The Giant hamburger, fries and soda
Credit: L. W. Yang/ Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic w/Attribution

Fast food is well-known to be an unhealthy food choice, yet many people continue to indulge. After all, it's quick, filling and, with the arrival of promotions such as the "dollar" and "value" menus, is often promoted as an affordable meal option.

Today's fast-paced lifestyles also align with the "drive through" approach, however, due to the negative effects associated with eating too much fast food, it is a good idea to limit portions and how frequently you eat these foods.

Here are just a few of the reasons why cutting back on fast food is beneficial to your health.

High Fat Content, Lots of Sodium and Excess Calories

Weight gain is an obvious drawback to fast food consumption. While some chains do offer healthier choices, a large percentage of the menu choices at these eateries are fried and come with complementary fried side dishes, and are topped off with a sugary drink and/or dessert. These are the menu staples and the ones people mostly buy. 

In terms of fat content and calories, many burgers contain an excessively high number of both, sodium and percentage of fat content which is not good for a regular diet. A 2013 report by the World Health Organization pointed out links to obesity, increased body mass index (BMI) and fast foods.1

Too much salt is another problem. Despite the increased emphasis on lowered sodium to improve cardiovascular health, a report in 2013 showed the level of sodium in both processed and fast foods was still pretty high. According to a published in the Journal of American Medical Association, evaluation done between 2005 and 2011 showed levels of sodium haven't changed much despite increased awareness.3 Too much sodium increases blood pressure and puts extra stress on the kidneys. High blood pressure is a leading cause of many negative health effects including heart failure, heart attack, stroke and kidney disease, to name a few.

Recommendations of sodium intake are placed at 2,300 mg a day, less for people with high blood pressure or other cardio-related disease. Reportedly, the average American takes in between 3,300 and 3,400 mg of sodium a day. Fast foods are a big offender of adding too much sodium.

 English: Small bowl of kosher salt with spoon
Credit: Glane23/ Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License w/Attribution-Share Alike

While calories are needed for energy and a level of fat is also required by the body, the fat and calorie content in the typical fast food meal is "bad" fat. Even pizza can be very deceptive, as earlier research has shown some types of pizza are just as bad as the drive-through meals.4 Possibly even more so, since people often eat two or more slices of pizza (as opposed to eating one burger). 

One fast food meal can equate to the total recommended daily amount of fat for the entire day. For individuals who eat these on-the-go foods more than once a day, daily recommended allowances can easily be doubled which causes both rapid weight gain and negative health effects. Selecting healthier alternatives, complete with "good" fats and less salt, is a much better option for both your figure and your health.

Organ Damage and Health Risks

A 2008 study that examined 18 slim and healthy Swedish men and women concluded that after eating a fast food-centered diet and eliminating exercise, they gained an average of 16 pounds and had liver damage. The study consisted of the subjects eating these quickie meals twice a day for four weeks; during this time period the participants did not exercise.

At the time ABC News' Good Morning America had reported:

Studies have shown that a diet high in fat and calories — the magic recipe for delicious, greasy fast food — puts people at greater risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes, both of which can lead to cardiovascular diseases and heart failure. 5

There are a few more very good reasons to avoid eating too much fast food in a regular diet. The extra fat contained in these meals can result in severe liver damage if prolonged consumption in a diet occurs. The excess sodium can lead to high blood pressure and heart disease.

Body Appearance

Aside from the obvious things, such as weight gain, some experts say eating processed foods can also have an effect on the physical appearance of a person. Ways junk food may affect physical appearance include:

  • Increased frequency of acne (although it is not the consumption necessarily, but the handling of and then touching the face)
  • Skin aging at a faster rate
  • Contributing to mood swings
  • A "puffy" appearance due to water retention (high sodium)
  • Bloating

According to the University of West Virginia, "What you eat directly affects how you feel and look and definitely your academic performance." 12 [for  those not in school, work or home life].

Health of the Family

Drive-through meals can also have a negative impact on family life. In a world that has rapidly evolved to embrace convenience, fast food meets these requirements, however, it also encourages eating on the run. This equates to less time to focus on prepared meals at home eaten around a dinner table. Additionally, through on-the-go meals, children do not learn how to develop healthy eating choices. Not only is eating on the run, with poor diet choices, bad from a health perspective, it can also deteriorate family meal time which is a good time for bonding, learning what members have been up to during the day and simply enjoying one another's company. Kids tend to emulate their parents and if everyone is indulging in processed foods, this can set a life-long habit and establish unhealthy eating patterns.

Kids playing at the park
Credit: Leigh Goessl/All rights reserved

The GMO Factor

Last, but not least, there is the GMO factor. Did you know almost all of the corn grown in the U.S. and Canada contain genetically modified ingredients? Most of the soy grown is GMO-based also, and sugar is another food that is steadily becoming GM-based (various types of corn syrups have replaced ordinary table sugar at this time as a sweetener in processed foods). As a result, it is almost certain GMOs are in fast foods. Yet, there is still much debate on the long-term effects of these foods on health and the environment. At this time, in countries, such as the United States and Canada, do not require GMO foods to be labeled. In essence, people are eating these foods without knowing they are ingesting GMOs to make informed decisions. 

On another note, there are even suggestions fast food can be potentially addictive due to sugar and other factors associated with it. 10

While fast food is a great convenience, there are just so many negative effects that easily dominate any possible benefits. There is really no health worth in consuming it on a regular basis. You can improve your health, energy and overall well-being by eliminating, or significantly limiting these foods in a routine diet. Like anything else, moderation is key, and where fast food is concerned, less is probably more.


[Related reading: Reasons to Avoid Drinking Soda ]