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10 Best & Worst Fast-Food Chicken Nuggets, According to Dietitians

What to order and what to skip the next time you hit up the drive-thru.
FACT CHECKED BY Olivia Tarantino

Although you may have grown up eating frozen chicken nuggets, this popular food isn't just for kids. Crispy on the outside with a tender inside, a box of fast-food chicken nuggets is a satisfying meal to order when you're hitting up the drive-thru. But for all their conveniences, they're not the healthiest fast-food choice on the block.

Deep fried in vats of refined oil and made of a blend of pulverized meat plus a dozen or more ingredients, fast-food chicken nuggets are generally not regarded as a nutritionally beneficial meal; however, some options are certainly healthier choices than others, and that's why we spoke to dietitians and nutrition experts to bring you the best and the worst recommendations for fast-food chicken nuggets.

How to order the healthiest fast-food chicken nuggets.

If you're looking for healthier nugget options, consider the following:

  • Opt for grilled over fried: Grilled chicken nuggets compared to fried will save you on total calories, added fats, and refined carbs. When eating out at fast food, it's all too easy to rack up empty calories. Grilled nuggets can go a long way toward a healthier choice if you're going through fast food often.
  • Watch out for sodium: The breading on chicken nuggets can be loaded with salt and seasonings, so make sure you're keeping an eye on total sodium intake.
  • Pair with fiber: Protein in the chicken nuggets will keep you full, and you'll get even more long-lasting energy if you pair them with a high-fiber source. Choose a side salad or piece of fruit to increase your fiber and boost the meals' staying power on the go.
  • Slim on the sauce: If you're one to dunk your nuggets in multiple servings of sauce, you might be adding more calories, fats, added sugars, and sodium to your day. Portion size your sauce or forgo it altogether for the best choice here.

If you're really looking for the healthiest choice, you might consider making your own chicken nuggets at home or purchasing options that are lower in fat, refined flour, and sodium. But if you're set on hitting up the drive-thru,  let's find out what the nutrition experts have to say about the best and worst fast-food chicken nuggets. Read on, and for more, don't miss 7 Store-Bought Chicken Nuggets That Use 100% White Meat.

First, The Worst Fast-Food Chicken Nuggets

Worst: McDonald's Chicken McNuggets

mcdonald's mcnuggets
Courtesy of McDonald's
Per 10-pc order: 410 calories, 24 g fat (4 g saturated fat), 850 mg sodium, 26 g carbs (1 g fiber, 0 g sugar), 23 g protein

Not our first pick when driving through McDonald's, the 10 Piece Chicken McNuggets packs a whopping 410 calories, 24 grams of fat, and 850 milligrams of sodium. While you do get a nice serving of protein, you'll also get a significant source of empty calories to boot.

 The Best Fast-Food Chicken Nuggets, Ranked By Taste

Worst: Wendy's Spicy Chicken Nuggets

Wendy's Spicy Chicken Nuggets
Per 10-pc order: 470 calories, 31 g fat (7 g saturated fat), 1,190 mg sodium, 22 g carbs (2 g fiber, 0 g sugar), 26 g protein

We aren't the biggest fans of Wendy's Chicken Nuggets either. The nuggets alone provide nearly half the recommended limit for sodium, and that's before you add any sauce to dip your nuggets in. "Wendy's 10-count spicy chicken nuggets contain 31 grams of fat, 7 grams saturated fat, and 1,190 milligrams of sodium," adds Mandy Tyler, M.Ed., RD, CSSD, LD.

 Every Wendy's Dipping Sauce, Ranked

Worst: Burger King Chicken Nuggets

Burger King Chicken Nuggets
Burger King
Per 8-pc order: 390 calories, 25 g fat (5 g saturated fat), 990 mg sodium, 23 g carbs (2 g fiber, 0 g sugar), 18 g protein

Burger King might let you have it your way, but we think you should pass on these chicken nuggets. Especially if you're regularly driving through BK's fast food window, you'll be served up 390 calories, 25 grams of fat (32% DV), and a whopping 990 milligrams of sodium (43% DV). Consuming foods high in added salt can put you at a higher risk for heart disease and stroke.

 Every Burger King Chicken Sandwich, Tasted & Ranked

Worst: KFC Chicken Nuggets

KFC Chicken Nuggets
Per 12-pc order: 420 calories, 18 g fat (5 g saturated fat), 1,680 mg sodium, 12 g carbs (0 g fiber, 0 g sugar), 36 g protein

While not the highest calorie or total carbohydrate option on our list, KFC's Chicken Nuggets are one of the highest salt options in drive-thru chicken nugget territory. With nearly three-quarters of your daily sodium requirements in one 12-piece nugget, we think you'll be better off skipping this menu item.

 We Tasted 8 Types of Fast-Food Fried Chicken & This Is the Best

Worst: Sonic Jumbo Popcorn Chicken

Sonic Jumbo Popcorn Chicken
Per 8-pc order: 490 calories, 28 g fat (5 g saturated fat), 1,640 mg sodium, 36 g carbs (4 g fiber, 1 g sugar), 23 g protein

"Sonic Jumbo Popcorn Chicken is considered an unhealthy fast-food choice due to its high sodium content," says Wan Na Chun, MPH, RD, CPT of One Pot Wellness. "Firstly, it is high in sodium, with a small order containing 1,100 milligrams of sodium, which is almost half the recommended daily value. This high sodium content can contribute to high blood pressure and other health issues," she adds.

 Every Wingstop Flavor, Ranked From Worst to Best

Worst: Popeyes Chicken Nuggets

Popeyes Chicken Nuggets
Per 8-pc order: 520 calories, 35 g fat (11 g saturated fat), 1,340 mg sodium, 22 g carbs (1 g fiber, 3 g sugar), 29 g protein

"While Popeyes 8-piece Chicken Nuggets are made with white chicken meat, they are one of the worst choices for fast food nuggets. With 11 grams of saturated fat, you hit your daily recommended intake in just one meal. They also contain more than half of the daily recommended sodium at 1,320 milligrams," Steph Magill, MS, RD, CD, FAND, Owner of Soccer Mom Nutrition shares with us.

 21 Best Low-Sodium Fast-Food Orders, According to Dietitians

Worst: Carl's Jr. Chicken Stars

carls jr chicken stars
Carl's Jr.
Per 9-pc order: 410 calories, 23 g fat (5 g saturated fat), 710 mg sodium, 29 g carbs (5 g fiber, 0 g sugar), 21 g protein

The 9-Piece Chicken Stars from Carl's Jr. are one of the worst chicken nuggets. You'll get nearly half of your daily sodium recommendation in one small serving.

 Every New KFC Saucy Nugget, Tasted & Ranked

Now, The Best Fast-Food Chicken Nuggets

Best: Chick-fil-A Grilled Nuggets

8ct grilled nuggets chick fil a
Per 8-pc order: 130 calories, 3 g fat (0.5 g saturated fat), 440 mg sodium, 1 g carbs (0 g fiber, 1 g sugar), 25 g protein

"Chick-fil-A's Grilled Nuggets are one of the best fast-food options out there," shares Marisela Gomez Raffo, RDN, LDN. "High in protein and low in fat and carbohydrates, they are grilled instead of fried, which reduces the overall amount of fat compared to most other fast food chicken nuggets," she adds.

 7 Healthiest Chick-fil-A Breakfast Items, According to a Dietitian

Best: Buffalo Wild Wings Naked Tenders

Buffalo Wild Wings Naked Tenders
Buffalo Wild Wings
Per 3-pc order (fries and sauce not included): 160 calories, 1 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 1,140 mg sodium, 0 g carbs (0 g fiber, 0 g sugar), 37 g protein

Buffalo Wild Wings offers a Naked Chicken Tender, which is a good option, says Mandy Tyler, M.Ed., RD, CSSD, LD. "The 3-piece naked tenders provide 37 grams of protein and only have one gram of fat. Quite a difference from the regular breaded tenders which contain 24 grams of fat per three-tender serving," she concludes.

We don't love the 1,140 milligrams of sodium, but we think this is one of the better choices on the market for fast-food chicken nuggets when you compare it to deep-fried options.

 10 Fast-Food Chains That Serve the Best Grilled Chicken

Best: Popeyes Blackened Chicken Tenders

popeyes blackened chicken tenders
Popeyes / Facebook
Per 3-pc order (fries not included): 170 calories, 2 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 550 mg sodium, 2 g carbs (0 g fiber, 0 g sugar), 26 g protein

With blackened seasoning instead of breading, we think you'll appreciate the flavor and health benefits of this choice. With 550 milligrams of sodium in this choice, it's one of the lowest on our list when it comes to the best and worst fast-food chicken nugget choices! Clocking in with just 170 calories and 26 grams of protein in a three-piece serving, we love the emphasis on a healthy option from Popeye's.

Caroline Thomason, RD, LDN, CDCES
Caroline is a women's health Registered Dietitian and diabetes educator based in Northern Virginia. Read more about Caroline