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To begin, I love fast food and I find it entirely too convenient at times when I can’t sit down to eat and let’s be honest, having some food is better than nothing right? Well that’s the topic I decided to explore through this assignment. It really caught my attention because I have recently began exercising and eating healthier so learning more about what I was putting into my body was a no brainer. I will be discussing how unhealthy fast food is, why fast food is unhealthy as well as the short and long-term effects of eating too much fast food.
So, let’s start by asking the easy question. What is fast food? For those who do not know, according to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary fast food is classified as follows: of, relating to, or specializing in food that can be prepared and served quickly. Generally fast foods like a McDonalds Big Mac, Wendy’s Baconator or Burger Kings Whopper are packed full of substances you do not need such as trans fats, sodium and empty or refined carbohydrates.
These foods lack nutrients your body could use to better function and these foods can even go as far as disrupting natural body process’.
Fast food is actually not too new to our society, in fact it only began making a rise in the early 19th century. According to author John Jakle of “Food, Fast” published in the Dictionary of American History it was a small industry at first.
He states, for hourly wage earners—whether factory hands or store clerks—take-out lunch wagons and sit-down lunch counters appeared at factory gates, streetcar stops, and throughout downtown districts in the late nineteenth century. For travelers, lunch counters also appeared in railroad stations nationwide” (Jakle, 397). Jakle goes on to describe how the growing automotive industry was an important factor in aiding the rise of the fast food industry. Many of the restaurants began adding a window to the side so people wouldn’t have to leave the car, giving birth to the drive thru window and to go further the foods served were actually designed to be eaten with only one hand.
Now getting into the bigger questions, how unhealthy is fast food? According to healthline.com there are 13 major health effects that fast food can have on your body and they cover every range from physical health such as heart disease, stroke, and shortness of breath. Including mental health effects such an increased risk for headaches as well as emotional health even increasing your risk for depression, “People who eat fast food and processed pastries are 51 percent more likely to develop depression than people who don’t eat those foods or eat very few of them” (Carey, Holland, Pietrangelo) 2018. Today, the world has shifted focus on the mental health of people and have been looking for ways to reach out and help. Discovering that fast food consumption only adds to this in a negative way could potentially be a step in how to help and may even get people asking a more serious question as to why this food in particular could be causing this.
[image: ]The main effects emphasized were the risk for heart disease or stroke and this is due to two reasons; one being high cholesterol which is caused by too much trans fats which are known to raise the LDL levels otherwise known as bad cholesterol. Referring to Figure 1 (“Political Cartoons.” Foodindustrymakeachange, 3 Apr. 2011) on how bad trans fats are, you can see the artist intention to show how tans fat is so bad that you can compare it to having a cigarette. Comparing the consumption of trans fats to that of smoking a cigarette shows the effects have been researched in the past due to the damage it can cause but there isn’t a warning sticker on a Baconator from Wendy’s. The other major risk taken from fast food consumption is high blood pressure; this occurs because of the amount of sodium in fast food meals that can rapidly raise blood pressure and begin to irritate and put strain on your cardiovascular system as a whole. This strain on your cardiovascular system can include fat lining major heart valves or blocked vessels and even misfunctioning heart muscles, all of which are considered forms of heart disease and can reduce your life expectancy.
Reviewing Sage Journals website supports these claims of heart disease and stroke and according to the article, urban environments tend to create what’s known as a “food desert”. These are created due to the lack of fresh market produced these people have access too, thus pushing them to eat unhealthier and fast foods like McDonalds, Burger King, etc. To help clarify this more it was found that, people living among these areas were found to have 7 times the risk of what is known as an “early-life stroke” claiming to put people in nursing homes as early as their 30’s (Fuhrman, Paragraph 5). With all the information we can start to see that inherently fast food isn’t doing any good for our health. People with preexisting medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and gout must pay special attention to their consumption to avoid problems occurring in the future. Fast food attacks the human body from almost every angle whether it be physically, mentally or emotionally and has its own effect on each individual.
Now we have an idea of how unhealthy fast food really is but with moderation, like most things, you’ll be alright. It does beg the next question however, why is fast food so unhealthy for us? What is in these fast and processed foods that make it stand apart from other categories of food? The discoveries made were shocking nonetheless after reading an article written by health and wellness advocate, Laurie Powell. She begins to explain the process of vegetables and how they are packaged and processed starting by mentioning how the nutritional value of the vegetables are decreased due to being “grown from “Roundup-ready” seeds on big farms in the middle of America” (Powell, Paragraph 5). Furthermore, she explains how they lose nutrients as they are cut and packaged, these vegetables are also sprayed down with a substance known as “Propylene Glycol” which is used to keep them looking fresh and delicious. What most people do not know is that propylene glycol is listed through the “Toxic Substances Portal” by the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (ATSDR) though it has no chemical classification. The FDA claims it is a “generally recognized as safe” and has no effects through consumption but it is still used in things such as anti-freeze or used to make other polyester compounds.
So now you have seen how our wonderfully delicious vegetables are prepared and preserved for us and you might be asking yourself, “What does this mean for the meat?”. Well a very interesting question is, “How good do you think the meat is if the burger only costs a buck or two? And, that includes all the other ingredients, the packaging, and the labor to cook, assemble, and package it” (Powell, Paragraph 5). We obtain our meat from the factory farming process which has already proven to severally diminish the nutritional value of products. Our farmed cattle are different from the cattle allowed to graze free; to begin, they are pumped full of GMO’s (Genetically Modified Organism) to speed up the growth rate and pack on the weight in a relatively short time period. Powell claims in her article that, “Prior to point of sale they receive feed mixed with cement dust, so they weigh more at auction and garner a bigger profit” (Powell, Paragraph 5). Believe it or not all those toxins, drugs and chemicals pumped into the meat gets stored in the fat and meat itself where you eventually consume it as well. So instead of getting a nutritious source of meat you’re getting the same chemicals they got and to make it even better you get the cattle from head to tail all ground up together.
We know that a lot of the nutrients from these meals are diminished due to the accelerated growth systems and that some meats and vegetables carry these toxins and growth chemicals all the way to our stomach. I’m not done yet unfortunately, and I do mean it when I say “unfortunately” because this next section is over the fried foods, we’ve all known to come and love like french fries, chicken finger and even mozzarella sticks.
The starting process for fried foods is like most, the foods are precooked once and then frozen for shipment. French fries are even cooked and fried twice before freezing and shipment, the entire process done in copious amounts of oil. So how bad is the oil? According to Powell most of these oils contain up to 8 different substances which mostly contain preservatives, food color and flavor which is pretty general for fast foods. The first two times the food is fried in an oil particularly designed towards the preservation of a product and that’s where some interesting chemicals begin to surface. One of these chemical’s is described as, “partially hydrogenated corn oil with TBHQ [an acronym for the word tertiary butylhydroquinone, a fat preservative added to a dog food to increase its shelf life; also used to stabilize certain explosive compounds, and to make varnishes, lacquers and resins]” (Powell, Paragraph 7). That is just one of the many oils our fried goods are produced in and most of these oils are actually GMO’s (Genetically Modified Organisms) to begin with and some of these oils were engineered specifically to enhance the shelf life, flavor and looks of food but this process takes away from the nutritional value of the foods and adds substances that do not belong in your diet.
At this point, we have now discussed how unhealthy fast food is and we have gone into what make fast food unhealthy but even with all of this information some people will still consume more than the recommended occasional meal. So that leads me to the next question and that is what are the short- and long-term effects of eating too much of these fast food meals? There is actually a fair amount of health risks that come with too much fast food consumption and earlier in the essay we covered some of the long term and more major health risk. This time we are going to get a little technical on what these foods are doing to your body.
According to The Washington post in and article by Christy Brissette “That single fast food meal can narrow your arteries, leading to an increase in blood pressure. And the quick spike in your blood sugar from eating junk foods high in refined carbohydrates and added sugars can cause a surge in insulin, leading to a quick drop in blood sugar. That leaves you feeling tired, cranky and hungry for more” (Brissette). So even just one meal can begin to cause problems, some more serious than others. So, then what are some of these risks? If just one fast food meal can do this then what happens when you make habit of it?
Let’s begin with a “short term” risk listed by healthline.com and that risk is acne, and this is because your typical fast food meal consists of maybe a burger with some fries or another carb heavy meal of some type. These foods loaded with empty or refined carbs can actually spike a persons blood sugar which will then increase the hormones in the body to increase oil production causing a breakout. Healthline.com describes it like “In the past, chocolate and greasy foods like pizza have taken the blame for acne breakouts” (Pietrangelo) so eating out less is something people may want to do to improve the health of their skin. Empty or refined carbohydrates seem to be an enemy of the people and they are exactly how they sound, they’re empty and provide no nutritional value and only end up forcing your body to process food with little to no reward. The other short-term risk like blood sugar spikes, bloating and unneeded extra calories can lead to longer term risk.
The final part of this topic covers the longer-term risks of eating too much fast food and eating fast food more than once a week is generally classified as too much according to many of the authors of the sources presented thus far. Some of the long-term risk do relate to where some of the short-term risk begin, for instance the constant blood sugars spikes cause your body to over produce insulin leading to the development of type 2 diabetes. Furthermore, when you build a habit of eating fast food you tend to garner extra calories and previously, we learned that these meals contain little nutrients. This means your body just packs on weight which leads to more serious problems which where elaborated on when discussing how fast food is unhealthy for you.
Overall the information provided has shifted how I view fast food, I went into this assignment with an open mind and having done so I was able to learn a thing myself. I do firmly believe that fast food is causing more damage than many people are willing to admit. These foods can cause serious and potentially fatal risk to your health and also provided little to no nutritional value, almost making them a complete waste of money. It is a problem that will continue to grow unless we as a society address it properly like we have done in the past. This issue will be one easier said than done as many of us live a 24/7 working life, where we find little time to eat. To commit to a healthier life style will be a choice but doing so can help you avoid many of the problems faced with eating fast foods. I know I am going to try and commit to packing a lunch more often myself now, after learning about some of the substances in our foods as well I will keep an eye on what I’m truly putting into my body. I hope the information provided get other to think in a similar fashion and look to see how they’re diet affects their day to day life.
Brissette, Christy. “This Is Your Body on Fast Food.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 1 Mar. 2018, www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/wellness/sneaking-a-little-junk-food-doesnt-mean-all-is-lost/2018/02/26/828b75fa-1b36-11e8-9de1-147dd2df3829_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.1961f6590d18.
Fuhrman, Joel. “The Hidden Dangers of Fast and Processed Food.” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 3 Apr. 2018, journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1559827618766483?utm_source=summon&utm_medium=discovery-provider&.
“Heart Disease.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 22 Mar. 2018, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20353118.
Jakle, John A. ‘Food, Fast.’ Dictionary of American History, edited by Stanley I. Kutler, 3rd ed., vol. 3, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2003, pp. 397-398. Gale Virtual Reference Library, https://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX3401801546/GVRL?u=ucinc_main&sid=GVRL&xid=44ce5e73. Accessed 18 Feb. 2019.
“Political Cartoons.” Foodindustrymakeachange, 3 Apr. 2011, Figure 1 foodindustrymakeachange.wordpress.com/2002/04/03/political-cartoons/.
Pietrangelo, Ann, et al. “13 Effects of Fast Food on the Body.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 25 July 2018, www.healthline.com/health/fast-food-effects-on-body.
Powell, Laurie. “What’s So Bad About Eating Fast Food?” Focus for Health, 26 Oct. 2016, www.focusforhealth.org/whats-bad-eating-fast-food/.
“Toxic Substances Portal.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 3 Mar. 2011, www.atsdr.cdc.gov/substances/toxsubstance.asp?toxid=240.
Welsh, Jennifer. “Happy Meal Set to Become a Sad Meal in San Francisco.” D-Brief, 4 Nov. 2010, blogs.discovermagazine.com/discoblog/2010/11/04/happy-meal-set-to-become-a-sad-meal-in-san-francisco/#.XGcf7uJKhD1.
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