As people spend more time working and less time cooking, fast food has become an increasingly frequent option. Many people eat all three meals away from home every day, often at fast-food establishments. While fast food can be a time and budget-friendly option, the effects of consuming standard burger-and-fries fare on a daily basis can result in unintended consequences to both your waistline and health. There are some nutritious fast-food options available at many fast food chains, but you need to do some research to separate the healthful from the harmful.
One major consequence of eating fast food every day is excess calorie consumption. Most “value” meals served with fries and soda provide well over 1,000 calories per meal, which is more than half the average person’s calorie needs, according to the USDA. So if you eat fast food three meals a day, you may be eating 150 percent of you daily caloric needs. Long-term excess calorie consumption results in weight gain and obesity. In fact, the CARDIA study concluded consuming fast food more than two days per week was strongly associated with weight gain and increased risk of obesity. Diseases associated with obesity include metabolic syndrome, heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
High Blood Pressure
One common feature of many fast foods, even low-calorie fast foods, is high salt, or sodium, content. Currently all but one of the low-fat foot-long sandwiches at a popular chain has at least 60 percent of the average recommended daily intake of sodium of 2,400mg. Many low-calorie and low-fat foods are often loaded with salt to make them taste better. But high levels of salt intake can lead to high blood pressure, particularly in those who have sodium sensitivities and are overweight or obese, according to the American Heart Association.
Fast food is often also packed with sources of excess added sugar and saturated fats such as mayonnaise, cheese and soda. While this translates into excess calories and weight gain, it can also become an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Saturated fat has been shown to raise total cholesterol levels, while high sugar intake can lead to symptoms of metabolic syndrome, which include increased triglycerides. Elevated triglyceride and cholesterol levels are indicators of cardiovascular disease and are associated with increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
Many of the previously mentioned health conditions are related to each other, and diabetes is no different. Excess sugar intake, obesity and metabolic syndrome-related insulin resistance are all significant risk factors for developing diabetes. The CARDIA study also demonstrated eating fast food more than twice per week was strongly associated with insulin resistance and increased risk of type 2 diabetes. And diabetes greatly increases your risk of cardiovascular disease, so when you develop one of these conditions, you are likely facing a higher risk of all of them.
Can You Eat Fast Food Healthfully Every Day?
While fast food chains have made efforts to offer low-calorie, low-fat and low-sodium options, it remains a challenge to determine whether these menu items are truly healthy. For example, some fast-food restaurants offer salads on their menu that provide more calories and fat than large hamburgers due to large amounts of added cheese, fried chicken and high-calorie salad dressings. The best way to figure out whether a particular fast-food meal is healthy is to look at the nutrition facts at the restaurant or online. Check the calorie, saturated fat, sodium and sugar content. If you do not want to bother with the numbers, order options that are grilled or baked instead of fried. In addition, reduce or eliminate sources of added calories and fat, such as mayonnaise, special sauces, cheese or creamy salad dressings. Finally, choose healthier side options if they are available, like side salads or baked potatoes.
- Lancet: Fast-food Habits, Weight Gain, and Insulin Resistance (The CARDIA Study)
- American Heart Association: Factors That Contribute To High Blood Pressure
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Major Types of Dietary Fat and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease: A Pooled Analysis of 11 Cohort Studies
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Potential Role of Sugar (Fructose) in the Epidemic of Hypertension, Obesity and the Metabolic Syndrome, Diabetes, Kidney Disease, and Cardiovascular Disease