Fast food. It's convenient and cheap and the kids love it. On busy days, grabbing a fast food meal can make life easier, but what’s the real cost of your drive-through dinner? While many fast food establishments have started to offer healthier options, fast food as a whole has a bad reputation for its high content of unhealthy fats, sodium, calories, and preservatives. You've heard the stories, watched the movies, and possibly personally experienced the health consequences of frequent fast food consumption.
What's hiding in your fast food to make it so unhealthy? Here are a few things you’ll find in your favorite fast food items.
It's an ingredient used to absorb water and can be found in deodorant and antifreeze. But you can also find it in your fast food, where it's used to keep lettuce crisp and make food flavors, colors, and spice mixtures.
This synthetic food coloring is found in soft drinks, meat fillings, and certain sweet and sour dipping sauces. Made from sugars, ammonia, and sulfites, the chemical reaction of these ingredients has been linked to leukemia and cancers of the lung, liver, and thyroid.
This chemical preservative is used to prolong the shelf life of foods by keeping fats and oils from combining with oxygen and going bad. You'll find THBQ in pesticides, cosmetics, lighters, and varnish, but you'll also find it in the oil used to cook your French fries and chicken nuggets (and other baked goods you buy at the grocery store). TBHQ has been suspected of causing vision problems, possible behavioral disorders, asthma, nausea, and vomiting.
A common food additive in fast food and other processed foods, monosodium glutamate (MSG) is used to add flavor. Some people seem to be particularly sensitive to MSG and develop short-term headaches, nausea, sweating, heart palpitations, weakness, burning on their face, or chest pain when they consume it. Some studies have indicated MSG may play a role in obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.
This chemical preservative is found in fast food as well as other processed foods like cereal and baked goods on grocery store shelves. According to the American Cancer Society, BHA is “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” It's also been linked to behavioral problems, liver and kidney damage, and trouble sleeping.
While some fast food chains have stopped using trans fats to prepare their food, many still use the oil to make French fries, fried chicken, pastries, biscuits, and breakfast foods. Also known as partially hydrogenated oils, trans fats increase your bad cholesterol levels, putting you at risk for heart disease. Trans fats can also be found in baked goods, refrigerated doughs, frostings, microwave popcorn, and frozen pizza at the grocery store.
Fast food is a known contributor to high blood pressure and heart disease due to the exorbitant amount of sodium it contains. The salty fries, cheese, meat, sauces, and biscuits are a few of the worst offenders. Most healthy adults should consume fewer than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day for good health, but just one fast food meal can put you well over that amount. Some restaurants now offer low-sodium options, so if you must choose fast food, look for those menu items.