While fast food can be tasty, convenient, and inexpensive, it can also present a number of serious health risks, including increased risk for heart disease and diabetes. Understanding the impact that regularly consuming fast food can have on your health is crucial to making better-informed choices.
Nutritional Contents of Fast Food
Just how bad is fast food for your health? The true detriment of this type of food is often easy to overlook. Not only is most fast food fried and dripping in grease, it also frequently contains high levels of cholesterol and sodium. To make matters worse, these meals are often lacking in the vitamins, fiber, and other nutrients the body requires for optimal health. On top of that, many of the most popular fast foods have a high caloric intake, sometimes as much as 50 percent of the daily recommended intake. Nutritional information is also often difficult to access at many restaurants, making it even more important for consumers to become educated regarding the health risks associated with fast food.
Health Risks of Fast Food
The risks brought by eating fast food include the following:
- Type 2 Diabetes. The National Institutes of Health now reports that consuming fast food is linked to insulin resistance, thus significantly increasing one's risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
- Obesity. Eating fast food has also been associated with obesity. Even eating fast food as little as a couple of times per week could cause you to pack on several pounds of additional weight.
- Cancer. An increased risk of cancer, particularly cancer of the esophagus, kidney, and colon, is also associated with fast food.
- Cardiovascular Disease. Eating fast food has also been linked to an increased buildup of plaque within the arteries, thus increasing your risk for cardiovascular disease and heart failure.
- Stroke. Due to the large amounts of sodium often included in fast food, it can also lead to high blood pressure and ultimately an increased risk of stroke.
- Effects on Children. Fast food can also have a significant health impact on children. In fact, the effects are often even more pronounced in children. Children who consume fast food on a regular basis may be at risk for type 2 diabetes and obesity. Other risks associated with the consumption of fast food by children include hypertension, high cholesterol, and asthma. Furthermore, the lack of nutritional content of most fast foods may also lead to impaired growth and development, resulting in stunted physical growth, brain development, and motor skill development.
Reducing the Risks Associated with Fast Food
While fast food is certainly convenient and ever-present in our modern society, there are steps you can take to mitigate the health risks associated with it. Eating fast food occasionally should not present any serious health risks; however, it is important to avoid making fast food a regular part of your diet. Learning how to make healthier food choices when you do dine out can also assist you in reducing the health risks of fast food. The following tips can help:
- Keep portion sizes small. Many fast food chains today encourage customers to upgrade their meals by pricing them competitively. Avoid the temptation to order a larger size simply because it is only slightly higher in price than a regular size.
- Educate yourself about nutritional information before ordering. Even if that information is not available at the restaurant, you can typically find it online. Seeing this information in black and white may be enough to help you in making healthier decisions when the time comes to order.
- Avoid fried foods when possible. Fortunately, many fast food restaurants today are now offering grilled options along with apple slices or other healthy alternatives to fries. Even a few small but healthy steps can make a big difference over time.
- Be aware of what you are ordering. Although many fast food restaurants do now offer salads and other seemingly healthy choices, the ingredients can often be just as detrimental to your health as a fatty burger. When possible, ask for low-fat dressing, order grilled chicken over fried chicken for salads and skip the bacon.