Fast food has become part of the lives of millions of people all over the world. Fast food chains offer the convenience of meals that are ready-to-eat, not to mention the affordable prices of the food. Adults are not the only ones who enjoy eating fast food but children and adolescents as well. Consumption of fast food has increased over the past decades and it comes as no surprise that the risk and incidence of diseases has increased as well. Fast food and junk food are considered to be among the culprits behind obesity, heart diseases, diabetes, and other health problems and it is important to be aware of the harm it can bring to the body.
Fast foods are commonly high in saturated fats, trans fats, calories, cholesterol, sugar, and sodium while having little nutritional value. Fast foods include fried foods like fries and nuggets, burgers, sodas which can be upsized depending on the person’s appetite. One burger with fries and drinks can have as much as 1200 calories, which is more than half of the recommended calorie intake per day.
Saturated fats are commonly found in fast food. Excess intake of saturated fats can increase cholesterol levels in the blood which in turn increases a person’s risk for developing heart problems, stroke, and heart attack. Saturated fats are needed by the body for normal functioning but only in minimal amounts.
Trans fats or hydrogenated fats are processed fats made from liquid oil. Unlike saturated fats which are considered to be essential for the body, trans fats are not needed by the body at all and can cause elevation of blood cholesterol levels and deplete high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol or the good cholesterol. Trans fats pose a greater risk of developing heart disease compared to saturated fats.
Calories are needed by the body for energy. Calories can come from carbohydrates, protein, and fats from the diet. Excess calories that are not burned off by the body are stored in the body as fat which can lead to overweight or obesity in the long run. Obesity and overweight are risk factors for many chronic conditions such as cancer and diabetes.
The body makes 75% of its cholesterol needs and the other 25% can be obtained from food. Fast food usually contain high cholesterol especially burgers, fried chicken, and fries. High cholesterol increases the risk for coronary heart disease, stroke, and heart attack.
Sodas, milkshakes, ice cream, and juice contain a lot of sugar. The American Heart Association recommends people to limit intake of added sugar of not more than 6 teaspoons of sugar in women and 9 teaspoons in men. One can of soda has about 40 grams which is equivalent to almost 10 teaspoons, more than the set limit for added sugar intake.
Fast foods are also high in sodium. Excessive amounts of sodium or salt in the diet increase the risk for high blood pressure, osteoporosis, heart failure, stroke, cancer of the stomach, and kidney disease. The American Heart Association recommends intake of foods with little or no salt at all to reduce risk for heart disease.
Why Healthy Food Habits Must Start at a Young Age
One of the major problems associated with regular consumption of fast food is obesity. Excess calories can cause too much fat in the body and can eventually lead to overweight or obesity. In the United States, 17% of kids and adolescents are already obese, a number which is already triple the rate of obesity during the last generation. Almost 1/3 of the young population between the age of 4-19 in the United States eat fast food every day and this is most likely to lead to 6 pounds of weight gain per child per year.
It is important to teach children what are healthy foods and what junk foods are while they are still young so that they get to incorporate healthy eating habits as they grow up. Children aren’t really aware of the dangers of cholesterol, fats, sodium, and sugar and adults need to serve as a role model so that they make good food choices. Fast food is just one of the foods to avoid for better health and it is important to increase awareness at a young age to prevent negative effects on the health in the long run.