It isn’t exactly breaking news that fast food is bad for you.
Even the most ardent hater of Brussels sprouts and broccoli can’t argue that a bacon cheeseburger and order of large fries washed down with an extra-large, collectable plastic cup filled with high-fructose corn syrup seems like a healthy meal. Fast food has a terrible reputation. And for good reason: It’s really unhealthy, and if you eat a lot of it, not only will you gain weight, you’ll also end up sick and tired. But how much do we really know about why fast food is bad for you?
When we eat, say, a nice piece of salmon with some quinoa and steamed vegetables, we’re getting vital nutrients from every component of that meal: omega-3s from the fish, protein and fiber from the quinoa, and a host of vitamins and minerals from the vegetables. And while a five-ounce fillet of salmon actually contains more fat and calories than a McDonald’s cheeseburger, it’s the quality of that fat and those calories that counts, and that’s where fast food falls short.
It’s a bit of a trap to think that when you’re looking to eat healthy, counting calories is all that matters. If you limit your overall calorie intake and amp up your workout regimen you’ll most likely lose weight, but it’s not just about calories; overall nutrition is the key to lasting well-being. A salmon fillet contains vitamin B12, vitamin D, vitamin B6, selenium, omega-3 fatty acids, protein, phosphorus, choline, pantothenic acid, biotin, and potassium. A McDonald’s cheeseburger contains some iron, protein, and five grams of saturated fat. Calorie for calorie, which one seems like the healthier choice?
And don’t forget, this goes beyond weighing the more obvious health benefits of beef versus salmon. Commercial buns are made with enriched flour, high fructose corn syrup, stabilizers, conditioners, and preservatives, none of which offer much in the way of nutrition. Compare their health benefits to whole-grain bread and, well, there is no comparison. The closer to nature a food is, the healthier it will be, and few things are farther from nature than fast food.
So what does this have to do with making you feel sick and tired? A whole lot, as it turns out. What we put into our bodies plays a huge role in how we feel day in and day out, for a wide variety of reasons.
It’s High in Sugar
Sugar hides in nearly every fast food item, even the savory ones. Eating too much sugar can lead to diabetes and obesity, and, on top of that, the type of sugar that appears most often in fast food and other processed food is fructose, which is metabolized by the liver directly into fat — just like alcohol.
It’s High in Ingredients That Aren’t Real Food
There are dozens of chemicals in every fast food item, from texturants to fillers, preservatives to artificial flavors and colors. While they’ve all been approved by the FDA for use in food, none of them are food, so they don’t add any nutritional benefits. They’re just empty space, bringing nothing to the party except, possibly according to some reports, cancer.
It’s Engineered to Be Easy to Overeat
The trifecta of sugar, salt, and fat hits the pleasure centers in our brains, and each bite becomes a “reward,” making it nearly impossible to stop eating once we get going. This is called the “food reward hypothesis of obesity,” and fast food companies have these formulas down to a science.
It’s High in Simple Carbohydrates
The simple carbs in the buns, fried chicken breading, and basically anything else that’s bready at a fast food joint quickly break down into sugar, leading to a quick spike in blood sugar and insulin levels. Whole grains, on the other hand, digest slower and provide sustained energy. When you eat simple carbohydrates, you’ll get a quick energy boost, but within a couple hours you’ll crash — and find yourself craving carbs again.
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