When we talk about living on a fast food diet most of us automatically think of America and their menus of shakes, fries and hamburgers. Understandably the US has been blamed by many researchers for setting the trend in the rise of obesity and overweight issues as a result. However, a new study reveals that America is not the country that currently has the highest fast food consumption. Believe it or not, Britons have begun out guzzling their American counterparts when it comes to fast food. According to the latest Synovate study, Brits are the keenest fast food consumers in the world, closely followed by Americans. When British and American respondents were asked to identify with the statement, “I like the taste of fast food too much to give it up”, 45% of the British agreed, compared to 44% of Americans.
Healthy options offered by burger and pizza chains are still stuffed with salt and fat despite menu changes. An investigation of the food sold by four of the big fast food chains found that 17 out of 20 products were high in salt or saturated fat, or both. On average, the fast food meals sampled by Which? had 274 calories per 100g of food, more than double that of a home-cooked roast dinner.
Obesity has tripled in England since 1980. A third of children aged two to 15 are overweight or obese. Which? said that although fast food was not solely to blame, the rise in weight had been accompanied by the rise in fast food sales.
Some of the fast food meals scored astronomical calorific counts. A Big Mac, medium fries and small vanilla milkshake contained 1,169 calories. A diner would need to walk 16 miles to work that off. A margherita pizza and garlic bread had 5.4 grams of salt in the same analysis, almost the entire recommended daily allowance of 6 grams. So you see it’s not hard to consume all the wrong things.
But does fast food have to be unhealthy? Surprisingly the answer to that question is no – if you know what to look for.
Our diet and lifestyle have altered dramatically in the last fifty years. The whole of society has changed, and not necessarily for the better. At one time culinary skills were passed from one generation to another, and the woman’s role was very definitely the ‘home-maker’. She was not expected to go out to work whilst her family were growing, and more often than not she had her mother and other female relatives living close by as back-up. The motor car was a luxury, so her daily shopping was usually done locally on foot. She would expect to purchase fresh food regularly, which would have contained far more nutrients that produce purchased from the supermarket weekly. As fast food didn’t exist, part of her role would be to cook wholesome meals for the family on a daily basis.
Fifty years on the picture is quite different. Woman have learned the art of the short-cut, very often through necessity. They drive to the supermarket once or twice per week to purchase food. They are presented with fast option choices, which when short of time and adequate information, seem both convenient and appealing. Most of the food they buy has been preserved, sprayed with chemicals, injected, or indeed grown in chemically rich soil. They now expect food to be treated with pesticides and insecticides, and animals to be pumped full of antibiotics and growth hormones, unless they buy organic produce.
Human bodies were not designed to be treated in such a fashion, or to cope with modern-day stresses, so it is no wonder that our bodies develop problems. We probably treat our domestic appliances or our motor car with more respect. Few of us would dream of denying our car the appropriate fuel or oil, so how is it that we neglect our bodies so?
Look at some of the ways our diet has changed over time. A century ago meat, animal fat and sugar formed a much smaller proportion of our diets than today. The consumption of cereal fibres has also dropped considerably.
- We have dramatically increased our consumption of sugar as the last hundred years have seen a seventy–five fold increase in world sugar production and in the UK alone we consume over 500,000 tonnes of chocolate each year which is predominately made from refined sugar. Table sugar, contains no vitamins, mineral, protein, fibre or starches; it may contain tiny traces of calcium and magnesium if we are really lucky, but apart from that it just provides us with “empty calories”.
- We have to really go out of our way these days to reduce our sugar consumption as food manufacturers often add it to some of the most unlikely foods: cheese, fruit yoghurt, tomato sauce, baked beans, pickled cucumbers, muesli, beefburgers, Worcestershire sauce, sausages, peas, cornflakes, and canned drinks.
- Excessive consumption of saturated animal fats results in a gradual blocking the arteries that supply the heart, brain and other major organs. This leads to poor circulation, and then to heart attacks and strokes. It is worth noting that smoking accelerates this process. The increased incidence of breast cancer has much to do with animal fat consumption as well and fast food, which has become a regular part of our diets, often has a high fat content.
- We also eat far too much salt – ten to twenty times more than our bodies really require each day- which can contribute to high blood pressure.
Our eating habits don’t have to be a recipe for disaster and turn us into medical time bombs because we can clean up our act without a little enlightenment and not too much effort. Most of us are living life in the fast lane these days and don’t have the time to spend preparing meals or the extended family to fall back on. But we can get healthy food on the run if we know what to pick up.