Have you ever thought about ‘why is fast food bad for you?’ When looking up ideas for healthy living, the consumption of fast food is often highly discouraged and we are often advised to cut it all out from our diet. But, why is eating fast food bad for you? Can such delicious meals cause irreparable harm to us and our health?
In this article we are going to delve into this and give you facts on why fast food is bad for you. We will tackle issues such as ‘is it safe to eat fast food?’, why fast and high calorie diets are bad for you’, as well as giving you reasons why fast food is bad for you and why you should seek to remove it from your diet.
Reasons Why Eating Too Much Fast Food Is Bad For You: 3 Main Points Why Fast Food Is Bad For You
While there are multiple reasons why fast food is bad for you, they seem to all stem from 3 main points. Fast food is high in calories, low in nutrients, and high in sugar and salt.
Low in nutrients
Regular consumption of fast food can lead to malnutrition. Nutritional deficiencies can lead to many illnesses such as defective bone growth, eye and digestion problems, anemia, confusion and memory loss, diarrhea, and depression, etc.
High in calories
Many fast food meals are often quite high in calories. For example, a burger (without a side of fries or a soft drink) can have up to 700 calories.
If someone on a 1200-calorie diet was to consume this, they would have blown more that half of their daily recommended food energy intake on a meal that would not keep them full for long. They would have to eat again which, when done over time, would lead to weight gain/obesity which opens doors to a slew of more health issues, some that are life threatening.
High in salt/sugar
Too much sugar in your diet can lead to cardiovascular diseases as they cause higher blood pressure, inflammation, weight gain, diabetes, and fatty liver disease – all factors known to contribute to heart attack and stroke. Eating too much salt also increases your blood pressure, water retention, the risk of cancer and liver disease, and more.
Fast food is also high in saturated and trans fats which raise your LDL (bad) cholesterol and lower your HDL (good) cholesterol. Too much cholesterol in the body can build up and clog your arteries increasing the risk for heart disease and stroke.
How Does Fast Food Nutrition Compare To Healthy Nutrition?
Truthfully, the comparison is dismal, at best. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), healthy nutrition helps to protect against malnutrition (aka nutritional deficiencies), as well as chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancer. It includes (2):
- All the five major food groups: fruits & veggies, dairy, unprocessed carbs, protein as well as healthy fats.
- Consuming up to 5 portions (at least 400 g) of fruit and non-starchy vegetables a day.
- Less than 10% of total energy intake from free sugars (aka added sugars in food and drinks)
- Less than 30% of total energy intake from fats. Healthy nutrition advocates for the consumption of unsaturated fats – found in fish, nuts and vegetable oils – over saturated fats from fatty meats, butter, palm and coconut oil, cream, cheese, ghee and lard. It also highly advocates against the consumption of trans-fats. Trans-fats should ideally take up less that 1% of your recommended total energy intake.
- Consuming less than 5 g of salt daily.
- All food consumed under healthy nutrition/ a healthy diet should also be within the recommended calorie intake for a person’s age, weight, sex, and level of physical activity.
Fast food nutrition, on the other hand, does not pay attention to any of these factors. It is often highly processed, low in nutrients, and high in calories.
Looking at the fast food facts on the National Center for Health Research website, you will see that some of the most beloved fast food options from some well loved restaurant chains are high in calories and fats (1). What makes the situation worse is that the foods mentioned are not enough to make you full despite taking up most of your calorie allocation for the day.
Fast food is also high in added sugars, salt and saturated or trans fats – all substances that are not good for your health. For those who may be unaware, some research has pointed to fast food being addictive.
About A Study
One study done on rats showed that the rats that were fed a calorie-laden diet of junk food quickly gained weight and developed a compulsion to eat.
The obese rats would not stop eating the junk food even after being programmed to know when to stop eating and being punished (through an electric shock to their foot) for doing so. On the other hand, the rats that ate a more healthy and well-balanced diet (with limited access to some junk food) did not gain a lot of weight and would stop eating when told to.
What surprised researchers even more is that once the obese rats were denied their junk food, they went on a two week hunger strike where they hardly ate anything that was given to them. While this study was done on animals researchers warn that human beings should pay caution to their junk food consumption.
They believe that fast food may cause changes in the brain’s reward system for satiety compelling you to seek out more and more junk food which is damaging to your health.
It should be noted, however, that some steps are being taken towards making fast food nutrition better. Some restaurants put calorie information in their menus to let you know how much food energy each meal has and others go even further to add healthier alternatives to their menu.
Despite all of this fast food nutrition leaves a lot to be desired. One review done in 2013 showed that while the nutritional quality of menu offerings at some fast-food restaurant chains has increased over time further improvements are needed to help better the food quality for the masses (4).
Why Fast Food Breakfast Is Bad For You?
Breakfast has been deemed as the most important meal of the day and all for good reason. Having some healthy and nutritious meal in the morning helps kickstart your metabolism ensuring that you are burning calories throughout the day. This is especially important for anyone looking to manage or lose weight.
Having a proper breakfast in the morning also replenishes your glucose levels after a period of fasting (and thus the name ‘breakfast’) which helps boost your energy levels and alertness. This will help keep you better focused at work or in school.
A wholesome and well-balanced breakfast meal can also help provide your body with some essential nutrients that you require for good health. According to WebMD, multiple studies have linked this first meal of the day to improved memory and concentration, reduced risk of diabetes, reduced levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol, as well as lower chances of obesity and heart disease.
So, why is fast food bad for you, especially at breakfast?
1. It’s often highly unbalanced
As mentioned above, fast food meal options do not usually reflect the recommendations of a well-balanced diet. Breakfast options offered at many fast food restaurants often reflect this. Instead of having that doughnut or croissant, opt to make a breakfast meal at home; one that is full of carbohydrates, protein, healthy fats, and fiber.
2. High in calories
Some popular breakfasts at fast food restaurants can have up to 1350 calories with 65 g of fat 25 g of that being saturated fat. Not only do these fat quantities go above the saturated fat limit for most people, but having 1350 calories in one meal is too much. For some this food energy intake covers all their intake for the day.
Such a meal automatically means that you have cleared all your allotted calories for the day and you should not eat anything else; which is unhealthy and impossible. Fast foods are full of simple carbs which are fast digesting and give little energy to the body which means that you will be hungry again in no time.
3. High in sugars
Making coffee at home is not just a budget-friendly tip, but it is also a great way to protect your heart health. Your favorite order at your coffee place of choice is most probably incredibly sweet which attests to how much added sugar is in the recipe
Consuming too much sugar can raise your blood pressure and increase chronic inflammation putting you at a higher risk of heart diseases, like heart failure, heart attacks, and strokes. Too much sugar leads to too much insulin in the body, which not only affects your heart, but also leads to a fatty liver, which can contribute to diabetes. Too much sugar can also lead to kidney damage, may increase joint pain and increase your risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, may rot your teeth, and put you at a greater risk of depression.
4. High in salt
Too much salt can lead to water retention, increases blood pressure, as well as increasing your risk of stroke, heart failure, osteoporosis, stomach cancer and kidney disease.
If having some fast food for breakfast is unavoidable for you, strive to look for low sodium and healthier options on the menu. You can be surprised to find some healthy and nutritious dietitian recommended breakfast foods at such places.
Are There Some High Protein Fast Food Options?
Yes, there are. Thanks to many fast food restaurants making an effort to diversify and include more healthy foods to their diet, you can find some high protein fast food meals from many american fast food chains.
From low-carb burgers, to wraps, salads, and even dedicated protein boxes, you can find multiple high protein lunch options from your favourite take out place. Depending on your restaurant or meal of choice, you can get as much as 40 g of protein from your order.
Why Is Fast Food And High Calorie Diets Bad For You?
Fast food is more often than not quite high in calories and regular as well as long-term consumption of such a diet can cause a lot of harm to your body. Some effects of such a diet include:
1. Weight gain
If you are on a weight loss plan, or have no intention of gaining weight then you should absolutely stay away from such a meal plan. Fast foods are often high in saturated fats (which while tolerable in a healthy diet, must be closely monitored) and trans fats which will cause weight gain. On the other hand, such foods are often very high in calories. Going over your recommended food energy intake for the day automatically leads to weight loss.
2. Oxidative stress
This is an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in your body. While oxidative stress occurs naturally in the body as we age, some factors such as a bad diet can contribute to it.
The imbalance between the free radicals and antioxidants causes chronic inflammation damaging healthy cells, leaving you vulnerable to illnesses such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, and more. Studies have shown that heated oils used in preparing fast foods increase oxidative stress in the body (3, 5).
3. Insulin resistance
It increases your risk of obesity and type II diabetes.
4. Cognitive dysfunction
Studies have shown that the consumption of junk food can impair memory and cause brain inflammation.
5. Increased risk of illnesses
A high-calorie diet full of fats foods increases your risk factors for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers.
Is It Safe To Eat Fast Food?
Not, it is not. The main reason for the question why is fast food bad for you is because regular consumption of such causes more harm than good to your body. In spite of how convenient and delicious it is, it is often high in sugar, salt, saturated fat and trans fats, processed ingredients, and calories, and low in antioxidants, fiber, and many other nutrients.
However, if your diet is made up of healthful and wholesome foods like fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, fish, seafood, low-fat dairy, lean meats, and poultry some fast food may be okay in your diet. If you often find yourself relying on fast food for meals, be sure to always check the calories and look for those that are higher in protein, low in sodium and calories.
The Bottom Line
The answer to ‘why is fast food bad for you’ lies in how much sugar, fats, salt, and calories are packed into such foods. These make it so that these foods are incredibly unhealthy, addictive, and increase the risk of obesity and many chronic illnesses.