'Laughable': Critics slam McDonald's ad for preservative-free McNuggets

McDonald's is promoting its new preservative-free Chicken McNuggets with a commercial that says, "We all want what's best for our kids." Some health advocates claim the ad is misleading because it implies processed McNuggets are good for children.

Fast-food chain says it's 'on a journey to be better'

A scene from a new McDonald's TV ad promoting preservative-free McNuggets. The narrator says, 'We all want what's best for our kids.' (McDonald's)

By now you may have caught the new McDonald's TV commercial promoting Chicken McNuggets without artificial preservatives. The ad ends with a father lovingly brushing back his daughter's hair while she dines on preservative-free, processed chicken pieces.

"We all want what's best for our kids," the narrator says.

Adding that line to a commercial selling McNuggets has some health advocates crying foul.

"That's the defining line that sets up the whole ad," says Emily Mardell, a registered dietitian in Edmonton. She says it implies the fast-food chain is now serving up what's best for kids.

"It is incredibly misleading."

"Grossly misleading," is how Bill Jeffery describes the commercial. The executive director of the Centre for Health Science and Law in Ottawa argues preservatives or no preservatives, deep-fried and salted Chicken McNuggets simply aren't a healthy choice for children.

"What they're advocating is so far removed from good nutrition, it's almost kind of laughable."

Some health advocates claim this McDonald's TV ad for Chicken McNuggets is 'misleading.' (McDonald's)

McDonald's, however, is very serious about its campaign to promote its preservative-free McNuggets, which already have no artificial flavours or colours.

The chain started offering its reformed finger food at U.S. and Canadian locations earlier this month.

The move is part of a bigger mission to offer menu items that better "reflect the cares and concerns of the modern day guest," McDonald's Canada spokesman Adam Grachnik said in an email to CBC News.

"We are on a journey to be better."

The journey includes dropping some reportedly questionable ingredients from McNuggets like TBHQ — a preservative used for vegetable oils.

Besides the line, "We all want what's best for our kids," the company also promotes the menu item online with the phrase, "Because your family matters."

But health advocates say eliminating a preservative or two doesn't change the overall health concerns with fast food.

"It's not a categorical shift," says Mardell.

"These are still foods that are high in fat, high in sodium. They're not the types of foods that you want in the everyday or even in routine intake for children."

According to McDonald's own numbers, just four McNuggets contain nine grams of fat and 300 milligrams of sodium — one-quarter of the recommended daily sodium requirement for kids ages four to eight.

McDonald's serves up its Chicken McNuggets with dipping sauces that contain preservatives. (McDonald's)

And those numbers don't include the accompanying dipping sauce. The barbecue option has the highest sodium count at 300 milligrams — as much as four McNuggets.

And the dipping sauces still contain preservatives.

The fact this detail isn't noted in the TV commercial prompted the CEO of a major U.S. restaurant chain, Panera Bread, to also suggest McDonald's is misleading customers.

"I was offended watching this commercial," CEO Ron Shaich told Business Insider. "I thought, 'You've got to be kidding.' Sure, you've got McNuggets that are preservative-free, but what are you dipping them in? Sauces that are filled with that stuff!"

McDonald's keeps at it

Spokesman Grachnik also outlined other reforms McDonald's is making, such as investing in eggs from cage-free hens and chicken raised without antibiotics.

He says the company also plans to remove high-fructose corn syrup from buns as part of its "bread improvement efforts."

Dietician Emily Mardell says removing high-fructose corn syrup is meaningless if it turns out the ingredient is replaced with another form of sugar. "At the end of the day, the nutritional difference is almost negligible."

Grachnik also listed an improvement McDonald's made last spring: adding leafy green vegetables like kale to its salads. But even the salads have come under scrutiny.

In February, CBC News revealed McDonald's crispy chicken caesar kale salad entree with dressing has more calories, fat and sodium than a Double Big Mac. At 1,400 milligrams, the sodium amount nearly meets an adult's daily recommended intake.

"Putting kale into the menu doesn't mean you're getting a healthy choice," Toronto registered dietitian Shauna Lindzon told CBC News at the time.

When you add the accompanying dressing to the crispy chicken caesar salad with kale, it has more calories, salt and fat than a Double Big Mac.

Bill Jeffery of the Centre for Health Science and Law says it's nice to see a big company moving towards antibiotic-free chicken. But he still finds himself underwhelmed by McDonald's changes.

"This isn't about improving the health of their customers," he concludes. "They're just going to try to appeal to people's emotions about health."

Despite all the criticisms, McDonald's is standing by its message of making positive changes to its menu. "We are proud of these big changes, even as we seek to do more and make the food people truly love to eat at McDonald's even better," said Grachnik.

About the Author

Sophia Harris

Business reporter

Sophia Harris has worked as a CBC video journalist across the country, covering everything from the start of the annual lobster fishery in Yarmouth, N.S., to farming in Saskatchewan. She now has found a good home at the business unit in Toronto. Contact: sophia.harris@cbc.ca

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