About a month ago I was listening to the radio and heard a news story about a 17 year old British girl who was rushed to the hospital after collapsing from breathing problems. While at the hospital, doctors learned that this girl had been eating a daily dose of Chicken McNuggets since she was two years old. No fruits or veggies, or any other food item. This steady diet of McNuggets left her with anemia, inflamed veins on her tongue and an extreme vitamin and mineral deficiency at the tender age of 17. We all know that regular indulgence in Chicken McNuggets isn’t a ticket to health and wellness, but what exactly is in those deep-fried protein balls that can make one so sick?
According to McDonald’s website, six nuggets contain 280 calories with almost 60% of those calories derived from fat. This fat makes up almost 30% of the daily dose for total fat and 15% saturated fat. In addition, you are also getting 22% of your daily supply of sodium. We are talking six nuggets here. Not even one full meal - for some it’s a snack (I haven’t even included the typical side of fries). Ok, so what’s the point here? The point is that you are getting uber amounts of fat and sodium in just six nuggets, which stimulates the addictive centers of the brain.
If this is a common dietary staple and the rest of your diet isn’t much healthier, you are going to have health problems, like this young lady. Eating a diet rich in fat and sodium has been proven to increase risk for cardiovascular disease, and cancer and before you get to those potential end points, a whole host of debilitating symptoms will prevail.
Is there anything else we have to worry about in these nuggets? Let’s take a look. Here is what McDonald’s says is in them:
White boneless chicken, water, food starch-modified, salt, seasoning [autolyzed yeast extract, salt, wheat starch, natural flavoring (botanical source), safflower oil, dextrose, citric acid], sodium phosphates, natural flavor (botanical source). Battered and breaded with: water, enriched flour (bleached wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), yellow corn flour, bleached wheat flour, food starch-modified, salt, leavening (baking soda, sodium acid pyrophosphate, sodium aluminum phosphate, monocalcium phosphate, calcium lactate), spices, wheat starch, dextrose, 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.
First off, I typically recommend eating foods with small ingredient lists and avoiding those with ingredients you can’t pronounce. This food item doesn't quite fit that bill. Let’s take a look at two of the additives in the above list, TBHQ and dimethylpolysiloxane. TBHQ is a preservative that has been shown to produce adverse health reactions with intake above 1 gram. The FDA allows 0.02% of the total fats and oils in a food item to be TBHQ. That’s a bit frightening, given that at any given time you or your children can be consuming a whole host of processed, fried foods with this ingredient.
TBHQ is also classified among the benzoate preservatives which have been associated with impulsivity and reduced attention in children. Dimethylpolysiloxane is a chemical that prevents the oil from foaming and allows it to be used repetitively - it’s also commonly used in cosmetics. Sometimes folks don’t understand the meaning of the words, “processed food.” Well, this would be an example.
When chemical additives have to be added to real food ingredients in order to have them last beyond what would be organically possible if only the forces of mother nature where at play, and to create a food product from what was once a real food. It may sustain calorically and psychologically in the short run, but long term ingestion has serious consequences. Personally, I do not think such foods should be in the “only in moderation” category because at this point in time, many people are consuming the bulk of their intake with foods that should fall into that category. Thus, nothing is in moderation anymore except healthful, life-preserving, disease preventing foods.
So what do you do if your child is addicted to an unhealthy food? I simply tell parents to not go to the restaurant and to not have the offending food in the house. Stock your cupboards with “good for you” food items. Out of sight, out of mind for the kids. Your child will not starve and will eventually gravitate toward another meal or snack that is on hand. Although it can be challenging (yes, it is easier to feed the family pet a healthy diet) it is up to the parent to guide their children’s food choices. Start as early as possible so that as your kids get older their tastes and preferences will lean toward healthful. I realize you are up against major marketers spending billions on deceptive food advertising to lure your kids in early in life for the sake of long term brand loyalty (kinda like the old cigarette ads). Despite this, there is never a wrong time to wage your offensive. Two, ten, fifteen, twenty-five or forty, shifting dietary patterns toward healthy at any age will always offer benefits.