It can be easy to give in to the temptation of fast food when you are busy, stressed or pushed for time, but what is it doing to your body? Fast food is less nutritious than real food cooked at home and can be a danger to your health. Let’s look at why you should be limiting your intake of fast foods…
Poor energy levels
Fast foods are highly processed and high in fat, sugar and salt. Most of the products that are used are highly refined and can influence your energy levels. A highly refined product (for example the white bread bun) can cause a large influx of carbohydrate into the bloodstream. This large influx causes blood glucose levels to be too high and in response the body stimulates insulin to try and remove the excess amount. When this happens quickly you can feel very energetic one minute but a slump in energy levels can occur soon after. This slump often promotes you to again reach for a quick fix food to fell better again – a vicious cycle!
Too much energy
As fast foods are high in fat and sugar they are high in calories. Eating fast food regularly can easily cause you to gain weight as you consume too much energy, which if not burnt off will be stored as fat. As well as being high in energy we often consume much more at fast food outlets as the portion sizes are much larger than what we normally have at home. Extra food, especially when it is laden with fat and sugar can easily add up and push you over your daily calorie limit.
Being overweight has many associated health risks. It can also be damaging to your self esteem and motivation. Weight related diseases include type 2 diabetes, arthritis and joint problems, sleep apnoea, incontinence and heart disease. The risk of complications during childbirth or routine surgery also increases when you are overweight.
Consumption of fast food is linked with an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. A large proportion of the fast food industry uses trans fats in the preparation of your meal. Trans fats are the worst fat that we can consume as they play a role in heart disease, diabetes and stroke. They increase the amount of bad cholesterol (LDL) in the bloodstream, and can cause inflammation. The Harvard School of Public Health reports that every extra 2% of calories from trans fat a day (about the amount found in a medium serve of French fries) increases the risk of coronary heart disease by 23%! They also report that between 6 and 19% of all heart attacks (and related deaths) could be prevented if trans fats were eliminated from the food supply in the United States.
Too much salt
As well as fast food containing too much fat and sugar it is also very high in salt. Although we need some salt in our diet, we consume more than enough each day, especially when you choose fast food. A higher intake of salt is known to increase the risk of high blood pressure. High blood pressure is also a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. This is dangerous as the trans fats AND the salt can both have detrimental effects on the body and increase your risk of cardiovascular problems.
The health of your liver can also be compromised as it tries to process the fast food that you consume. The high levels of fat make the liver work harder and can result in ‘fatty liver’. Excess fat stored in the liver cells can also increase the risk of insulin resistance, which can also play a role in the development of type 2 diabetes.
Eating fast food may also impact on your mental performance. A study conducted by researchers in Tennessee found that children who ate fast food more than three times a week scored less on literacy and numeracy tests. It is known that what an individual consumes can play a role on mental function as the brain needs a steady supply of glucose to function well. The surges in energy that can occur when you eat fast food can also disrupt energy supply to the brain making it feel fatigued and lethargic.
Poor quality food with little nutritional value
Fast food is of poor quality and does not contain a large amount of good nutrition. Many of the fast food products lack vitamins and minerals and relying on these as your main meals may lead to deficiencies over time. Many fast food meals do not contain any fruit or vegetables so they can also be low in fibre. A low intake of fibre could lead to digestive problems. Many fast foods also contain additives which some individuals may be sensitive to.
Another issue with fast food is that the high sugar content may play a role in the development of dental caries. Dental caries are formed when the bacteria on the teeth have a substrate to digest – sugar. Sugar is found in the meals and in sodas which often accompany meals.
Although it may seem much cheaper to buy fast food it is actually much more expensive than buying and cooking with real food. Fast food will never leave you feeling all that satisfied and you can make a much more filling meal at home. Making your own fast food meals at home is a much better option; it is cheaper and you know exactly what is going into your meal.
The occasional fast food meal is unlikely to do much damage to your body if you are eating a balanced diet each day but when you become reliant on fast food your risk of heart disease, becoming overweight, type 2 diabetes, along with many other health conditions increases. Aim to limit how often you have fast food and try to make a sensible choice when you do have it.