Dangers of Fast Food and How to Avoid Them

burgerThere is a lot that can be said about America’s relationship to fast food. Some alarming statistics related to fast food consumption and the health of U.S. residents (as provided by 101 Reasons Why I’m a Vegetarian and Random Facts) include:

  • Approximately 9 out of 10 U.S. children visit a McDonald’s restaurant each month.
  • 1 in 4 Americans visit a fast food restaurant each day.
  • There are more than 300,000 fast food restaurants in the United States.
  • 13 percent of U.S. schools have fast-food franchise outlets.
  • In 1972, Americans spent $3 billion per year on fast food. Today, more than $110 billion per year is spent.
  • French fries are the most consumed “vegetable” in the United States.
  • Surgeon General David Satcher stated, “Fast food is a major contributor to the obesity epidemic.”
  • It is estimated that 60 percent of all Americans are either overweight or obese.
  • 400,000 deaths per year are directly or indirectly linked to obesity.

With the hectic lifestyles of U.S. residents and the difficult economic environment of today, many people focus on the affordability and ease of a fast-food meal, without thinking about the health risks involved.

Health Issues Related to Fast Foods

It is common knowledge that fast food is not the healthiest food available. It is popular because it is affordable and (depending on your own opinion) tastes good. The added sugar, fat, and sodium may add to the improved taste of the processed food, but many believe these ingredients have also added to our nation’s health woes.

Although some studies state that fast food is not the main culprit in the obesity problem in the United States, many still conclude that fast food is hurting our nation’s health. The deadly combination of high levels of sodium, fat, and sugar has contributed to the belief that fast food consumption is, at least in part, a contributing factor for diseases and health problems including:

  • Obesity
  • Heart disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Stroke
  • Sleep apnea
  • Arthritis
  • Respiratory problems
  • Liver damage
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome

Surviving in a Fast-food World

In the last decade, the fast-food industry has been hit with health-related lawsuits and scathing portrayals in movies like Fast Food Nation, Food, Inc. and Super Size Me. Although fast-food restaurants still offer many less-than-healthy options, many chains are now providing lower-calorie and lower-fat alternatives.

The best way to avoid the problems related with fast food is to not eat it. However, if you find yourself in the position where you need to eat at a fast food establishment, you can still make healthier choices. The best way to do this is to:

  • Choose grilled or baked items instead of fried foods.
  • Don’t order the larger sizes of any of the items and pay attention to your fullness level. Portions in restaurants tend to be bigger than necessary; you do not have to clean your plate.
  • Avoid sugared drinks. Choose water! If you’d like to add some flavor and nutrition to your water, consider carrying travel packets of powdered beverages with you for restaurant or fast food dining. (Check out Sunrider’s Fortune Delight® for a great tasting powdered herbal beverage.)
  • Order your sandwiches, salads, and other food with the condiments on the side. Add minimal amounts of condiments to reduce fat intake.
  • Avoid bacon, added salt, and hidden fat (salad dressings, etc.).
  • Look for “healthy” or “light” sections of the menu, but be sure to still check the nutrition information (not all “healthy” foods are created equal).
  • Ask for healthy alternative side item options. Replace French fries or onion rings with a salad or fruit.

The key is to eat in moderation, which is often difficult in fast-food restaurants. Whenever possible, you should create your own meals and focus on including fresh fruits, vegetable, whole grains, and lean proteins. If you know you will have to grab a meal on the go, consider herbal meal-replacement shakes or bars. There are many healthy snack options available. (Be sure to check the label before purchasing and consuming them, as some protein bars are packed with more sugar than a candy bar.)

Healthy alternatives are available, if you make your health and well being a priority. By removing (or limiting the amount of) fast food from your diet, you will find yourself feeling better and possibly even losing weight.