The Dangers of Fast Food
When James Dean said, “Live fast, die young, leave a beautiful corpse” in the 1950s, Americans were much thinner and fast food was a new invention. Today Americans are simply too chubby to live as fast as the lean 1950s idol. Instead they eat fast food, die younger than they should and leave increasingly obese corpses.
Along with smoking, substance abuse and inactivity, fast food presents one of the greatest public-interest health threats to Americans today. Fast food is almost universally dangerous and should probably carry a warning from the surgeon general. It contains meat-based carcinogens, is high in total calories and saturated fat and is a principal source of trans fat.
In a country obsessed with immediate gratification and conspicuous consumption, what could be more seductive than the capacity to consume excessively at a moment’s notice? The dominance of the fast-food culture makes it possible to have almost continual, unhealthy moveable feasts–daily.
Not only is the food dangerous, but it promotes a lifestyle and culture that are also dangerous. Our lives are fast, frenetic and commercial. Food should be our sanctuary from the madness, not part of it. It’s no accident that Dave Thomas, the happy CEO of Wendy’s who pushes the company’s burgers on TV, had a coronary bypass operation several years ago. As we can see on more recent commercials, he’s dropped a few pounds, but that hasn’t stopped him from hawking his products to the rest of us.
North American children are not eating well. Approximately 30 percent of them are obese, up more than 50 percent in the past 20 years. In general, children eat too much, and much of what they eat is unhealthy.
A study sponsored by the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine revealed that despite poverty and poorer access to health care, immigrant children are actually healthier than their American-born counterparts, having fewer short- and long-term health problems. The researchers noted that immigrant children eat fewer processed foods and more fruits, grains and vegetables. Unfortunately, as time goes on, the immigrant children acquire the unhealthy eating habits of American-born children.
Most people know that fast food is not good for you, but many don’t realize how dangerous it really is. They probably know about the calories, saturated fat and maybe even the potential carcinogens in the beef. But maybe they think they can escape the worst of it by skipping the burger and having the Chicken McNuggets or the french fries. After all, fries are just potatoes cooked in vegetable oil, right? Unfortunately the fries may be worse than the burger. Why? Trans fats.
Fast Food And Trans Fats
Trans fats are man-made fats that were virtually unknown to humans until 1911, when Procter & Gamble, the people who brought you Olestra, first marketed Crisco.
In some ways this is another kind of high-fat fraud. You go into a fast food outlet and choose the fries instead of the burger, thinking you’re avoiding saturated fat. But it turns out that you’re no better off. Temperatures used for deep-frying liberate legions of deadly free radicals from fats. Even more frightening is the effect for multiple frying episodes. Fats that are used again and again for frying oxidize at frighteningly high rates.
The next time you see a basket of fries plunged into a vat of bubbling brown oil, you should get out of that place as quickly as possible!
We are surrounded by trans fats in many of the foods we eat, but the single largest dose we are likely to get is still the seemingly innocuous, cholesterol-free french fries from Wendy’s, Burger King or McDonalds. McDonalds is the largest source of these potentially fatal fries.
McDonalds understands that food is a cultural issue and it spends more than half a billion dollars a year promoting the McDonalds culture of eating. That culture is even penetrating public schools, places where children should be learning to make healthy lifestyle choices. Fast-food chains are now contracting with public schools to provide unhealthy, trans fat-laden lunches for our children.
In an effort to attract children to the McDonalds culture of eating, the company has created a cultural icon that rivals some of the most universally recognized symbols in Western culture. According to Rolling Stone magazine, 96 per cent of school children surveyed could recognize Ronald McDonald, making him second only to Santa Claus in name recognition and the Golden Arches are more recognized than the Christian cross.
Seven evils of Fast Foods
1. Substandard Ingredients
No, not everywhere, nor all food in a particular outlet. But large chains and the wholesale suppliers to smaller places have a grand opportunity to offload low-quality ingredients processed to make them acceptable, especially in highly-flavored food (see #2 and #3 below).
The worst ‘offenses’ involve mechanically reclaimed meat and using emulsifiers and polyphosphates to retain processing water in meat. How can you tell? When you can see a nutrition table, look for the protein to fat ratio. Lean meat will be around 3:1 protein, depending a little on the animal and breed. Highly-processes ground meat products such as sausage and kebab meat can vary from 1:1 to 3:1 fat, with a third of the weight added water. Without printed evidence, you’ll have to educate your palate!
So be aware, and look for better quality food; most Indian places use good, fresh ingredients, for example, whereas a lot of Chinese outlets buy in highly-processed partly-prepared ingredients to go with the fresh stuff. That’s not a hard-and-fast rule; use common sense to choose your store. Burger joints vary from fastidiously pure food to utter garbage in both meat and sauces — and Macdonald’s and Burger King are better than most for purity. But their desserts, shakes and soft drinks are another matter — read on!
2. Fat and Sugar For That Blobby Feeling
These are the staples of most quick preparation foods. This is particularly because frying is speedy and sugar is the core of desserts and drinks. At least the oils used today are healthier than the old saturated animal fats. You’ll already be aware that a high fat, high sugar diet is unhealthy. An occasional fast food meal should be no problem nutritionally — your body is great at dealing with infrequent overload. But do you fool yourself that your take-away every lunch and every night is ‘occasional’?
Both fat and sugar are addictive (see #7) and combine to make the best way to pick up atherosclerosis, arthritis, diabetes, heart attacks and cancer — if that’s your choice of future.
3. Salt Can Lead To Hypertension
To most punters, tasty equals salty. But salty equals hypertension equals high blood pressure equals collapsed arteries and heart failure. Eating less salt is impossible if you major on fast food, because you don’t control salt addition and if a fast food joint left it out, most of its customers wouldn’t come back.
The result is that a fast food diet is almost always a high-salt diet.
4. Low Fiber Equals Gut Problems
By customer demand, most fries are skinless and bread, pasta and rice are white. The fiber is stripped away to give you what was once a luxury food, but now is the cheap, health-free option. Fast foods rarely include much fruit or vegetables by weight — they tend to be garnishes. When most of the other calories come from refined oils and sugar, fast food meals as a whole are very low in fiber.
This is the cause of sluggish digestion, dyspepsia and poor food absorption and poisoning from inefficient waste elimination. It’s also reckoned to seriously increase some cancer risks (especially that all too common colon cancer).
If you eat a lot of fast food and other low-fiber stuff, you’ll be liable to the usual constipation and dyspepsia. If it’s an occasional treat and you usually eat plenty of vegetables and other fiber-rich food, no problem.
5. Additives Can Mess Up Your Body
Many food additives are fine, but that’s not always the case with fast foods. Preservatives are often mild poisons, artificial flavorings can mess up your digestion’s signaling system and many commercial colours promote allergies in a large minority while they disguise bad ingredients. Watch out for places that use all of these to boost bad food.
You’ll probably know already if you are particularly sensitive to any of the more dire additives, like azo dyes or benzoates, and you’ll have the problem of finding out whether the fast food you’re looking at is free of your particular horror. Tough! The friers and counter staff usually haven’t a clue what’s in their food. If it’s a large chain, you just might find that they have a recipe book for inspection.
6. Nutrient-Poor — You get Sick
This evil is maybe the worst problem with fast food, as well as other ready meals from supermarkets and those cheaper restaurants that buy in chilled and frozen meals ready to microwave, grill and and fry for you.
Many ingredients, from oils and flour to sauces and pickles, are given a long shelf life for convenience. This involves removing the part of the food that spoils quickly and adding artificial preservatives. Problem is, the preservatives are mostly bad for you and the stuff removed is the fiber, plant sterols, vitamins and other natural ingredients that you need to eat to stay healthy.
That’s why most people today are sick in body and listless, prone to illnesses and body breakdown like diabetes, arthritis and cancer. Being like this is, for most people, a choice, not inevitable. If you choose this kind of food as your staple diet, you choose the consequences, too.
7. Addictive — You can’t Stop The Gorging
A key reason so many people major on fast food is its addictiveness — I’ve given the reasons for that above. It’s similar to that for nicotine and can have similar withdrawal symptoms. The usual result is that you eat far more food than you can burn up for energy, and it gets stored as fat. We’re a society of fatties, as you can’t avoid knowing. Type II diabetes, heart problems, rheumatic diseases like arthritis, bodily breakdown from the load you have to permanently carry and cancers are the usual consequence — and the age that the trouble begins is steadily coming down.