Best & Worst

Every Frozen Chicken Nugget—Ranked!

Best and worst frozen nuggets

By Olivia Tarantino

You can dig up nuggets of information, gather nuggets of wisdom, even pan for nuggets of gold. But good luck finding a nugget of chicken.

Most of what you’ll find in the grocery stores are actually nuggets of bread, preservatives and flavorings, with shredded, crushed and extruded bits of poultry mixed in, ruining any chance of quick weight loss. Indeed, the ingredients lists on most nuggets can read like a toxicology report: methylcellulose, sodium acid pyrophosphate, dimethylpolysiloxane--did this stuff come from a nutrition label, or the back of Lil’ Wayne’s tour bus?

Still, there’s nothing that quiets shrieking kids or the grumblings of an adult belly quicker than a plate of nuggets--cheap, effective and delicious. That’s why the researchers at Eat This, Not That! decided to decode the DNA of some of the most popular varieties out there. The next time you’re in need of a fast protein fix, you’ll know which chicken to check out, and which to avoid. And for even more items to steer clear of on your next grocery trip—including shocking brand names you know and love—don’t miss the 150 Worst Packaged Foods in America.

FIRST...THE WORST

After examining the nutritional profiles of each nugget, we ordered them by calories, fat and sodium per gram, to keep the nutritionals relatively equal between brands. Read on to discover when to reach for the nuggets--and when to say fuggit.

10
Midamar Halal
Chicken Breast Nuggets

Nutrition (4 pc, 85 g): 230 calories, 14 g (3.5 g saturated fat), 430 mg sodium, 12 g carbs, <1 g fiber, 0 g sugar, 14 g protein
Calories, fat, sodium per gram: 2.71, 0.16, 5.06

Ingredients We Don't Love: Sodium Phosphate, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Soybean Oil, Sodium Aluminum Phosphate

Food that’s “Certified Halal” is usually held to a high standard that most processed food companies should (but don’t) abide by. It means these nuggets don’t contain any blood, lard, or meat from chickens that had been sick or dying before slaughter. But it’s not all good news: this product contains sodium aluminum phosphate. Even though this substance is used for the seemingly innocuous use of leavening, the aluminum found in it is a metal that researchers have linked to Alzheimer’s disease incidence, according to a study in Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

9
Tyson
Chicken Nuggets

Nutrition (5 pc, 90 g): 270 calories, 17 g fat (4 g saturated fat), 470 mg sodium, 15 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 0 g sugar, 14 g protein
Calories, fat, sodium per gram: 3.00, 0.19, 5.22

Ingredients We Don't Love: “Chicken,” natural flavor, extractives of paprika

You’d think that having “chicken” listed as the first ingredient of your frozen chicken nuggets is a good thing, but you’d be wrong. When your nuggets contain unspecified chicken, it likely means your meat isn’t a tender, full piece chicken breast, rather, it can come from anywhere on the bird--yes, anywhere. For more on nasty additives or products that can end up on your plate, check out 40 Most Horrifying Things Found in Food.

8
Banquet Original
Chicken Nuggets

Nutrition (6 pc, 85 g): 250 calories, 15 g fat (3 g saturated fat), 440 mg sodium, 18 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 1 g sugar, 10 g protein
Calories, fat, sodium per gram: 2.94, 0.18, 5.18

Ingredients We Don't Love: “Chicken,” dextrose, soybean oil, sugar, yeast extract (MSG), modified food starch, guar gum, textured soy flour, soy protein isolate, sodium tripolyphosphate, autolyzed yeast extract (MSG), BHT.

Don’t throw these nuggets on your plate at your next banquet. The little chicken patties contain three forms of MSG and sodium tripolyphosphate (STPP), a chemical that is used to preserve foods as well as to keep pigments in paint evenly dispersed and as a tanning agent for leather. And even though the FDA considers it generally recognized as safe, STPP is a registered pesticide and listed as an air contaminant under California’s Occupational and Safety Healthy act because STPP is toxic to the lungs with prolonged exposure. Yum?

7
Perdue Dinosaur Fun Shapes
Chicken Breast Nuggets

Nutrition (4 pc, 76 g): 200 calories, 13 g fat (2.5 g saturated fat), 430 mg sodium, 12 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 1 g sugar, 9 g protein
Calories, fat, sodium per gram: 2.63, 0.17, 5.66

Ingredients We Don't Love: bleached wheat flour, enriched wheat flour (enriched with niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), potassium lactate, sodium lactate, dextrose, sugar, dried whey, sodium phosphates, sodium diacetate, sodium acid pyrophosphate, calcium propionate, potassium sorbate, soybean oil, oleoresin paprika

These nuggets should have gone extinct with the dinosaurs. They contain bleached wheat flour, which is flour that has traditionally been bleached with harsh agents such as azodicarbonamide and benzoyl peroxide to expedite the process of protein and gluten development. This also means that a lot, and we mean a lot of nutrients are lost in the process, so these nuggets end up offering little nutrition and will spike your insulin levels because of the easily accessible starches, causing you to crave more. Instead of gaining weight by eating foods with bleached flour, try those with resistant starches to help you burn fat instead.

6
Tyson Dinosaur
Fun Nuggets

Nutrition (4 pc, 77 g): 180 calories, 11 g fat (2.5 g saturated fat), 480 mg sodium, 10 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 0 g sugar, 10 g protein
Calories, fat, sodium per gram: 2.34, 0.14, 6.23

Ingredients We Don't Love: dried yeast, extractives of paprika, soybean oil, sugar

Parents look out for their kids’ health, which is why companies like Tyson have smartened up and started using naturally occurring sources to color their foods instead of coal-derived, synthetic food coloring which has been shown to promote Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) in children. Instead, they use “extractives of paprika.” Although these are botanically derived, a study in Food Chemistry found that the thermally-intense extraction process causes certain compounds in paprika to rearrange and become volatile.

5
Perdue
Chicken Breast Nuggets

Nutrition (4 pc, 76 g): 200 calories, 13 g fat (2.5 g saturated fat), 450 mg sodium, 13 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 0 g sugar, 10 g protein
Calories, fat, sodium per gram: 2.63, 0.17, 5.92

Ingredients We Don't Love: potassium lactate, sodium lactate, dextrose, sugar, flavor, sodium acid pyrophosphate, calcium propionate, potassium sorbate, soybean oil

While we commend Perdue’s use of boneless, skinless white chicken breast, we have to dock them for using soybean oil, a fat that has been linked to weight gain. According to researchers at the University of California, soybean oil’s high omega-6 fatty acid content can increase appetite and slow the rate at which the body burns fat, causing you to pack on the pounds. Instead of picking up this package of chemicals, pick up some tips to use on your next shopping adventure in our 50 Best Supermarket Shopping Tips Ever.

4
Perdue Simply Smart Lightly
Breaded Chicken Nuggets

Nutrition (4 pc, 76 g): 180 calories, 10 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 500 mg sodium, 10 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 1 g sugar, 12 g protein
Calories, fat, sodium per gram: 2.37, 0.13, 6.58

Ingredients We Don't Love: yeast extract (MSG)

With very few Ingredients We Don't Love, this one went wrong because of the high sodium content and MSG, which is a chemoinducer of obesity, type II diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

3
Weaver
Chicken Breast Nuggets

Nutrition (4 pc, 79 g): 190 calories, 11 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 500 mg sodium, 1 g fiber, 0 g sugar, 10 g protein
Calories, fat, sodium per gram: 2.41, 0.14, 6.33

Ingredients We Don't Love: “Chicken,” soy protein hydrolyzed, sodium phosphate, sugar, yeast, soybean oil, dextrose, oleoresin paprika, annatto

Beyond the exorbitant (and absorbent) amount of sodium in these nuggets, they also contain phosphates, food additives that doctors are linking to higher rates of chronic kidney disease, weak bones, and premature death. Even though phosphates are necessary in our diets, excess phosphate--especially the inorganic phosphate that is added to food--is more easily absorbed by the body, leading to high levels of phosphate in the blood and putting you at risk for heart disease.

2
Weaver Chicken Breast
Dinosaur Fun Nuggets

Nutrition (4 pc, 87 g) 210 calories, 12 g fat (2.5 g saturated fat), 560 mg sodium, 14 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 0 g sugar, 11 g protein
Calories, fat, sodium per gram: 2.41, 0.14, 6.44

Ingredients We Don't Love: “Chicken,” Textured Soy Protein Concentrate (MSG), Sodium Phosphates, Modified Food Starch, Dextrose, Sodium Aluminum Phosphate, oleoresin paprika

The only thing we’ve learned about dinosaurs is that they must have been full of fat and sodium. With a slurry of questionable ingredients, these fun nuggets fall low on our rankings. They also are made with an ingredient that contains MSG, but goes by a different name to cover it up: textured soy protein. MSG is a flavoring agent that increases appetite causing you to gain belly fat and can go by many names.

1
AND THE #1 WORST FROZEN CHICKEN NUGGET IS...Fast Fixin’
Chicken Nuggets

Nutrition (4 pc, 75 g): 180 calories, 11 g fat (2.5 g saturated fat), 510 mg sodium, 13 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 1 g sugar, 9 g protein
Calories, fat, sodium per gram: 2.40, 0.15, 6.80

Ingredients We Don't Love: Soy Protein Concentrate, Sugar, Sodium Phosphate, Flavoring, Yeast Extract, Chicken Fat, Soybean Oil, Cottonseed Oil, Corn Syrup Solids, Citric Acid, Gelatin, Modified Food Starch, Dextrose, Sugar, Maltodextrin (MSG), Caramel Color, Yeast Extract, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Spice Extractive

Fast Fixin’ claims they have a new and improved recipe, which makes us wonder what was in the last batch… With added fat, three kinds of sugar, along with caramel coloring additive typically found in soda that has been proven to cause cancer in animals and is a possible carcinogen for humans, this is one nugget you should just fuggetabout.

AND NOW...THE BEST

Dip these into your organic ketchup—relatively guilt-free.

11
Tyson
Chicken Breast Nuggets

Nutrition (5 pc, 88 g): 220 calories, 13 g fat (3 g saturated fat), 470 mg sodium, 15 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 1 g sugar, 12 g protein
Calories, fat, sodium per gram: 2.50, 0.15, 5.34

Ingredients We Don't Love: brown sugar

There’s a big difference between “organic,” a regulated term, and “natural,” which means next to nothing. Even though Tyson’s Chicken Breast nuggets are “natural” this only means they’re “minimally processed with no artificial ingredients.” But, hey, at least we know the chicken is boneless breast meat and not just “chicken.” Sold.

10
Perdue Whole Grain
Chicken Breast Nuggets

Nutrition (4 pc, 85 g): 170 calories, 9 g fat (1.5 g saturated fat), 420 mg sodium, 13 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 0 g sugar, 12 g protein
Calories, fat, sodium per gram: 2.00, 0.11, 4.94

Ingredients We Don't Love: brown sugar, yeast extract (MSG), sugar, sodium bicarbonate

A lesson in processed foods: just because it doesn’t say it on the nutrition label, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have it. Although Perdue touts these nuggets as having zero grams of sugar, both brown sugar and sugar are included in the list of ingredients, due to a legislative loophole that allows companies to mark zero if a food contains less than 0.5 grams sugar per serving. Instead, satisfy your sweet tooth with our no-sugar-added best smoothie recipes for weight loss.

9
Earth’s Best Kidz
Baked Chicken Nuggets

Nutrition (4 pc, 56 g): 120 calories, 3 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 270 mg sodium, 10 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 0 g sugar, 11 g protein
Calories, fat, sodium per gram: 2.14, 0.05, 4.82

Ingredients We Don't Love: “Chicken Meat,” Evaporated Cane Juice, expeller pressed canola oil and/or soybean oil and/or safflower oil.

Along with no artificial ingredients or preservatives, these baked chicken nuggets are super low in fat, with only 0.05 g fat per gram of food. Even better, they’re battered and breaded with whole wheat flour, one of our 25 Best Carbs for Weight Loss, providing 8 g of whole grain per 4 piece serving.

8
Milford Valley Farms Chicken Nuggets

Nutrition (8 pc, 112 g): 290 calories, 16 g fat (3.5 g saturated fat), 350 mg sodium, 22 g carbs, 6 g fiber, 0 g sugar, 14 g protein
Calories, fat, sodium per gram: 2.59, 0.14, 3.13

Ingredients We Don't Love: Textured Soy Flour, Modified Corn Starch (MSG), Sugar, Soy Protein Concentrate, Sodium Aluminum Phosphate, Sodium Phosphate, Soybean Oil, Dextrose, Palm Oil, Chicken Fat, Hydrolyzed Corn, Soy And Wheat Protein, Yeast Extract (MSG), disodium inosinate (MSG) And disodium guanylate (MSG), Thiamine Hydrochloride, Corn Syrup Solids

Despite having a good nutritional rep, we had to dock these nuggets for having not one, not two (and not even three) but four sources of MSG, the neurotoxin that’s been shown to damage nerve cells by over exciting them to the point of cell death.

7
Ian’s Natural Foods
Gluten Free Chicken Nuggets

Nutrition (5 pc, 84 g): 200 calories, 10 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 310 mg sodium, 13 g carbs, <1 g fiber, 0 g sugar, 13 g protein
Calories, fat, sodium per gram: 2.38, 0.12, 3.69

Ingredients We Don't Love: cane sugar

For being allergy friendly, gluten free and having next to no questionable ingredients, we expected these nuggets to rank higher on our list. However, with sea salt appearing in two different applications in the cooking process, it ups the sodium levels a bit. One of the 25 Things You're Doing to Slow Your Metabolism, sodium changes the way in which we absorb fat.

6
Applegate Naturals
Gluten-Free Chicken Nuggets

Nutrition (7 pc, 88 g): 170 calories, 9 g fat (1.5 g saturated fat), 350 mg sodium, 10 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 0 g sugar, 12 g protein
Calories, fat, sodium per gram: 1.93, 0.10, 3.98

Ingredients We Don't Love: “Chicken”

The only bones we have to pick with Applegate Naturals is that these nuggets have the undescriptive “chicken” ingredient. Alas, since they’re sugar free and contain no artificial additives, these gluten-free bites are good for everyone.

5
Trader Joe’s Gluten-Free
Breaded Chicken Breast Nuggets

Nutrition (4 pc, 112 g): 200 calories, 5 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 430 mg sodium, 21 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 0 g sugar, 16 g protein
Calories, fat, sodium per gram: 1.79, 0.04, 3.84

Ingredients We Don't Love: “Chicken Breast Meat Containing up to 15% of a Solution of: Water, Seasoning (Garlic Powder, Salt), and Sodium Phosphates.” Modified Corn Starch (MSG), Modified Potato Starch, Sodium Aluminum Phosphate, Dextrose, Soybean Oil

These gluten free bite-sized nuggets are made from chicken meat that has been injected, or “plumped,” with a combination of water, seasoning, and loads of salts and phosphates to make a juicier meat. Because of the excess water, companies have to add extra binding agents in the solution to prevent the added salt and water from leaching out of the meat, which is why added binders like modified corn starch and modified potato starch have to be added, along with their MSG derivatives that make you forget you’re full, one of the 30 Bad Habits That Lead to a Fat Belly.

4
Nature’s Rancher
Chicken Nuggets

Nutrition (3 pc, 114 g): 180 calories, 2 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 400 mg sodium, 18 g carbs, 3 g fiber, 1 g sugar, 22 g protein
Calories, fat, sodium per gram: 1.58, 0.02, 3.51

Ingredients We Don't Love: “Chicken with rib meat, contains up to 12% solution of water, sea salt,” sugar, torula yeast (MSG alternative)

The nuggets—the lowest in calories here—are available only at Whole Foods, a company that prides themselves on their sustainable, GMO-free ingredients. We’re not so sure they would be happy about Nature’s Rancher using torula yeast, however, since the gluten-free alternative to MSG causes the same adverse reactions as its predecessor.

3
Bell & Evans Breaded
Chicken Breast Nuggets

Nutrition (n/a pc, 113 g): 220 calories, 9 g fat (1.5 g saturated fat), 360 mg sodium, 13 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 2 g sugar, 21 g protein
Calories, fat, sodium per gram: 1.95, 0.08, 3.19

Ingredients We Don't Love: evaporated cane juice, dried yeast (MSG), soybean oil

Even with Bell & Evans line of fully-cooked, all natural chicken products--one of our 29 Best-Ever Proteins for Weight Loss--these nuggets remain their top seller, and one of our favorite picks. These nuggets are hand-cut, contain whole breast meat pieces and have one of the shortest ingredient lists of the bunch, making them the perfect meal for both kids and adults.

2
Earth’s Best Baked
Gluten-Free Chicken Nuggets

Nutrition (3 pc, 56 g): 120 calories, 5 g fat (0.5 g saturated fat), 90 mg sodium, 11 g carbs, <1 g fiber, 0 g sugar, 6 g protein
Calories, fat, sodium per gram: 2.14, 0.09, 1.61

Ingredients We Don't Love: maltodextrin (MSG), flavor, expeller pressed canola oil, evaporated cane syrup

Rather than wheat or white flour, Earth’s Best Gluten Free nuggets are tossed with dried potatoes, rice flour and yellow corn flour to make that signature crunchy breading. Plus, they beat out every other nugget in terms of having the lowest amount of sodium by a long shot.

1
AND THE #1 BEST FROZEN CHICKEN NUGGET IS...Applegate Naturals
Chicken Nuggets

Nutrition (7 pc, 88 g): 180 calories, 9 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 210 mg sodium, 12 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 0 g sugar, 12 g protein
Calories, fat, sodium per gram: 2.05, 0.10, 2.39

Ingredients We Don't Love: “Chicken”

Applegate only uses select cuts of antibiotic-free thigh and breast meat, but still no promises on biting into an unpulverized piece of chicken. Even though they don’t nab any of the top spots for being low in calories, fat, or sodium, when considering them all together, Applegate’s relatively light breading and simple ingredients make their nuggets our top pick because they help you keep belly fat
to a minimum.



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