The Health Hazards of a Fast Food Diet
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If you value your health, you would be wise to avoid fast food restaurants at all costs.
Not only does the fast food diet promote high cholesterol, hypertension, heart attacks, obesity and diabetes; such foods are also laden with added chemicals, and virtually all animal based food comes from factory farms.
The latter issue is highlighted in a recent announcement that McDonald’s and Target will no longer purchase their eggs from Sparboe Farms.
The egg producer was recently ‘outed’ by an ABC News 20/20 investigation into potentially unhealthy conditions at their egg-laying facilities. The company has been cited for at least 13 violations of rules meant to prevent dangerous salmonella outbreaks.
I’ve previously discussed the many sad realities inherent with confined animal feeding operations (CAFO’s). Lack of sanitation is a pervasive problem, and food borne illnesses such as salmonella are primarily restricted to such operations. Ditto for animal abuse.
According to a recent report by ABC News:
“… The Mercy for Animals activist who went undercover to record the video inside Sparboe told ABC News chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross, “I saw workers do horrendous things to birds, they were thrown, grabbed by the neck, they’re slammed in and out of cages.”
Runkle said the video shows how health hazards can be linked to large scale, low-cost egg producers, so-called “factory farms.” … Sparboe executives told Ross the employees seen on the tape abusing the chickens were all fired.”
Unfortunately, most restaurant chains get their food from CAFO farms; be it eggs, beef, or chicken. This is in part what makes fast food so inferior, no matter what restaurant chain you’re frequenting.
The Smaller the Farm, the Lower the Risk of Salmonella
While federal authorities like the FDA and USDA are repeatedly conducting armed raids on small organic farms, co-ops, and even organic community picnics under the pretext of protecting you from potentially hazardous foods, the REAL danger actually comes from large CAFO farms and massive food growers.
Last year, federal officials matched the 2010 salmonella outbreak to bacteria found in facilities and chicken feed at two major egg producing facilities in Iowa. The outbreak relaunched the debate over whether eggs from smaller, organic farms are safer. The answer appears to be an unequivocal yes.
In a 2010 Live Science interview, infectious disease specialist William Schaffner stated that the smaller the farm, the lower the likeliness of it harboring salmonella. “The general thinking is that larger chicken farms are much more difficult to keep clean, and this makes it easier to transmit Salmonella,” he said. This should be more or less obvious, once you consider the conditions that CAFO animals exist under.
The birds are often kept in cages that are stacked closely next to and on top of each other, promoting the growth and spread of harmful bacteria.
Studies have also confirmed that organic eggs are far safer than CAFO-raised eggs. In one study, more than 23 percent of farms with caged hens tested positive for salmonella, while just over 4 percent of organic flocks tested positive. The highest prevalence of salmonella occurred in the largest flocks (30,000 birds or more), which contained over four times the average level of salmonella found in smaller flocks.
About 95 percent of the eggs produced in the United States come from gigantic egg factories housing millions of hens under one roof. There are currently about 245 U.S. egg companies with flocks of 75,000 or more, and, of these 245 companies, 60 have at least 1 million laying hens, and 12 have more than 5 million!
These are the factories you want to avoid purchasing your eggs from, and since they make up the bulk of eggs sold in the United States, this means finding an alternative source. Fortunately, finding a small local farm or farmer’s market that sells eggs is usually not too difficult, even in suburban areas. If you need help finding a local source, check out some of the resources listed at the end of this article.
Organic flocks are typically much smaller than the massive commercial flocks where bacteria flourish, which is part of the reason why eggs from truly organic, free-range chickens are FAR less likely to contain dangerous bacteria such as salmonella. Their nutrient content is also much higher than commercially raised eggs, which is most likely the result of the differences in diet between organic free ranging, pastured hens and commercially farmed hens.
The Health Hazards of a Fast Food Diet
Getting back to fast food for a moment, the health hazards of such a diet clearly go much further than the heightened risk of food poisoning. A case could even be made that fast food can barely be recognized as ‘food’ per se, when you start evaluating the actual ingredients.
As a general rule, “food” equals “live nutrients.” Nutrients, in turn, feed your cells, optimize your health, and sustain life. Six years ago, film maker Morgan Spurlock vividly demonstrated the health consequences of eating nothing but McDonald’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner. After just FOUR WEEKS, his health had deteriorated to the point that his physician warned him he was putting his life in serious jeopardy if he continued the experiment.
His cholesterol had soared and he started suffering from depression, lack of attention, and sexual dysfunction, just to name a few of the health problems that surfaced once he traded in his normal diet for three square meals a day from McDonald’s.
His remarkable documentary, Super Size Me, ended up earning the Writers Guild of America award for Best Documentary Screenplay in 2005. It’s still one of the most powerful illustrations of the dangers of a fast food diet I’ve ever seen.
What About Claims that Fast Food Diet Can Help You Lose Weight?
More recently, comedian and former health writer Tom Naughton decided to counter Spurlock’s claims by creating his own documentary. In his film, Fat Head, Naughton eats a fast-food diet for 28 days and, unlike Spurlock who gained weight, actually lost about 12 pounds. There were differences in their diets, though, which may explain these vastly different results. Most notably, Naughton:
- Drank water and iced tea, while Spurlock drank about a gallon of soda a day
- Skipped french fries at times, and
- Removed much of the bread from his meals
The first and last bullets may in and of themselves account for his weight loss, especially if he was consuming a lot of refined carbs prior to his experiment.
Soda and “Fake Bread” Clearly Won’t Do Your Health any Favors…
There’s ample evidence that excessive fructose consumption is one of the primary culprits driving the obesity epidemic, as well as other rampant disease statistics. According to GreenMedInfo.com, scientific studies have linked fructose to about 30 different specific diseases and health problems! Select the hyperlinks provided to review how fructose may:
- Raise your blood pressure, and cause nocturnal hypertension
- Insulin resistance / Type 2 Diabetes
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)
- Raise your uric acid levels, which can result in gout and/or metabolic syndrome
- Accelerate the progression of chronic kidney disease
- Intracranial atherosclerosis (narrowing and hardening of the arteries in your skull)
- Exacerbate cardiac abnormalities if you’re deficient in copper
- Have a genotoxic effect on the colon
- Promote metastasis in breast cancer patients
- Cause tubulointerstitial injury (injury to the tubules and interstitial tissue of your kidney)
- Promotes obesity and related health problems and diseases
- Promotes pancreatic cancer growth
Ditching the hamburger buns might also account for some of the differences in outcomes between Spurlock’s and Naughton’s fast food diets, considering what’s actually in that fast food bread. Because it’s not just about the processed grains and high fructose corn syrup; many other additives can have a decidedly detrimental impact on your health as well.
According to McDonald’s website, their hamburger buns consist of:
“Enriched flour (bleached wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid, enzymes), water, high fructose corn syrup, sugar, yeast, soybean oil and/or partially hydrogenated soybean oil, contains 2 percent or less of the following: salt, calcium sulfate, calcium carbonate, wheat gluten, ammonium sulfate, ammonium chloride, dough conditioners (sodium stearoyl lactylate, datem, ascorbic acid, azodicarbonamide, mono- and diglycerides, ethoxylated monoglycerides, monocalcium phosphate, enzymes, guar gum, calcium peroxide, soy flour), calcium propionate and sodium propionate (preservatives), soy lecithin.”
Spurlock clearly took the fast food diet to the extreme to prove an important point — that eating fast food really does take a heavy toll on your body. But Naughton’s Fat Head also has some important points to share, and in my opinion the most poignant have nothing to do with his critique of Super Size Me and everything to do with his calling out the fallacies of the mainstream nutritional dogma.
I commend Naughton for bringing to light the myths about the “evils” of cholesterol and saturated fat. Despite evidence to the contrary, many still cling to the belief that saturated fat will increase your risk of heart disease and heart attacks. The truth is, fats from animal and vegetable sources provide a concentrated source of energy in your diet, and they provide the building blocks for cell membranes and a variety of hormones and hormone-like substances, among many other essential benefits.
Join the Food Revolution and Embrace Real Food…
If you’re at all concerned about your health—whether you want to gain health or maintain it—nutrition is paramount. In fact, your diet accounts for about 80 percent of the health benefits reaped from a healthy lifestyle, with the remaining 20 percent from exercise. So what makes for a nutritionally sound diet? First and foremost, a healthy diet is based on fresh whole, preferably organic foods, and foods that have been minimally processed. These are the signs of high-quality, health-promoting foods you’ll want to look for when grocery shopping:
1. It’s grown without pesticides and chemical fertilizers (organic foods fit this description, but so do some non-organic foods)
2. It’s not genetically engineered (GMOs)
3. It contains no added growth hormones, antibiotics, or other drugs
4. It does not contain any artificial ingredients, including chemical preservatives
5. It is fresh (keep in mind that if you have to choose between wilted organic produce or fresh conventional produce, the latter may be the better option)
6. It did not come from a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO)
7. It is grown with the laws of nature in mind (meaning animals are fed their native diets, not a mix of grains and animal byproducts, and have free-range access to the outdoors)
8. It is grown in a sustainable way (using minimal amounts of water, protecting the soil from burnout, and turning animal wastes into natural fertilizers instead of environmental pollutants)
If the food meets these criteria, it is most likely a wise choice, and would fall under the designation of “real food,” which is the very foundation of good health.
As promised, here are some great resources to obtain wholesome food that supports not only you but also the environment:
1. Alternative Farming Systems Information Center, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
2. Farmers’ Markets — A national listing of farmers’ markets.
3. Local Harvest — This Web site will help you find farmers’ markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other goodies.
4. Eat Well Guide: Wholesome Food from Healthy Animals — The Eat Well Guide is a free online directory of sustainably raised meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs from farms, stores, restaurants, inns, and hotels, and online outlets in the United States and Canada.
5. Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) — CISA is dedicated to sustaining agriculture and promoting the products of small farms.
6. FoodRoutes — The FoodRoutes “Find Good Food” map can help you connect with local farmers to find the freshest, tastiest food possible. On their interactive map, you can find a listing for local farmers, CSA’s, and markets near you.