So what is fast food really? Here is the dictionary definition “easily prepared processed food served in snack bars and restaurants as a quick meal or to be taken away”
Pizzas that get delivered in less than 30 minutes, burgers and chips that can be picked up at a drive-thru are examples of fast food. Now, think about it – If something is delivered in 30 it was cooked in under 5 mins. The only way this can be done is using pre-cooked ingredients loaded with preservatives like salt, sugar and trans fats. A typical fast food meal contains around 50% of your daily limit of sodium/salt and added sugars.
Many of us watch the amount of sugar we add to our morning cup of tea, but how many of us realize the horrifying amounts of sugar we consume through fast foods and processed foods? Even the packaged foods fall largely under the same umbrella. Foods like pack of chips, nachos, salad dressings, sugar cereals etc.
Fast foods are more often than not stripped off fibre and nutrients and have high amounts of fats, sugar or salt because these ingredients make them a hit with our taste buds. As Micheal Pollan (American Journalist and food activist) says, these are ingredients that are cheap and attractive and have a so called cravability. What this means is that fast foods are addictive, thanks to the three infamous ingredients they contain.
Food corporations are taking advantage of the addiction of these foods and using more and more of these ingredients to make their products irresistible to the foodie in you (consumer). Additionally, monosodium glutamate, commonly known as MSG, is being used in many products as a flavor enhancer to give food a meaty and savory taste leaving you craving for more. Fatty and sugary foods are just as addictive nicotine and cocaine. Read more about this here.
Moreover, since these foods do not have any fibre and other nutrients, they do not have a high fullness factor or satiety value. We feel hungry much sooner than we would if we consumed whole real home cooked food. This essentially makes us eat again and again, needless to say our calorie consumption goes way beyond what we actually need. Moreover, high sugar containing foods cause an insulin spike which is a fat-storing hormone. And to top it off, fast food chains offer large portion sizes turning us into conditioned overeaters. Result: overweight, obesity, diseases. The portion sizes of fast foods have more than doubled in the last 20 years. Read this report by the National Institute of Health (NIH)
Just because we refer to pizzas, burgers and chips above as fast food, does not mean all pizzas, burgers and chips are fast food. We need to understand that a food item is not always fast food by itself. It is the ingredients and the way it is cooked that makes it “fast food”. The foods cooked by corporations are the problem, not when you cook those at home or eat at a good café, deli or restaurant run by gourmet chefs who use good cooking methods and no preservatives.
When you cook for yourself and your family, YOU are in control of the quantity and quality of ingredients you use to cook the pizza, burger or whatever it is you are cooking. But when you let an industry do it for you, they do it in a way to make the process fast, easy, cheap and a product with a long shelf life. Enter: preservatives and additives you would never use while cooking. So eat what you like but remember “You are what you eat. So don’t be fast, cheap, easy or fake. View Michael Pollan’s talk on ‘How cooking can change your life?’
How Fast Food Shot To Fame?
Home cooking has been on a decline since 1960’s in America and more recently (just over a decade) in India and is often associated with women’s liberation. When women started stepping out of their homes and took up paying jobs, their role as a home-maker took second precedence. Unequal distribution of household chores between men and women led to arguments about cooking and the food industry jumped to embrace the opportunity. They advertised packaged food that cooks in two minutes, the ready-to-eat variety that just needs to be heated in the microwave and of course food chains that promise low priced tasty burgers and chips. Let’s face it, we welcomed these foods readily into our homes because they were fast, cheap, convenient and tasted good. But we have not realized or understood the real cost of eating these highly processed foods. In the last 2 decades we see a rise in demand of low fat food options. As usual the food corporations jumped at the opportunity and started experimenting with low fat options of almost everything you can imagine. The result was simple – Removing the fats reduced the taste factor of the food and the only way to compensate that was to add more sugar and salt.
What You Need To Know About Fast Foods?
- Fast food is exactly what it is called “fast” food. It is the only kind of food that you may be able to drive through and pick up from cafes or restaurants. Most times we end up eating ‘fast food’ on the go, while driving, or multi-tasking. When we do this we often overlook our body signals that tell us when to stop eating leading to overeating. Hence, it is always better to make time for your meal. Sit down and focus on what and how much you are eating. If this is not possible, eat only as much as you need to on the go and save the rest for later when you can sit down and focus on eating.
- More often than not, whole foods are much more filling and have a greater satiety value than processed foods. For instance, an orange can fill you up and make you feel full owing to its fibre content, provides an abundance of vitamins and minerals and is low on calories. However, when the same orange is processed into a packaged juice, it is ripped of all its fibre, has loads of added sugar and other preservatives to extend its shelf life, is often devoid of vitamins the orange originally had and does not remotely make you feel satiated like an orange does. Let’s not even begin to talk about all the extra calories it provides and the insulin spike it causes, thanks to the added sugar.
- Humans are 10% human and 90% microbes. These microbes include the beneficial flora in our guts that help with digestion and absorption and overall maintenance of health. Many processed foods have added chemicals and substances to preserve them and prolong their shelf life. Most of these chemicals have a detrimental effect on our gut flora resulting in impaired digestion and diseases.
- Labels such as ‘contains whole wheat’ or ‘sugar free’ does not mean healthy. Learn to read the food labels. A bread could ‘contain whole wheat’ but it may be primarily made of refined flour. Sugar free only means it is loaded with sugar substitutes like maltodextrins, high fructose corn syrup etc. which are known to be worse than sugar itself. High fructose corn syrup has a notorious reputation for being harmful to health.
- Beware of the so called healthy replacements. Sports drinks, vitamin water and packaged fruit juices are often advertised as healthy alternatives to sodas. This is not entirely false since they have some vitamins, but these drinks are also packed with just as much sugar as sodas are, making them hardly any healthier.
- Avoid food chains that are spread out around the country or the world. They are in it for making money and not to watch out for your health. Choose local family run restaurants wherever possible, we can hope that they use decent produce and products to cook what they serve. Further you can even ask them to prepare your meal with less sugar or salt as you need. In a fast food joint can you ask for a bread without sugar or fries with less salt ? Probably no.
- Know where your food comes from. When you read the ingredient list on foods and you don’t know what half of those things are, reconsider consuming it. Best rule is to avoid foods with transfats, high frustose corn syrup, too much added sugar and MSG.
- Buy organic produce. That way you know you are not eating toxic pesticides and meats treated with growth hormones.
- Don’t believe all the research statistics fast food advertisements tell you. These researches are funded by the food industry, so the outcome is more likely to be in their favor, don’t you think? Follow your gut feel, common sense. Half the ingredients mentioned in processed foods are difficult to even read or pronounce least of all knowing what they are.
Fast Food Tips For The “Foodie” In You
We know it is best to not eat them at all, but that’s not always the practical solution. Keep it to the minimum but if you have to grab a bag of fast food, keep these tips in mind:
- If you have to eat at a fast food restaurant, always order the smallest size possible. Never supersize anything, even if it costs “only 50 cents more”! That’s how they try to get you!
- Always say NO to the side of fries. Ask for a salad, soup or fruit instead. Fast food chains make the highest profit margins on fries think about it – A couple of fried potatoes for a dollar ?
- Skip the soda, it really is not doing you any good.
- Share, share, share!