Food Babe Investigates: Why Chick-fil-A?

Vani Hari (a.k.a. The Food Babe) is a regular contributor on 100 Days of Real Food. To learn more about Vani check her out on “Our Team” page.


Long before I became the Food Babe I used to be addicted to Chick-fil-A. I remember the first time I tasted it – it was at the mall when I was very little and they used to have the free samples. There was a lady walking around outside of the store with hot, fresh pieces of newly fried chicken on little toothpicks. It was free so of course, my parents let me try it.

The smell alone was intoxicating, not to mention the taste. What continued for many years was countless meals of Chick-fil-A during my childhood followed by almost daily consumption in college. Thinking about it now, even though I haven’t had it in what seems like a decade…I still know what a Chick-fil-A sandwich smells and tastes like.


This is why I chose the mall to begin my latest food investigation. A lot of people who generally don’t eat fast food still eat Chick-fil-A. A lot of people say “I only take my kids to Chick-fil-A once in a while.” Countless moms and dads take their kids to Chick-fil-A, thinking it’s better than other fast food places.

When I first wrote the post Chick-Fil-A or Chemical-Fil-A? last summer, so many of my closest friends and family members were downright shocked at the list and type of ingredients Chick-fil-A uses – which are similar to big chains like McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s.

Back in the day, restaurants were not required to list ingredients, there was no google, and we were all pretty much kept in the dark about what was in our food. Now that times are different, and most of the information is readily available at our fingertips and in most stores themselves, I wanted to know how many parents have actually looked at the ingredients in Chick-fil-A. So I asked.

I started off the questioning with “Why did you bring your family to Chick-fil-A today?” I interviewed 30 families in total between a mall based Chick-fil-A and a popular standalone store.

These were the top three (food related) answers.

1. “My kids asked for it.” The information I am about to share may make you think twice about giving in to their requests.

One of the main ingredients of Chick-Fil-A’s nuggets (regular and the new grilled ones) which is listed twice is Monosodium Glutamate, a.k.a. MSG. The amount of MSG that food companies can put in your food is not regulated. MSG is an excitotoxin that can excite brain cells to death. MSG can cause adverse reactions in some people including “skin rashes, itching, hives, nausea, vomiting, migraine headaches, asthma, heart irregularities, depression and even seizures.”

As a follow up question, it was natural for me to ask the parents who first introduced their child to Chick-fil-A. The answer was always pointed back at them. The parents introduced Chick-fil-A to their children.

Which reminds of me of one of Lisa’s older posts – Kids eat processed food because parents give it them. I couldn’t agree more with Lisa’s thoughts here. “Young children have to rely on their parents to provide good food for them.” You have to admit, parents have a lot of control over what their children eat whether they take on this responsibility or not.

2. “It’s better quality and tastes fresh.” It may taste good, but I have to question whether adding MSG to meat from conventional chickens that are sometimes given antibiotics is quality? If you look at a typical Chick-fil-A sandwich to see what keeps it “fresh” you’ll find close to 100 ingredients, 18 of them being different types of preservatives.

I wonder if these preservatives could keep a Chick-fil-A sandwich pretty much intact the same way it kept a Big Mac intact for 30 days exposed to air, illustrated by Morgan Spurlock’s experiment with McDonald’s during the movie Super Size Me?

The FDA allows food companies to add these preservatives in limited quantities.  However, they do not prohibit combining different food items together.

For example, let’s take TBHQ which stands for “Tertiary Butylhydroquinone.” TBHQ is a chemical made from butane and can only be used at a rate of 0.02 percent of the total oil in a product. This ingredient is listed twice, once in the chicken and once in the bun. It’s easy to see how the typical American diet can result in one big whopping dose of preservatives in a given day.

Chick-fil-A abides by the required FDA limits, but limiting TBHQ to a certain percentage is the same logic the FDA used when allowing a product to still contain 0.5 grams of transfat and be labeled “transfat free.” Fresh, as you can see, can be a chemically derived illusion.

3. (Many versions of…) “If I turn in the toy from the kid’s meal I can get an ice cream cone that my kid loves and I don’t have to deal with all these annoying toys everywhere in my house.” Having less toys may sound better, but check out what’s in Chick-fil-A’s “Icedream.”

This little treat has all sorts of processed sugar, transfat, caramel coloring, and artificial food coloring x 2. Since when did you need to color vanilla ice cream white? I couldn’t find out exactly what kind of caramel colors Chick-fil-A sources, but the caramel colors that some fast food chains use in soda is linked to cancer.

California recently added caramel coloring to a list of carcinogens that caused soda manufacturers to reformulate their ingredients to avoid a cancer warning label on their product.

After speaking to these families, I ended each conversation with one last question. I asked “Have you ever reviewed the ingredients listed in the Chick-fil-A nutrition guide?” No one had. Not even one family out of the 30 that I interviewed. I tried to hand out as many guides as possible but only a handful of families accepted them.

How many of these families would think eating MSG, TBHQ, artificial colors, and caramel coloring is just fine? I made it a point to approach each family with an open heart and kindness, but when I was done for the day, the whole exercise left me sad, depleted and reminded me that we have a lot more work to do in this country to educate people about REAL FOOD.

I want to leave you with something you can make the next time you have a craving or your kid “asks”.  Here is a REAL FOOD organic recipe that tastes like Chick-fil-A so you can truly provide fresh to your family.  Enjoy :)

Comments have been closed on this article, which was written by Vani Hari. If you have a question or comment you can reach her at http://FoodBabe.com.

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425 thoughts on “Food Babe Investigates: Why Chick-fil-A?”

  1. To be clear are minute amounts of MSG in ALL seasonings and/ or batter. Many of the additives you listed are in ALL foods unless you grow it yourself. I personally work for chickfila and never eat anything that’s fried due to the fact that fried foods come with the additives, whether your frying your own chicken or not.

  2. I am not a Chick-fil-a employee, or care enough about a company to defend them. However, I find it stupid to compare Chick-fil-a to McDonalds. ALL fastfood is bad for you, more or less and should never be eaten in excess. However comparing the ingredients and quality of food to McDonalds directly is a sin. McDonadls quality of food is horrible and is literally so “juiced up” with crap to keep it “edible” I barely consider it food. Atleast choosing chick-fil-a you know underneth the crap there is some actual chicken breast that was just freshly prepared and cooked. At the end of the day is it ok to eat fastfood? Sure if your having a sandwhich once in a while and in that scenario Chick-fil-a is a better option.

  3. soon to be law degree

    Thank you for this information. Alot of people do not realize just how harmful Chic Fil A, Hardys, McDonalda, as well as a number of other fast food chains are.

    Sure its chicken and not beef but that does not mean that it is any more healthier because it is still a fast food restaurant. I used to like KFC as well before the rumour about torturing chickens.Speaking on that,it was speculated that Chic Fil A started that rumour just to get ahead of the chicken food chain. That doesnt make either of them healthy though. Where ever there are fast food chains, there will be obesity and hypertention.

  4. You’re so awesome! I don’t think I have read anything like that before.
    So good to discover someone with a few unique thoughts on this topic.

    Really.. thank you for starting this up.
    This web site is something that is needed on the web, someone with a bit of originality!

  5. I appreciate the efforts by “Food Babe” to education the public on nutrition, food ingredients, and health-related complications from the above.

    Over the last few years, I have become more and more attuned to what I put in my mouth. From GMO “foods”, to the additives, preservatives, steroids, antibiotics, etc. that most processed foods are filled with, I am far more sensitive to what I eat.

    But I also understand that life is always a series of choices. The more educated we are to those choices, the better-off we are. In that knowledge, we have to understand that some business models and conveniences are really impossible without some degree of processing and preservatives. Short of on-sight slaughter of organically-grown food animals and bakeries, there is just no way to transport, prepare, cook, and serve all the convenient foods offered in Chick-fil-A and other fast food establishments. Likewise, many of us do not live where one can easily or conveniently buy less “tampered-with” foods. Some degree of processing is practically unavoidable. So we have to made decisions – decisions on our grocery shopping (how often, where, when, how much travel are we willing to do, how much can we spend/budget), as well as what foods we might be willing to ingest for convenience sake.

    In my family’s situation, we try to make as many healthy and smart decisions as we can, but also recognize that some degree of additives/processing is just part of the reality for our food. So – make the best decisions you can, based on the information you have. Try to limit the exposure as much as possible to highly-processed foods, and buy/prepare the best you can afford and can make time to deal with.

    But we have also realized that one can get carried away in every latest food fad/craze that comes along, bankrupting your budget and having negligible positive impact on your health and safety in the process.

    Thanks again, Food Babe, for your efforts at getting that knowledge in our hands – it really does help!

  6. For the record, Chick-Fil-A did not condemn homosexuality, but the owner of the privately held corporation, Dan. Cathy said, and I quote, “We are very much supportive of the family – the biblical definition of the family unit”. No mention of condemning homosexuality, although that is a logical conclusion. Why is it so hard for people of any opposing opinion to just agree to disagree? I, along with everyone else in this country, am entitled to my own religious beliefs, as protected by the US Constitution. If those happen to offend you, then I’m sorry, but don’t make me out to be a monster just because I choose to believe in the Bible or believe in something you don’t believe.

  7. I’m late to the party on this post but thanks for the information. We like Chick-fil-a but I hadn’t looked closely at the ingredients. Guilty. However – I do know from experience that I can make pretty tasty faux-CFA nuggets at home with none of the icky ingredients listed above. I guess we’ll stick to those!

  8. Just saw a news segment today (12/4/13) that Chick-fil-a is taking out all of their food dyes and preservatives due to a popular internet food blog’s article about them. ;)

  9. You people are freakin’ nuts. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that there are no fast food restaurants out there that serve food that is “good” for you.

    1. I never thought that it was necessarily “good” for me; but I thought it was a slightly healthier choice than other fast foods.

    2. There is just no logistical way (or practical) to produce “fast-food” on the scale seen by these places without some degree of preservatives and additives, and extreme processing. It just isn’t possible.

      Can one make “better” choices among the “tampered-with” foods offered – yes. But again, make informed choices, not blind choices.

  10. I just had to share on here the insanity that I go through almost daily. My daughter is 7 and doesn’t drink soda! wow, shocker, huh? She has tasted it, but finds it repulsive, and absolutely loves water, so I couldn’t be happier. But almost every day their is someone (mostly family-members) trying to give her soda and questioning why she wont drink it. Like she is the weird one for not guzzling it down at every chance. She also turns down fast food and Denny’s-like restaurants EVERYTIME a family member tries to treat her. This is all her doing…but it leaves me flabbergasted that my family is sooooo annoyed at this!!! It’s a strange world we live in!!!

  11. I got to your website looking for the answer to this question: Where does the Chick-Fil-A chicken come from? The last few times I’ve ordered the grilled chicken sandwich or grilled nuggets (which I only order when I receive the meal for free through a company promotion, but after reading this probably won’t take advantage of anymore), I noticed that the chicken doesn’t look like chicken, has a rubbery “coating” all over the outside of it, has areas of grey coating that maybe is supposed to look like charcoal from a grill, but clearly isn’t…It just doesn’t even seem like it is real chicken meat. What grade is it and how is it produced? That might be an even scarier answer than the list of ingredients!!

  12. Firstly, I’m pretty sure Food Babe did not investigate Chick-fil-A to question their stance on homosexuality. (big surprise! the OPENLY conservative, evangelical-Christian based company, closed on Sunday, is not pro homosexuality. Come on people.) As far as the food goes, Everyone in this country is free to make their own choice about what they believe AND what they expose themselves and their family to. Even you, even me. So, Thank you Food Babe for the information. It was well presented and unbiased. Now, can we all just make our decisions for ourselves and leave each other alone? I am not a horrible person because I eat fast food. You are not better than I, because you don’t. We have made different choices, that is all. Tolerance goes both ways you know.

  13. The thing is, we are in big food trouble here. It’s not chick fila or McDonald’s or Hardee’s or, don’t say it, Taco Bell…it’s Everywhere! I can’t help but sense satisfaction in jumping on one company. Yes, let’s rant about the horrors of the food industry. Lets change something about it. Hatred is a poison too. So do what you need for your family…for yourself. And share it-with love and low blood pressure. Peace.

  14. Guess you must have missed the farms where their chicken comes from.
    ‘Food activist.’ LOL – go get a job.

  15. One last post. Has anyone on here actually worked on a farm? I do not mean a cute, little backyard garden. I mean a farm where you had to raise enough food to feed your family for a year. You need to do this before you can understand why processed food and preservatives became popular. It is backbreaking, stressful work. Animals get sick, and you cannot soy them back to health. Crops get dieased and infested. You cannot meditate them back to health. Then, go organic farming and make it 5X harder.

  16. Please inform me how these ingredients are “scary”? Read the list of heavy metals in your computer, car, and appliances. That is scary. MSG is about as harmful as table salt. Antibiotics- Would you rather eat a sick animal?

  17. I recently discovered the terrible ingredient list in the Chick-Fil-A chicken sandwich after a weeks bout with terrible hives. It had literaly been 15 years since I ate at a Chick-Fil-A, but my commuity recently opened a new franchise much to the delite of my teenagers.So I decided to join in on the excitment. I am sensetive to artificial colors, so I first checked the Polynesian sauce ingredients. Nothing too strange there, but WOW – was I shocked at all of the artificial ingredients in the chicken, coating and bun. I am convinced the MSG is what cause my reaction. No more Chick-Fil-A for me and now to convince my kids how bad it is for them. Glad I found this info on your blog !

  18. It’s true. Everything in moderation. But I already hate this company. So just one more reason so find ways to make it at home (which thanks for providing a way!). Also some fast food companies DO try to limit how bad it is for you. Obviously Chick-Fil-A is not one of those companies. And really…..you are coloring vanilla ice cream?!?!?

  19. Chick-Fil-“A”??????

    More like Chick-Fil-“F”!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    #EndTheHate

    #SayNoToThings

    #StopAllTheDownloadin’

  20. Just one of many reasons why I gave up fast food years ago. Have never been to Chick-Fil-A, and after reading this list of horrors, I will keep that streak intact. I remember when fast food was avoided because of all the high fat, and outrageous amounts of sodium pumped into it. With horrible garbage like TBHQ and that silly putty component in the cooking oil, I will avoid it like death, because that’s what it will do to you.

  21. Let me see now…Wasn’t chicfila the company that took the moral high road & condemned homosexuality in the strongest of terms?? They can define our sexual preferences, with righteous indignation,while feeding our children crap that isn’t fit to eat…Do I spot a double standard here or not??

    1. They didn’t just condemn homosexuality. The thing that got a lot of people mad is that they donate to groups that KILL homosexuals in places like Africa. So they not only say it’s wrong, they promote KILLING THEM. That’s why, even if you think it’s a sin, I will NEVER understand people standing behind them. Ignorant jerks that went and bought a ton in support of this horrible company. I feel bad for the people that bought into the franchise that don’t feel this way….but I can’t support a company that thinks killing people is the right way to go. I’ve read my Bible and believe THAT is also a sin….

      1. Wow. Can you cite your source that states Chick-fil-A donated to organizations who killed homosexuals? Just for the sake of avoiding sounding like the “ignorant jerks” you’re trying not to be like…

      2. “They donate to groups that KILL homosexuals in places like Africa.” Please give an example of such a group.

  22. Sad. Another one bites the dust. This is pretty much the only fast food place that we take the kids on a very rare occasion. Their ingredient list upset me enough that I wrote about it on my blog (see http://holdtheoffice.com/2013/03/29/no-chick-fil-a-now-what/) and referred my readers back to your link for more information.

    I knew it wasn’t a nutritious meal, but I didn’t think it was full of so many additives. There seems to be nothing left to grab a quick bite somewhere if you are in a rush:(

  23. Okay, you got me. I’m reading more and more about this and trying one step at a time not to eat processed foods. I never eat chik-fil-a but that’s because I didn’t like it as a kid. I let my kids talk me into fast food occasionally (maybe 1-2 times a month.) I will check out your website and take in all the information I can. I’m starting to wonder if the government isn’t trying to kill us off by allowing all this crap into our “food.” Thank you for writing this, and for whoever put it on FB for me to find. :)

  24. Its great to see the research behind this. Our family doesnt eat fast food, but my kids have eaten Chik-fil-A a handful of times – I never do. I looked the other way even though I thought I knew better than to except CFA from my list of fast foods. I try really hard to avoid any processed foods, but it is really hard to do. Our diet is mostly real, whole foods, items that you can look at and know what you’re getting. And I shop exclusively at Trader Joes, because I trust their stance. I only select items with ingredients I can pronounce and identify. The more we know, the better we will eat. But some will prefer to remain in the dark so they dont have to change their food choices. I wont look the other way again; no more Chik-fil-A for my kids!

  25. PS

    Everything in Moderation is balony. Would you give your daughter a jar of arsenic or of bleach and say all in moderation…. no. Besides, one person’s moderation is the next person’s addiction.

  26. You didn’t talk about the abnormally large size of the breasts and the cause of that.

    I have long ago voiced my concerns to their customer service and never received a reply.

  27. Seriously food lady it is a fast food chain and of course it is still going to be bad food. What did you expect to find a chicken that is cut right there. Sorry it is fast food for a reason and families will still go there because it is easy. This was a waste of your time.

    1. A waste of time for the ignorant, yes. For the rest of us, no. Freedom of choice… it’s a beautiful thing. Thanks, Food Babe, the information is welcomed and appreciated. This will continue to be a work in progress for me. Education is key.

  28. I love Chick fil A and actually do prefer to eat there over McDonalds. Their food is delicious. We don’t eat there every week but do at least once a month. Sometimes I am too busy to cook and ChickFilA fits the bill. Plus they are super nice there, they bring my food to my table many times (because I have so many kids).

    Maybe this will be awake up call to remove some of the more harmful chemicals like MSG. Odd, I am very sensitive to MSG but I don’t get my MSG trigger headaches when I eat there..

  29. Thank you for the nice article about this. We do not have Chick-Fil-A around here but I know its the same way with all fast food. My husband and I used to take our family out to fast food almost 2-3 times a week, and we tried stopping throughout 2012 just for cost reasons alone. I mean everyone thinks fast food is fast cheap food but really if it takes my family $25 for a fast food meal and it take 10 minutes drive (5 min each way) plus ordering and cooking time.. Really I could have cooked a darn good meal for $25 of food from grocery store and 20 minutes to cook it. People dont seem to see that part of it. I think majority of it is people are lazy and dont want to cook. And I was one to blame. Anyhow.. we never could commit to stop going out to eat until late 2012 I started learning more about the corrupt food industries and what they are putting into our food.. and it is already… March 21st, 2013? And we have not gone out to FAST FOOD all year so far. I am proud of ourselves (with the exception of Subway in a heavy rush when we’re on the go) I guess I should really check on their ingredients as well before I have this idea of fresh and healthiness inside my head. It has been rough learning how to cook daily when some days all I want to do is eat and crawl into bed after a long day but its possible to do. I am now an active subscriber to FoodBabe and 100 Days of Real Food. Even though my family doesn’t “get it” why I would want to pay more for organic but I am happy. Thanks for all the researching you do!

  30. Why is it so hard for people to see that this food is poisoning everyone? I try to tell my friends about the bad stuff that goes into 80% of our food supply and they don’t want to hear it. I have given up and only speak of it when asked!!! Is it the same old scenario of trusting food manufacturers that they are providing quality ingredients? I had one friend say that, “if the FDA approves it, then it must be safe!”. If only they knew all the loopholes, work arounds and straight up paying off that goes on. Thank you for your blog. You will bring awareness to many people and hopefully we can beat these food corp guys. Maybe someday some folks that I know will finally start listening, I hope it doesn’t take-A years of eating chemically processed food illness- before that happens! Peace everyone.

  31. This is depressing to hear, but if I’m honest I’ve never looked at the ingredients list either. Thank you for helping to open our eyes. We are just begining our whole foods journey… I guess its best to start off the right way! I guess its time to make our own at home!

  32. I agree that kids can only have junk food if parents provide it, however I do think the marketing is really pervasive. My daughter was *begging* for McDonalds (no chic-fil-a in Las Vegas) and proclaiming how delicious it is before she’d ever even been there! She still asks for it just about any time we pass one, despite the only times we’ve given her any is on long road trips.

  33. I use to eat Chic Fil A sandwiches all the time. The wholesome image they portray I thought meant that they serve wholesome food. But I wondered why I got sick every three or so meals there. I wrote to Chick Fil A to tell them I got sick. They just replied with a ‘Thanks for telling us’ letter. Then one day, I checked out their ingredient list for the sandwiches and was shocked. After that, I never went back. I would rather fry my own fillets. There is no need to add MSG to food unless you don’t know how to cook a flavorsome product. I guess that is it. Used to love Cheez-its too but saw they had MSG in it too. Asked the company if they could make a MSG-free version. They cited the FDA saying there is no health risk. I don’t eat that now either.

  34. I’m afraid to ask what might be involved with KFC chicken…. Not that I eat “fast food” much (health reasons), but certain things I still eat on occasion (whether I’m traveling, or maybe it’s just a craving sometimes)….

  35. The first time I ate a Chick-fil-A it made me feel sick. I was never a big fan of fast food. Must have been that period in Tucson when I went lacto-vegan and worked in a whole food co-op, back in the 70’s. The main thing I learned back then. Whole grains, fresh fruits and veges, lean meats, and NO FRIED FOOD. Also, NO Soft drinks. I see people lined up at the Chick, like they were giving that garbage away, and it’s very pricey, and really nasty. Thanks for your hard work, but you look like you’re having so much fun at it.

  36. MSG in Chick Fil A nuggets or mechanically separated chicken soaked in ammonia and formed into patties and nuggets for other fast food chains, you pick your poison :) I always prefer a rotisserie chicken myself if I had to have fast chicken.

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