McDonald's McNuggets: Not Created Equal

by Danelle Frisbie © 2010

According to a recent news brief from CNN Health, all McDonald's Chicken Nuggets are not 'created equal.'

It appears, through nutritional analysis, that the McNuggets sold in the United States contain more calories and fat than their British counterparts, and also include chemicals in their manufacturing that are not found in U.K. Nuggets.

In fact, the McNuggets sold in the U.S. (190 calories, 12 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat for 4 pieces) contain a chemical preservative called tertiary butylhydroquinone (tBHQ) - a petroleum-based product. The Nuggets our U.S. McDonald's sell also contain dimethylpolysiloxane which is an 'anti-foaming agent' that is commonly used in Silly Putty.

McNuggets sold in Britain (170 calories, 9 grams of fat, 1 gram of saturated fat for 4 pieces) contain neither tBHQ or dimethylpolysiloxane. Ruth Winter, author of A Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives, reports, “I would certainly choose the British nuggets over the [U.S. version].”

Lisa McComb, who handles McDonald's global media relations, informs us that dimethylpolysiloxane is used in U.S. McNuggets for safety reasons - to keep the oils used in cooking from foaming. The chemical, a form of silicone, is quite common in cosmetics manufacture and Silly Putty. And, in fact, the World Health Organization completed a literature review of animal studies on dimethylpolysiloxane and found no adverse health effects with its use.

McDonald's limits the amount of vegetable oils and animal fats in the McNugget to .02 percent - tBHQ is a preservative for these oils. This is not a significant amount, but according to A Consumer's Dictionary of Food Additives, just one gram (1/13th of an ounce) of tBHQ can cause nausea, vomiting, ringing in the ears, delirium, a sense of suffocation, and collapse. So maybe there is something to the health reports that filter in from parents of toddlers high on McNuggets...

McDonald’s reported that the minor differences we find are are due to taste tests performed in the U.S. and the U.K.. Americans seem to like their McNuggets coated, and then cooked, while Brits enjoy their Nuggets cooked and then coated. Not only does this ordering alter the flavor, but Britain's Nuggets are also then able to absorb less oil and be processed with less fat.

"You would find that if you looked at any of our core food items, you'd see very little regional differences. We do taste testing of all our food items on an ongoing basis," Lisa McComb recently reported in a news brief. McComb currently oversees the media relations for over 32,000 McDonald's locations in 117 countries.

Some of the differences are subtle - for example, U.S. McNuggets are listed as including "spices" whereas the U.K. McNuggets specify that they include pepper and ground celery.

But what about the bigger differences? New York University professor and author of What to Eat, Marion Nestle, says the small amounts of butylhydroquinone and dimethylpolysiloxane in U.S. McNuggets are unlikely to pose any health risk. However, Nestle, like most other health-conscious food advisers, recommends not eating foods that include ingredients you cannot pronounce.

As most American's with a television set in their home remember, McD's launched their 'all-white-meat' McNugget in 2003 after a federal judge called the old Nuggets “a McFrankenstein creation of various elements not utilized by the home cook." When the Nuggets changed, however, tBHQ and dimethylpolysiloxane stuck around. Cook's Illustrated magazine founder and publisher, Christopher Kimball, suspects the chemicals are necessary for U.S. McNuggets to maintain their familiar shape and texture.

And when recent health/cook celebs like Jamie Oliver highlight the vast number of McNuggets consumed by U.S. elementary school children, one has to wonder if overdoing any particular food item -- or just processed junk in general -- leads to some of the epidemic health problems we find in the United States.

Oliver succeeded to some degree in the U.K. with his Ministry of Food... but were Brits ever as bad off as the S.A.D. (Standard American Diet) currently is? And what about our food quality in general? Kimball (like Oliver) reports that “The regulations in Europe, in general, around food are much stricter than in the U.S.”

As so many others have pointed out (Fast Food Nation, Diet For a Dead Planet, Food, Inc., In Defense of Food, The Omnivore's Dilemma, Supersize Me, The Cove, The End of the Line) there seems to be a very big problem here, and it extends far beyond the U.S. chemical concoctions in McDonald's Chicken McNuggets...


  1. Thanks for this info! That is shocking stuff. I mean, I guess I shouldn't be surprised!

    On a side note, I just wanted to give a big THANK YOU to Peaceful Parenting for being a powerful voice of reason and intelligent place to learn and grow. I just came away from a discussion where people were so negative about issues dear to Peaceful Parents, and it broke my heart. I am sure you get your share of ugly comments, but I wanted to just say THANK YOU for still staying here and being strong. You're so very important to parents and children worldwide, and I am personally thankful for each and every post you share.

  2. dimethylpolysiloxane is otherwise known as dimethicone. I'm sure you've heard that name before.

  3. It always boggles me how big corporations like McDonald's ride the line when it comes to the health of its consumers. Such chemicals as the ones stated cannot be good for humans to ingest, regardless of whether or not "testing" revealed negative effects. Yet they get away with including them in their food because its better and easier for their bottom line. But what about us? The people who keep them in big business? Whose behind the curtain taking up for us and our children? Perhaps if we, as parents, boycotted McDonald's for one week, I dare say even one day, maybe then we'd get someone in that organization to care.

  4. Wtf is wrong with this country!?

  5. McDonalds is a RARE occurance in our house... I even avoid Walmart specifically because the kids will want it if they are with me...

    I am far from a health food junkie...But I am concerned about what is put in our food and how conventional food is produced...



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