Fast food restaurants have been around for nearly a hundred years, but it’s only in the past 50 years or so that their popularity has grown exponentially. Now more than a third of Americans eat fast food daily.
Fast food is any food that is prepared and served quickly for immediate consumption. Some of the key elements of fast food are:
- It’s readily available on the go.
- It’s typically less expensive than eating in a traditional sit-down restaurant.
- It often includes food that is fried or prepared from frozen (not fresh) ingredients.
Fast foods are also typically high in fat, sodium, and sugar.
Fast food is part of an enormous industry that produces millions of pounds of food every day. Because fast food is meant to be easy to make, affordable, and consumed quickly, much of the food production happens at large factories and farms. These factories then ship the products to the fast food restaurants, who assemble them into made-to-order meals.
When it comes time to order, most fast food meals are prepared from frozen, canned, or dehydrated products and are simply reheated before serving.
Most fast food items themselves are made of fats and simple carbohydrates that are full of sugar. These foods are high in calories but low on nutrition, which means they’ll leave you feeling hungry and could cause you to binge eat.
Sugar is a popular ingredient and is added to almost every fast food product, from sauces and dressings to batter and bread. Eating too much sugar can cause serious health issues and is linked to an increased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity. Sugar may also be addictive, and overconsumption sometimes is linked to depression.
Sugar is more than just the white refined sugar you add to your morning coffee — it can also appear in ingredient lists under more than 50 different names, including high fructose corn syrup, agave nectar, and molasses.
Trans fats (which occur when liquid oils are turned into solids) are added to many fast food products to help them last longer. Trans fats increase unhealthy or “bad” lipoproteins (LDL — low-density lipoproteins) and lower your good lipoproteins (HDL — high-density lipoproteins). Some fast foods like red meat and cheese contain naturally occurring saturated fats, which can also increase bad cholesterol.
Salt (sodium) is commonly used as a flavor enhancer for home cooking and seasoning. In fast foods, however, sodium is used as a preservative to extend shelf life and enhance the taste. In fact, one fast food meal can include upwards of 1,300 milligrams of sodium — more than half of your daily recommended intake!
Consuming foods that are high in sodium on a regular basis has been linked to increased rates of high blood pressure, diabetes, and kidney disease.
When it comes to fast food ingredients, there is more than meets the eye. You might think your meals are only made up of simple ingredients: burger patties made of ground beef, vegetables or sliced cheese for toppings, and french fries made from potatoes. In reality, many ingredients in fast food are hidden.
Not everyone is aware of what’s in fast food, especially when it comes to chemical ingredients. One of the biggest dangers of fast food is all of the processing chemicals that go into preparing fast food products for distribution and consumption.
Chemicals are added to most fast food products to make them last longer and taste better, but these chemicals compromise the nutritional quality of the food and can even be harmful to your health.
Here are some of the common chemicals found in fast food:
- Propylene glycol, an additive that stabilizes moisture to prevent ingredients from sticking together or drying out, is toxic in high doses.
- Sodium nitrite, a preservative to keep meat products like bacon, ham, or beef fresh for longer while enhancing their color, has been linked to certain types of cancer.
- Synthetic food dyes, which are used to make foods look more appealing, can cause allergic reactions and have been linked to different types of cancer.
- Ammonium sulfate, which is added to bread products as a dough enhancer, is also used in commercial fertilizers.
- Fillers such as cellulose, olestra, and potassium bromate are added to thicken products like meat and bread, can interfere with the body’s natural nutrient absorption systems.
If the ingredients and chemicals found in fast food weren’t enough to put you off, these disgusting fast food facts should do the trick:
- You might want to think twice about making your meal a combo by adding a soda. On top of being full of added sugar, the caramel coloring used in many carbonated drinks has been linked to cancer.
- More than 500 food products contain a chemical called azodicarbonamide, which is also used to make rubber yoga mats.
- Fast food chains rely on large-scale factory farms, which breed genetically modified chickens, pigs, and cows that are fed antibiotics to make them grow faster. In the end, these antibiotics end up in your body when you eat their meat.
Fast food might be easy to eat, but is it worth the health risks that come with it? Eating healthy doesn’t have to be hard work. Choosing lots of fruits and vegetables with every meal, limiting the amount of sugary and processed foods, and drinking lots of water will help you maintain a healthy and balanced diet.