fiber per serving,” he said.

Meanwhile Tyson Foods’ chicken nuggets feature the claim "100% all natural," which is true; however, the product contains 17 grams of fat and 470 milligrams of sodium. Consumer Reports Health gave Tyson's nuggets a "Fair" rating for nutrition.

“It’s difficult for us to assess this survey since we don’t know exactly how it was conducted,” Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson told MEATPOULTRY.com. “For example, what serving size was used? The amount of fat or sodium in our nuggets vary by serving size. We can tell you we have carefully tested our products to ensure we have a good balance of nutrition and flavor. We believe our nuggets are the best-selling in the market because of this balance. We can also tell you our nuggets are made with 100% natural ingredients and zero grams of trans fat. We’re going to continue to strive to meet the nutritional and flavor needs of our customers.”

The average person in the U.S. consumes about 3,500 milligrams of sodium a day, which is far above the 2,300 mg maximum recommended for most people. Most sodium in consumer diets—approximately 77%—comes from packaged and restaurant foods.

Three brands earned a "Very Good" rating for taste, but on nutrition they all received a "Good" rating. The top-rated for taste, Market Pantry, (by Target) contains 500 milligrams of sodium and 10 grams of fat (as C.R was going to press, Target said it was in the process of changing its formulation). Bell & Evans Breaded earned the next-best score for taste, with 360 milligrams of sodium and 9 grams of fat. Runner-up Kirkland Signature Disney (Costco) contains 370 milligrams of sodium and 9 grams of fat.

Consumer Reports Health awarded the Market Pantry ($0.53 per serving) and Kirkland Signature ($0.48 per serving) brands its "Best Buy" designation. Although the Kirkland brand is less expensive, it comes in a 5-lb. pound bag. The Bell & Evans product was more expensive at $2.18 a serving.

Two soy-based nuggets, Boca Original Meatless Chik'n and Morningstar Farms Chik'n, contain “a heaping” of sodium, Consumer Reports pointed out. The Boca nuggets contain 500 milligrams and the Morningstar brand has 600 milligrams. The soy nuggets do have a slight nutritional advantage in that they contain more fiber—about 3 or 4 grams compared with zero to 2 for most others, C.R. added.

Health is Wealth was the only brand of the 14 brands of nuggets tested that earned a "Very Good" for nutrition, but the product didn't pass muster with Consumer Reports' taste-testers, C.R. said.

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