You woke up late. You have a presentation this morning and your boss is expecting much from you. And you cannot afford to miss it. To save time, you thought of having your breakfast at the office before your schedule for your presentation. So there you go ordering your breakfast from a fast food chain’s drive thru. Most probably, you think to yourself that fast food saves your morning from tedious task of preparing breakfast while avoiding the chance of being late from work. Sounds familiar? Of course, every one of us experienced this scenario in one way or another which makes us patronize fast food.
Fast food is designed for ready consumption. In fact, fast food is almost everywhere. It comes with different names and different forms. You can have it dine in, drive thru, take out or have it delivered right to where you are. It can cater our needs of saving time or saving money. Great, right?
But, what if I tell you that fast food has lurking hideous truths that will put us at risk as well as the environment. So before you agree or disagree, it is better to understand fast food, the dangers that fast food can inflict, and how can we save ourselves and the environment from its negative impact.
What makes fast food so good?
You could probably think of many reasons why fast food is such a hit. Fast food is convenient, addictive and inexpensive, which makes everyone of us might go after it.
Fast food is in demand for its convenience. For instance, since we are currently in a fast paced lifestyle, we are opt to having busy tasks to do, often double our time to cater deadlines and when we feel hungry fast food are the easiest food we can have. According to Amanda Kostro Miller of Fitter Living, what makes fast food so good is that it is quick, widely available, typically high in sodium, fat, added sugars and to avoid starvation. The availability and its inexpensive quality feels like it can save you from further stress of thinking about food.
In fact, Alessandra Kessler of Healthy Body, Healthy Mind, a Certified Holistic Health Center Coach, said that fast foods have high amount of fats, and fats have the ability to make the consumer feel full as well as to make the brain more content after consuming fats which make consumers feel good.
Another reason why fast food earns its popularity is due to its addictive characteristic. Dr. Henry Obispo, a food justice activist, says that the indoctrination of children ushering into fast-food culture by parents create a culture of repetitive action in fast food consumption. Television ads for instance is a driving force that makes people consume fast food.
Anju Mubin, the managing editor of Best for Nutrition, believes that fast foods advertisement, restaurants, and menus all give hints to spark addictive overconsumption which creates psychological dependence. Overeating is not just about eating more of non-healthy food, Dr. Chris Norris from Sleep Standard says. Overeating may not be an issue of self-discipline towards food, because lovers of fast food can be in the grip of addiction which is similar to those of experiences of drug users.
Furthermore, it is no secret that fast food is not costly. Like, if you are in a tight budget and you are looking for a palatable food, fast food can be your ideal meal. And there is a reason why fast food is cheaper than the one you prepare at home. Dr. Sumiya Sulthana of ICliniq stated that fast food is usually made out of high fats instead of nutritious food such as fresh fruits and vegetables.
And it is also containing preservatives to make it last longer than the usual, said Lewis Keegan, the founder of Skill Scouter. The preservatives and cheaper ingredients allow producers to come up with low cost fast foods that will cater the needs of those who are cutting expenditures on food consumption.
These particular traits of fast foods are comprehensible reasons why its popularity among people make it to continue. And it is an inevitable fact that the further proliferation of the fast food industry will be more noticeable. Because fast food is the alternative that almost every one of us would agree on.
Health Hazards of Eating Fast Food
Along with convenience, inexpensiveness, and addictive traits of fast food comes health risks in eating it. The consistent consumption of fast food will contribute to deterioration of the human health.
According to Dr. Sulthana, fast food replaces healthy eating habits, and people who consume it are less likely to eat vegetables and fruits. Dr. Sulthana added that the excess consumption of calories and fats increases the chances of metabolic syndrome. The chances of having metabolic syndrome can also lead to chances of neurodegenerative diseases which can impact the brain and blood.
Moreover, a study has shown that increased consumption of burger, French fries and other processed-meat products was associated with an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes mellitus. These two diseases cannot just affect the health of many people around the world; they are also known reasons of death.
To further explain the ill-effects of fast food consumption, Dr. Norris provided more examples of health risks that consumers may experience in the long run. Below are some of the health risks:
Obesity — Junk foods contain too much calories which can result in weight gain and further lead to obesity. Obesity increases the risk for respiratory problems, including asthma and shortness of breath. The excess weight can put pressure on heart and lungs and that even little exertion may cause the appearance of symptoms.
Deterioration of skin— The sugar, white flour and empty carbs like French fries may cause skin issues such as acne.
Bloating — The suggested dietary sodium limits is less than 1,500 milligrams per day, and should never exceed 2,300 milligrams per day. Since fast food has more sodium to make it preserved and palatable, a single fast-food meal has more 2,300 milligrams. And this too much consumption of sodium causes the body to retain more water which leads to the feeling of being bloated and puffy.
Decline of memory and cognitive function— Fast foods contain saturated fats. For instance, milkshakes, fried chicken meals, and chicken nuggets have saturated fats. It has been known that saturated fats can negatively impact the heart, and new suggested also that saturated fats intake may negatively impact brain function and memory. Higher intakes of saturated fatty acids may impair memory speed and flexibility and prospective memory.
Constipation— Since fast foods do not often use vegetables and fruit, it also lacks dietary fiber. Dietary fiber plays a dominant role in the digestive system. Fiber helps keep the digestive tract working properly as it pushes wastes out of the body. However, fast foods’ lack of dietary fibers leads to constipation.
Nutritional starvation— Fast foods are high in calories. Too much body intake of this calories results to lack of necessary nutrients that the body needs to function properly. Although, fast food will make the body feels full, but due to its empty nutritional quality, the body may suffer from nutritional starvation which can cause permanent damage to the body.
Increased inflammation— Phthalates, a type of endocrine-upsetting synthetic poisons, are utilized to line plastic food and refreshment packaging. Sadly, they are not good for the wellbeing. More amount phthalate metabolites are related with aggravation and metabolic disorder: an infection additionally regularly connected with increased levels of inflammation. Inflammation can cause a heap of medical issues from unwanted weight gain to nutrient deficiency.
Tooth decay– Recurrent soda intake can result to poor oral health. Large intake of soda increases the amount of acid inside the mouth, which eventually leads to tooth decay and cavities. Some fast food’s desserts may also aggravate this.
Mental Health Decline– Recent research reveals that fast food consumption may cause a higher rate of depression. People who ate fast food are more likely to develop depression in comparison to those who do not eat fast food.
Kidneys and stomach suffer– Sodium contributes to existing high blood pressure or enlargement of heart muscle. Too much salt add to a dangerous buildup of fluid to people who have congestive heart failure, cirrhosis, or kidney disease. For those who do not have recurring health problems, excessive sodium intake may also increase the risk of kidney stones and kidney disease.
Spike in blood sugar– Eating high-carb fast food builds the glucose content in the body. Consumption of white-flour-based nourishments, for instance, the bun from a burger or French fries contains large amount of white sugar. Thus, making body to intake large amount of sugar. Frequent consumption of these foods may lead to diseases such as obesity which the American Medical Association has indicated clinical diagnosis and diabetes.
More worry– the lack of omega-3 fatty acids in fast foods. The lack of those good fats can lead to a more anxious mental state. Also, fast foods contain high in refined carbohydrates can lead to fluctuations in blood sugar. This is due to hypoglycemic level that makes the body experience anxiety, trembling, confusion, and fatigue.
Increase in cholesterol levels– Many fast foods served are obtained from animal products, deep fried and served with cheese and high-fat dipping sauces. The high fat content in fast food can add to high cholesterol, which can also lead to atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis, a disease of the arteries characterized by the deposition of plaques of fatty material on their inner walls, occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries and hinders the flow of blood to the heart and organs. Fast food can also lower the body’s good (HDL) cholesterol, further putting the heart and health on the line.
Increased risk of cancer- PhIP is short for 2-Amino-1-methyl-6-phenylimidazo (4,5-b) pyridine in accordant to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, this catchy-sounding chemical appeared in over 100 samples of fast food grilled chicken. The substance, which forms when meat is heated to a certain temperature, is linked with human breast, prostate, and colon cancers. In addition, fast food has sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite in meats, a these additives are used to retain meat color and to inhibit bacterial growth. Both chemicals can break down into nitrosamines, substances with the potential to cause cancer.
Increased risk of heart disease– Fats commonly found in fast food is made up of saturated fatty acids can raise your blood cholesterol levels since clogs the veins and hinders proper circulation of blood flow, which leads to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease,
Weak bones– Since fast food is typically full with sodium, it is impossible to lessen sodium intake when eating it. High sodium intake can cause the bones to weaken, leading to possible osteoporosis. For example, One Big Mac has 970 mg of sodium, which is over one-third of the daily recommended allowance, meaning eating four of this in one day is likely exceeding the sodium intake limitation.
Given all of these, and other long lists of expected health hazards can affect one’s health for life, in which another expert, Dr. Henry Obispo, states that fast food “leads to more sedentary lives, creating a destructive cycle that feeds itself, continuously subtracting from one’s quality of life.”
Environmental impacts of the fast food industry
The life threatening risks of fast food do not only include the human health but also the environment. From obtaining resources to processing of fast food, it is accompanied by environmental hazards, resulting to environmental degradation. This environmental degradation comes in the form of water, air and land pollution. These affect the balance of biodiversity within the environment which often affects the food chain and other factors to keep the environment livable.
According to Amanda Kostro Miller, since fast food utilizes minimal plant-based foods and mostly depends on animal-based foods, it puts a strain on the environment. Plant-based foods such as fruits, veggies, soy, legumes, nuts, seeds have a lower carbon footprint than raising, feeding, slaughtering, processing and packaging of animal-based food. Large fast food chains often have more than one supplier, which implies that they do not significantly utilize locally-grown/raised food. Since the food being obtained from other states or localities requires transportation, it increases the carbon footprint.
As the carbon footprint increases, the greenhouse gasses are also increasing in the atmosphere. Worse, the greenhouse gasses emitted from cooking fast food also worsens further increases their presence in the atmosphere. This also leads to the depletion of the ozone layer, global warming and climate change, which resulting to melting of ice cap and tundra, unwanted harsh weather, and changes in water temperature leaving the environment in devastating state.
Further, to be able to cater convenience, fast foods come in a handy packaging. Fast foods utized packaging that consist of Styrofoam, paper cups or containers, and single-use plastics. Most establishments that offer fast foods do not have recycling program, and most consumers of fast food do not also recycle. So the trash produce by fast food packaging ends up in landfills that affect soil qualities in the long run.
And worse, these single-use plastics may end up in bodies of water. For instance, PET bottles are commonly found in oceans and create ocean patches that affect the food chain and environmental diversity of marine life. Another example is the plastic straws which can be seen affecting turtles and other marine life.
Another environmental challenge which was cited by Thomas Woznicki of Combined Resources, fast food industry is facing problem on food waste such as cooking oil. Used cooking oil can contaminate ground water when it is not properly disposed. Often, used cooking oil is dumped to sewers or drainage which pose environmental hazards, because aside from it can clog the passages, it may also reach the bodies of water.
A study reveals that presence of used oil in the surface water hinders the oxygen entering water and blocks sunlight, and this makes it difficult for plants to do the process of photosynthesis. In the same study, it also claim that oil affects fish mortality rate and and their reproduction cycle.
Moreover, as fast food comes cheap, the necessity to outsource for cheaper ingredients is also a must for the fast food industry. For, it needs to sustain inexpensive food to be able to cater its consumer. And this leads to come up with suppliers that can offer cheaper ingredients. And this is where another problem pops up.
According to Erin Hendrickson, a registered dietitian at No Waste Nutrition, millions of animals are raised in unnatural conditions lacking outdoor access and fed genetically engineered crops. In fact, there are videos in the social media showing the horrible conditions of animals such as pigs in congested small cages where the food even mixed with their feces.
Also, Dr. Obispo stated that large scale factory farming, which produces labor and commodities from animals, are hazardous to humans and environment. He also added, “The hormones, antibiotics, and other chemicals are inhumane to the animals that are relegated to this process and the humans that consume them”. The use of hormones, antibiotics and other chemicals is leaving residues on both land and water, which causes contamination. Aside from that, the use of natural resources, clear-cutting forested lands and water consumption to feed livestock, exacerbates the environmental crisis that we are currently experiencing.
The environmental degradation brought about by fast food, if not mitigated, will change the environment drastically in a negative way, leaving huge problems for us and the next generation to face. And these problems inflicted to the environment will leave a huge question to human existence.
What can you do to minimize the consumption of fast food?
Fast food is inevitable. It has become such an integral part of modern diets. But this does not mean that you cannot lessen your fast food consumption. Here are seven tips that you can easily use and practically remember.
- Wake up early— do not stay up too late at night, or you can set your alarm clock into earlier schedule. Waking up early will buy you time to prepare breakfast.
2. Plan ahead— having a meal that is well-planned will not only provide you healthy meal but also it will help you save both time and money. If you have difficulty in planning a meal, you can surf the internet to look for a well-designed meal plan. This will also address some issues in food waste and packaging that continues polluting our environment.
3. Educate yourself— you can start by knowing the impact of fast food. This is also meant improving your cooking skills and asking experts on how to prepare your food easily without compromising its nutritional value.
Dr. Amanda Kostro Miller recommends having hardboiled egg, nuts, low-fat string cheese, apple, whole grain crackers. Also, Dr. Obispo believes that investing in health and education that addresses and counters the ways in which information and power are used in disadvantageous ways for many in society can save you from dangers brought about by fast food.
4. Train your mind— ask yourself if the food you are taking is healthy, in that way you can always think twice before eating fast food. According Dr. Sulthana, you have to think junk food or fast food differently than how you consume it before.
5. Know what you eat— since fast food is inevitable and it is difficult to avoid it at once, it important to know what is present in your food. You can start by choosing fast food with lower calories and fats.
According to Melissa Morris, a certified nutritionist from QuickQuote.com, “it’s best to choose smaller portions, review nutrition information posted online or on menus, drink water, and be aware of extra items that add calories, fat, sugar, or sodium”.
And when it comes to protecting the environment, you can take the advice of Erin Hendrickson which is to simply request no napkins, plastic silverware, or extra packaging when ordering; keep a Zero Waste travel kit that can help you cut back on plastic waste; and maintain reusable on hand like a water bottle, cutlery, straw, napkins, and a to-go container.
6. Keep healthy food at hand— Storing healthy food at home and at work can keep you away from consuming so much fast food. You can refer to the list of single portion items for portable large amount of food that Dr. Norris had provided are:
- Peanut butter to go with crackers or bread sticks-
- Single-serve cans of tuna- Cans or cups of fruit packed in their own juice
- Dehydrated bean soups-
- Nuts, fruits and veggies- a trail mix made from dried fruits, nuts, seeds, pretzels, or cereal with a few chocolate chips thrown in for good measure makes a satisfying snack.
7. Practice urban gardening— you can actually start planting herbs out of food scrap that you can grow in your kitchen. And you can basically use food scraps as fertilizers in a form compost or Fermented Fruit/Vegetables Juice. If you are worried of watering it every day, you can use technique such us the self-watering container.
Also, this is the best way to come up with healthy organic food. You are not just saving the environment but you are also saving some money while keeping your mental health at good state.
Considering all these factors that fast food negatively impacting our lives and our environment, there is no denying that it could supplement the environmental and health crisis which currently exists in the world. However, the problems inflicted by fast foods spark the idea of knowing that we can do something, and that we do not have to go backward just to be able to have the food that will suit our convenience and budget.
The environmental degradation and health risks it might bring are pushing us to look for alternative, and this alternatives is more sustainable, eco-friendly, healthier and more humane way of producing our food. This alternative hopefully would be our powerful narrative to pass on to the next generation in creating an environmental-friendly future.