McDonald’s Chicken Nuggets: New and Improved or Still Unhealthy and Gross?

McDonalds Chicken Nuggets

McDonald’s chicken nuggets have just received a makeover, with a healthier list of ingredients and a massive marketing campaign. But healthier doesn’t necessarily mean healthy – in fact, it can mean little when it comes to actual nutrition.

No More Artificial Preservatives

Last month, McDonald’s announced that its chicken nuggets are now “made with 100% white meat chicken and no artificial colors, flavors, and now no artificial preservatives” – most notably phosphates.

The restaurant chain will also no longer be serving chickens that have been raised with antibiotics important to human health. Along with these revamped McNuggets, the company has filed a trademark for a new slogan: “The Simpler The Better.”

What Exactly Has Changed About the New McNuggets?

In 2010, I wrote an article entitled “What’s In Fast Food Chicken? (Hint: It’s NOT Chicken).” Shared more than 100,000 times, the piece laid out the funky, Frankenfood ingredients in the popular nuggets.

Since then, two of the worst-offender ingredients have been removed from McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets, including:

  1. Tertiary butylhydroquinone(TBHQ), a chemical preservative and a form of butane (AKA lighter fluid).
  2. Dimethylpolysiloxane, an anti-foaming agent made of silicone that is also used in Silly Putty and cosmetics.

Summary of Changes in Chicken McNuggets

The ingredient lists are a lot to break down, so here’s the summary of other changes in ingredients and/or nomenclature in the nutritional information provided by McDonald’s:

  • Yeast extract instead of autolyzed yeast extract
  • Lemon juice solids instead of citric acid
  • No more safflower oil
  • No more rosemary or extractives of rosemary
  • No more mono- and digylerides in seasoning
  • No more food starch-modified salt
  • No more whey
  • Vegetable starch (modified corn, wheat, rice, pea, corn) has replaced wheat and corn starch
  • Ingredients in leavening have changed position

Chicken McNuggets Full Nutritional Breakdown

Previous ingredient list from 2010 (notable changes in bold):

White boneless chicken, water, food starch-modified, salt, seasoning (autolyzed yeast extract, salt, wheat starch, natural flavoring (botanical source), safflower oil, dextrose, citric acid, rosemary), sodium phosphates, seasoning (canola oil, mono- and diglycerides, extractives of rosemary).

Battered and breaded with: water, enriched flour (bleached wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), yellow corn flour, food starch-modified, salt, leavening (baking soda, sodium acid pyrophosphate, sodium aluminum phosphate, monocalcium phosphate, calcium lactate), spices, wheat starch, whey, corn starch.

Prepared in vegetable oil (Canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, hydrogenated soybean oil with TBHQ and citric acid added to preserve freshness). Dimethylpolysiloxane added as an antifoaming agent.

New Chicken McNuggets ingredient list from September 2016 (notable changes in bold):

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. Contains: wheat.


“I felt a lot of darkness around those chicken nuggets,” said author, actress, and director Lena Dunham in a recent Food and Wine article.

McDonald’s has taken out two questionable synthetic chemical ingredients–a move worthy of applause–along with the restaurant’s commitment to chickens that have not been raised with antibiotics important to human health. When it comes to food, in most cases, simpler is indeed better.

However, the chicken nuggets are still a far cry from the fried chicken many a grandmother used to make, My own grandmother’s fried chicken recipe included just seven ingredients: chicken, egg, milk, flour, canola oil, salt, and pepper.

And the McNuggets are still served with sauces that include sodium benzoate, high-fructose corn syrup, potassium sorbate, autolyzed yeast extract, and sugar – which is probably the biggest health threat on this entire page.

McDonald’s has unparalleled power to shape the food habits and health future of America. The new nuggets are a move in the right direction, but there’s still a long way to go.

Related on Organic Authority

What’s In Fast Food Chicken? (Hint: It’s NOT Chicken)
McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets in Asia Are Getting Way Weirder Than You Can Imagine
The McRib: WHY?!

Ronald McDonald Image via Shutterstock