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The Dangers of Fast Food

Fast Food is one of the most popular styles of food in the United States. The majority of Americans will eat fast food 1-3 days out of the week and the consumption rates are only increasing every year. It is a popular choice due to its convenience and taste but what are the dangers?

Traditional fast food (burgers, fried chicken, fries and the like) tends to be high in sodium, saturated fat and sugar because those ingredients make foods taste better to most people.

Besides adding sodium, sugar and fat to your diet, some of the negative effects of fast food have to do with nutrients you're not getting when you eat it. Fast food restaurants have limited options for fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins that provide healthy fats, unrefined carbohydrates and important micronutrients that are not present in fast foods.

Fast Food and Weight Gain

Studies show that the more fast food in the diet, the greater the risk of obesity in both children and adults. Beyond calories, another driver of weight gain is the inflammation fast food can create in the body, which in turn causes metabolic changes that promote weight gain, especially visceral belly fat. Visceral fat is also harder to lose weight because visceral fat creates more inflammation and can establish a viscous cycle of carrying excess weight.

Fast Food and Disease

A steady diet of junk food has been associated with a number of chronic diseases, including heart disease and is also associated with an increased risk for type 2 diabetes. It is well known that the major ingredients in fast foods: rapidly digestible refined carbohydrates, red and processed meats, and sugary beverages contribute to the development of diabetes.

Even mental health may be affected by the frequency of your trips to the drive-thru. Multiple studies have shown that fast food was associated with a higher risk for depression.

Fast Food and Energy Levels

Another potentially negative effect of fast food is fatigue and low energy levels. According to research, taking in a lot of dietary fat has been associated with both daytime sleepiness and sleep disturbances. Also, the refined sugar and refined flours used in fast food result in glucose spikes that cause a brief energy burst followed by feeling sleepy or sluggish.

Fast Food and Harmful Chemicals

Per- or poly-fluorochemicals, also called PFCs, are chemicals that are used to make water-, grease-and stain-repellent coatings for many products, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG). These chemicals are often found in the wrappings of fast food meal items, and they've been linked to some serious health effects such as high cholesterol, abnormal thyroid hormone levels, kidney and testicular cancer, pregnancy-induced hypertension and preeclampsia, obesity and low birth weight.

As I have discussed before in the LLVG newsletter on Organic Foods, it can be helpful to revisit the concept that food can be divided into 3 or 4 groups according to how much processing and additives are present.

Using this concept, the foods we eat can be divided into these 4 groups:

  1. Unprocessed or minimally processed foods, namely the edible parts of plants or animals that have been taken straight from nature or that have been minimally modified/preserved.

  2. Culinary ingredients, such as salt, oil, sugar, or starch, which are produced from Group 1 foods. This Group can sometimes be included with Group 1.

  3. Processed foods, such as freshly baked breads, canned vegetables, or cured meats, which are obtained by further processing and combining of Group 1 and Group 2 foods.

  4. Ultra-processed foods, namely ready-to-eat industrially formulated products that are “made mostly or entirely from substances derived from foods and additives, with little if any intact Group 1 food

Ultra-processed foods have accounted for more than half of all calories consumed in the United States for several decades now.

And where does fast food land? You guessed it:

Fast food is Ultra-processed food. So let’s explore this more.

Ultra-processed foods usually contain abnormally high levels of carbs, fat, salt, sugar, artificial sweeteners, and/or other unnatural substances that the body struggles to process. This influx triggers the release of feel-good chemicals in the body (dopamine and serotonin) in a manner that mimics the pattern of what other highly addictive substances do when they enter our body. This activation of our pleasure center can overpower other healthy signals in the body like the feeling of satiety which then leads to overeating. Also, this overflow can cause our natural brain function to fog and lead us into stress and depression.

Fast foods share many of the addictive characteristics of tobacco: they cause compulsive use; have psychoactive, or mood-altering, effects on the brain; and are highly reinforcing. Ultra-processed foods trigger strong urges and cravings.

A common denominator among the most irresistible fast foods and ultra-processed foods is that they contain large amounts of fat and refined carbohydrates, a potent combination that is rarely seen in naturally occurring foods that humans evolved to eat, such as fruits, vegetables, meat, nuts, honey, beans and seeds. Many foods found in nature are rich in either fat or carbs, but typically they are not high in both.

Fast foods and ulra-processed foods are engineered in a way that increases their addictive potential. These foods that can trigger a loss of control and compulsive, problematic behaviors that can parallel to behavior seen with alcohol and cigarettes.

 

Eating a healthy diet is one of the best things you can do for you and your family’s health. By limiting your intake of fast food and making healthy choices, you can reduce your risk of developing chronic diseases and improve your overall health and well-being.

You can even be free of food cravings and know exactly what you want to eat and feel great before, during and after meals!

With planning and understanding your food options, you can set goals and make a plan to improve your diet, one choice at a time, one meal at a time, one day at a time.

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