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Why is Fast Food Considered Unhealthy?

By: Sarah Clark (ILEX) - Updated: 10 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
Fast Food Unhealthy Additives Fat

Fast food has a strong reputation for being unhealthy, and is blamed for obesity and diabetes being on the rise. The fact that a lot of fast food is soaked in fat and loaded with calories isn’t in dispute, but why is fast food – including ready meals – considered so bad for our health?

Is All Fast Food Equal?

The stereotypical image of a massive cheese burger and fries is what most people think of when they think fast food. But some fast food options are just that – fast. Frozen food is bracketed in with convenience food, but in fact frozen vegetables can contain more nutrients than fresh ones that have been left lying around for a few days. It’s all a matter of balance.

What’s So Unhealthy About Fast Food

The main issues with takeaways and fast food restaurants are the high fat, calorie and salt content. Everyone knows that saturated fat is a bit of a nutritional nightmare, but according to a report in the New Scientist, food such as chicken nuggets and fries from major fast food chains also contain very high levels of the unhealthy artery clogging trans fats that can raise the chances of heart disease in people who eat fast food on a regular basis.

Some chains are cottoning on to the concerns about trans fats and starting to advertise that they no longer fry in low grade oils, but it’s worth bearing in mind.

Salt levels are often unacceptably high in fast food too. This applies across the board to frozen and chilled ready meals as well as Chinese takeaway meals or burger restaurants. The lobby group ‘Consensus Action on Salt and Health’ reported that one fast food meal from Pizza Hut contained over twice the adult daily recommended salt intake. Other chains fared just as badly, but all of them claimed to be trying to reduce the salt levels in their food so at least they are working on it.

What About Additives?

Ready meals have been highlighted as being high in salt, fat and also additives. There are ways to avoid the more unhealthy options in the supermarket aisles (and they aren’t just looking for the boxes marked ‘lite’ – you have to be more of a food detective than that) but in general a lot of meals are packed with ingredients that sound as if they would be better off on the back of your child’s chemistry set than in your dinner.

All the additives in our foods have been extensively tested before being added to our food, but it still makes sense to limit the amount of artificial chemicals we ingest!

Some additives are perfectly natural – for example there is an ‘e’ number for ascorbic acid, which is just vitamin C. But check the boxes and tins, and if the ingredients list sounds unappetising, it could be worth avoiding the meal. Salt levels are another thing to be aware of – even if you’re not watching your weight, too much salt can be unhealthy. The maximum recommended salt level is six grams per day for an average adult – bear this in mind when you scan the nutritional information looking at fat and calories.

Some manufacturers market their food as having no artificial colours or flavours, or additive free. There are even organic ranges and of course low fat, low salt healthy eating options too.

An additive to watch out for in Chinese food is monosodium glutamate or MSG. Most people can tolerate this additive, and it has been used in Chinese food for many years. People who suffer with asthma can find it provokes a reaction, and some people have a sensitivity to the flavour enhancer which can cause headaches.

The Calories In Fast Food

High calorie food doesn’t have to be unhealthy in itself – and eating food with a higher calorie content in moderation is absolutely fine. But most takeaways are full of calories gained from sugar – which has no real nutritional value whatsoever. It’s wise to be aware of the amount of high calorie fast food you eat, and occasionally perhaps opt for one of the lower calorie options?

Ready meals are easier to judge as they will have nutrition information available for you to make your choice...but if you want to know the calories in a takeaway you have to rely on guesswork, calorie books and the Internet!

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