For better or for worse, fast food restaurants of every type make up a large part of our culture today. Mention the hazards associated with fast food and the majority of people will respond with dire warnings about the growing obesity epidemic that plagues society. To be sure, this is a valid concern. Adult obesity in the United States has doubled over the last twenty years, and childhood obesity statistics are even worse. There’s little doubt home cooked meals provide for a stronger nutritional base than fast food ever could. Nevertheless, fast food is a fact of life in contemporary society.
Obsessive eating, and consumption of fast food in particular, is as real a public health threat as smoking, substance abuse and lack of meaningful exercise. Dietary guidelines go out the window when it comes to sitting down to a fast food meal. It is not uncommon for a meal consisting of a super sized burger, a large order of fries and a shake to exceed 1,400 calories and more than 60 grams of fat, most of which is the deadly saturated or trans fat version. And these numbers can be on the low side. It is entirely possible to consume a day’s worth of calories in one fast food meal and have little or no nutritional benefit to show for it.
The obesity concern regarding fast food is just the tip of the iceberg, however. The primary vehicle for making fast food “fast” to begin with is the partially hydrogenated oils used to fry those tasty French fries and onion rings. Add to that the meat-based carcinogens being fried up on the burger grill and you are setting the stage for a “heart attack on a plate” meal. Regardless of how well you think your body is metabolizing the food you eat, based on the favorable numbers you may still be seeing on your bathroom scale, trans fats and cholesterol are already beginning to coat your arteries with a layer of plaque that may not show itself in the form of a heart attack or stroke until many years from now. Carcinogens and free radicals are also taking up residence in your body just waiting for their opportunity to make their presence known.
Another risk that lies dormant in those handy meals you eat at the fast food restaurant on those days when you think you’re too busy to prepare healthier food for yourself comes in the form of the culture we have created for the next generation. Fast food restaurants cater to children in an effort to instill an “addiction” to their product. We are all aware of children’s meals that come with special prizes and toys to collect. Children demand a trip to the nearest fast food location every time a commercial on the television promises the latest edition of the current collector’s toy; and, stressed out parents are all too often more than happy to accommodate this request.
Fast food, although convenient and undeniably tasty, should be approached with the same cautious concern you would apply to any risky behavior. You may not be able or willing to totally eliminate it from your diet, but you should know the dangers associated with it and be prepared to counteract the effects of it by eating healthy, nutritious meals the majority of the time.