- Chick-fil-A’s famous chicken sandwich has 55 ingredients, including MSG, Sodium Aluminum Phosphate, Potassium Iodate, and Dimethylpolysiloxane.
- These additives are linked to several health risks, and some are banned or heavily restricted in other countries.
- Chick-fil-A has made some good progress in eliminating antibiotics, high fructose corn syrup, and TBHQ from their supply chain, but they still have a long way to go.
- Chick-fil-A’s new Mac & Cheese is made primarily with “Pasteurized Processed Cheese Spread” – which is like that cheese in a can – and “Margarine”.
- Food Babe investigates food brands and restaurants, revealing the truth about what is in their food. She has influenced how major food giants create their products, steering them towards more healthful policies.
I had an early love affair with Chick-fil-A. While in college, I’d eat there at least 3 to 4 times a week, sometimes more. I’d pick up one of their sandwiches on my way back from the gym and thought they were healthy because they were only around 400 calories. If only I knew then what I do now.
One of my first restaurant investigations was into Chick-fil-A (about 7 years ago!) That’s when I posted the ingredients in their chicken sandwich on my personal Facebook page and got an intense reaction from my friends and family – everything from horrified to “no one is going to stop me from eating those 100 ingredients of deliciousness….”
Ha ha, yeah, I once thought those sandwiches were delicious too. But I finally came to a point in my life where I realized that eating “food” full of artificial additives was making me feel and look horrible. It was not worth it.
I went on to write several blog posts about Chick-fil-A during the summer of 2012, exposing the unholy ingredients in the company’s sandwiches from antibiotics, to MSG, to artificial food dyes, to GMOs and TBHQ (1). This eventually got the attention of the executives at Chick-fil-A, and to my surprise they invited me to their headquarters to consult with them on how they could change their ingredients. I came to them prepared with a laundry list of what it would take to improve their food. I tried my hardest to convince them that they’d be surprised by how many people would choose clean, organic chicken sandwiches, if offered. And if Chick-fil-A did make their menu items additive-free, I promised them that I’d rent a cow costume or whatever they wanted and run up and down the street on live TV. That promise still stands!
Unfortunately it may be a while before you see me running around in a cow costume cheering for Chick-fil-A…
They did some outstanding work in implementing a No Antibiotics Ever policy for their chicken – the #1 suggestion I made to them (2). They also dropped the TBHQ and high fructose corn syrup – another suggestion I made (3). And then they made a big announcement about dropping artificial dyes from their sauces a few years back (4). Well…
Those same artificial dyes are still in the pickles found on nearly every Chick-fil-A sandwich. And there are dozens more health-wrecking additives still in their food.
What’s still in a Chick-fil-A sandwich, and should you be eating it or feeding it to your kids? Let’s take a look, it’s eye-opening…
This is the complete list of ingredients in the Chick-fil-A Sandwich – some items appear more than once because they are used in multiple items, like in the chicken, and again in the bun.
1. Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast Filet – Not organic or pasture-raised, Chick-fil-A’s chicken is raised in large barns where the chickens likely spend little to no time outdoors (5).
3. Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) – What is it that makes Chick-fil-A sandwiches so addicting? This ingredient is the main culprit! MSG is a flavor-enhancer and excitotoxin that excites brain cells to death, increases food cravings, and makes you eat more than you should (6).
4. Sugar – Refined likely from GMO sugar beets.
5. Spices – We asked Chick-fil-A what exactly is in their “spices” in the Chick-fil-A sandwich and they said the spices are: “black pepper, paprika, and mustard” and confirmed that this is the complete list in this sandwich.
7. Enriched Bleached Wheat Flour – Heavily processed flour treated with bleach to quickly make it white. It has no nutritional value and is essentially dead food, so they “enrich” it with synthetic vitamins that are not from nature (6).
8. Sugar – Again, likely from GMO sugar beets.
10. Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) – There wasn’t enough MSG added to the chicken itself, so they add it to the coating too.
11. Nonfat Milk
12. Baking Soda
13. Sodium Aluminum Phosphate – Stabilizer additive that contains aluminum, linked to neurological problems, and on EWG’s Dirty Dozen Additive Watch List (9).
14. Monocalcium Phosphate – Rising agent found in baking powder
15. Spice – This ingredient is listed twice in this sandwich.
16. Soybean Oil – One of the most unhealthy vegetable oils, known to increase the risk of obesity, inflammation, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and autoimmune diseases (6). It’s most likely made from GMO soybeans, which have been shown to contain high levels of residues from the herbicide glyphosate (Monsanto’s Roundup) compared to non-GMO soybeans. Glyphosate was deemed a probable carcinogen by the World Health Organization (WHO). To extract the oil, the soybeans are typically subjected to intensive chemical refining with toxic hexane, bleach, and deodorizers (6).
17. Color (Paprika)
19. Nonfat Milk
21. Fully Refined Peanut Oil – A heavily processed oil that is treated with bleach and deodorizing chemicals. All of the heat and processing that it goes through creates free radicals (10) – which are renegade molecules that damage cells in the body, triggering a host of diseases from liver damage (11) to cancer (12). Peanut oil is also very high in omega-6 fatty acids which promote harmful inflammation in the body.
22. Dimethylpolysiloxane – The main ingredient in Silly Putty is used as an anti-foaming agent in their cooking oil. This substance was also commonly used as a filler fluid in breast implants, which is being phased out due to safety concerns, but supposedly it’s “safe” to eat (6). It also can be preserved by formaldehyde according to the FDA.
23. Enriched Wheat Flour – Refined wheat flour in which the healthy part of the wheat is removed. The refining process removes most of the fiber, vitamin E, phosphorus, iron, magnesium, and B vitamins from the wheat. Some synthetic vitamins (not from nature) are added back in to “enrich” it (6).
25. Sugar – This is the 3rd time refined sugar is added, this time in the bun. There are 5 grams of sugar in the entire sandwich – equivalent to eating about one heaping teaspoon of sugar.
27. Soybean Oil – The 2nd time this unhealthy oil is found in this sandwich, and it will show up again.
28. Wheat Gluten – This additive is an isolated form of gluten, which is already present in the wheat flour used in the buns. It’s added to improve texture.
30. Cultured Wheat Flour
31. Vinegar – Likely made from GMO corn like most white vinegar in the U.S.
32. Calcium Sulfate – Also known as “plaster of paris”, this ingredient is used in some breads for many reasons, commonly as a dough conditioner/strengthener (13).
33. Monoglycerides – An emulsifier made from oil byproducts including partially hydrogenated canola and soybean oils – which contain artificial trans fat, making this additive a potential source of trans fat. Even trace amounts of trans fat are considered harmful to the heart (6).
34. DATEM – Another potential source of trans-fat, this dough conditioner is usually derived from soybean or canola oil (GMO crops) (6).
35. Calcium Propionate – Considered a safer preservative, but research published in the Journal of Pediatric Child Health links it to “irritability, restlessness, inattention and sleep disturbance in some children” and long term consumption has been shown to damage the stomach lining and induce ulcers (6).
36. Ascorbic/Citric Acid – Although citric acid is naturally found in lemon and other fruits, the additive form is typically derived from mold made with GMO corn. Ascorbic acid is the synthetic form of vitamin C typically derived from corn too.
38. Soy Lecithin – Another super processed additive that comes from GMOs. Just like the soybean oil, it’s extracted from GMO soybeans with the neurotoxin hexane (14).
39. Potassium Iodate – This additive is banned from flour in Europe and several more countries as it can negatively affect thyroid function (15) but in the U.S. it can be used as a maturing agent in dough.
40. Soybean Oil – That buttery-looking substance on their buns is not butter at all. Instead of real butter, Chick-Fil-A uses oils that are colored and flavored to taste and look like butter. Unhealthy soybean oil is the main ingredient.
41. Palm Kernel Oil – This semi-solid oil is used by the industry as a trans-fat-free replacement for partially hydrogenated oils (which were recently banned). Unfortunately, not only is it unhealthy for the body, but the cultivation of it is killing orangutans and destroying rainforests (16). This ingredient should be banned.
42. Soy Lecithin – The 2nd time this processed emulsifier is found in this sandwich.
43. Natural Flavor – The only difference between natural and artificial flavors, is that natural flavors are derived from things found in nature. Natural flavors are a proprietary mixture of chemicals and each flavor may contain up to 100 ingredients, including sodium benzoate, glycerin, potassium sorbate, and propylene glycol (none of which are labeled) (17).
44. Beta Carotene – A yellow color additive derived either from vegetables or synthesized in a lab from chemicals (18). This makes their “buttery” spread look yellow.
UPDATE 3/11/22: Chick-fil-A quietly changed their pickles recently. The new pickles do not contain artificial colors (Yellow 5, Blue 1), Alum, or Polysorbate 80. New Pickle Ingredients as of 3/11/22: Cucumbers, Water, Vinegar, Salt, Calcium Chloride, Potassium Sorbate [Preservative], Turmeric Extract [Color], Natural Flavor, Dill Pickle Spice, Beta Carotene [Color], Garlic Emulsion.
49. Alum – This ingredient used to make the pickles more firm is comprised of aluminum (a neurotoxin) which can build up in your body over time (19).
50. Calcium Chloride – Another additive used to make pickles more firm.
51. Potassium Sorbate –This preservative has been shown to be genotoxic to white blood cells, which could lead to cancer (20).
52. Natural Flavor – The 2nd time this proprietary ingredient is added to this sandwich.
53. Polysorbate 80 – An emulsifier linked to weight gain, inflammation and digestive problems (21).
54. Yellow 5 – Artificial dye derived from petroleum that is linked to allergies and hyperactivity in children. Artificial dyes have been found to be contaminated with carcinogens, such as benzidine (6). This is used to brighten up the color of the pickles, but simple turmeric could be used instead.
55. Blue 1 – One of the worst artificial dyes because it has been shown to cross the blood-brain barrier. This dye is also linked to hyperactivity and an increased risk of kidney tumors. Some research suggests it is a potential neurotoxin (6).
Does Chick-fil-A really need all these risky and artificial ingredients to make one delicious tasting sandwich??? Of course not. Most of these ingredients cut costs and make their food addicting so we keep coming back for more. This all means more money in their pocket, which comes at a great expense of our health if we continue to eat there.
And, how about Chick-fil-A’s new Mac & Cheese that everyone’s talking about?
When I heard Chick-fil-A say their Mac & Cheese is a “classic” blend of cheddar, Parmesan and Romano… I didn’t believe it for one second.
It’s mostly made out of “Pasteurized Processed Cheese Spread” – which is like that cheese in a can.
This is NOT real cheese. It’s made by mixing and heating cheese together with colors, emulsifiers, whey, salt and preservatives. This makes a “cheese food” like product that doesn’t separate when heated or get moldy as fast as real cheese.
Then they blend this FAKE cheese with FAKE butter… “Margarine”.
Margarine is made by heavily processing vegetable oils so that they’re solid at room temperature. Since partially hydrogenated oils were banned by the FDA (due to trans fats that are horrible for the heart) the food industry has found out how to skirt by this issue by blending unhealthy refined oils with “mono- and diglycerides” and palm oil.
I can only imagine how many kids are going to be eating this Mac & Cheese along with chicken nuggets.
Chick-fil-A gets kids hooked with MSG…
Does Chick-fil-A have healthier choices?
When I examined the ingredients in the Chick-fil-A Grilled Chicken Sandwich and Grilled Cool Wrap, I still found soybean oil, yeast extract (alternative form of MSG), and natural flavors.
The chicken on their salads is spiked with MSG, unhealthy refined oils, flavors, and more preservatives. Those colorful chips on top are artificially colored with Red 40 and Blue 1. Why can’t they just use uncolored chips?
The cheese comes with a side order of “powdered cellulose” (i.e. wood), which keeps the shredded cheese from sticking together but is also linked to weight gain and digestive problems (22).
And then there’s the healthy-sounding Superfood Side…
What COULD be a super healthy menu item – kale and broccoli – is ruined with the addition of yeast extract (a form of MSG), natural flavors, synthetic preservatives, and unhealthy oils (soybean and canola). It even rings in with over 30 ingredients – many of them completely unnecessary. Chick-fil-A really missed the mark here.
If I absolutely HAD to eat at Chick-fil-A… What would I eat?
I’d order their Market Salad without the chicken, nuts, granola, or dressing, as that is where most of the unhealthy ingredients are in this item. Or maybe the Superfood Side without the unhealthy dressing and toppings, which just leaves me with kale and broccoli. But… we both know that’s not going to happen – it’s just as easy for me to just make a salad at home and no one is forcing me to eat there. And, who really wants to go to Chick-fil-A and not have their chicken?!?
If I totally just ruined the Chick-fil-A Sandwich for you, I have great news…
I figured out how to make a “Chick-fil-A sandwich” at home that tastes exactly the same (even better, seriously!) with none of the nasty preservatives, dyes, and MSG. Ok, yes, it takes a bit more effort than standing in line at Chick-fil-A, but it’s actually pretty simple to make and you can even enjoy it on Sunday!
If you know anyone in a serious love affair with Chick-fil-A, please share this blog post with them. Who knows, maybe they’ll surprise you with a deliciously organic homemade “Chick-fil-A” sandwich next time you see them!
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P.S. There’s a newer fast food chain that I love, The Organic Coup (in California) that makes certified organic chicken sandwiches that are out of this world. The founders are friends of mine, but no, they didn’t pay me to mention them. I just love what they are doing to bring organic fast food to more people!