Health Benefits of Giving Up Fast Food
By Michael Martin
If you have flat-belly goals, you already know you should drive right on by the drive-thru windows.
But did you know that eating fast food can negatively affect much more than your waistline? Researchers have found that a diet high in fast food — and its essential components such as bad fats, sodium and sugar — can have far-ranging effects on your brain, your bones, your happiness and more. Here are seven things that you can look forward to when you finally give it up.
Your jeans fit better.
It’s no secret that fast food is packed with sodium, and you can easily consume most of your daily allowance in one meal. At McDonald’s, a Big Mac and medium fries contains 1,160 milligrams of sodium while a Quiznos regular Chicken Mesquite sub a has 2,280 milligrams — 50% and 100% of your recommended daily allowance respectively! The body copes with this influx of salt by holding on to water to maintain the proper sodium balance in the body. Welcome to Bloat Town. And eating too much sodium causes problems far beyond the aesthetic; read on.
You lower your risk of heart disease up to 50%.
Eating fast food more than twice a week makes you 1.5 times more likely to develop heart disease than people who infrequently or never eat it, a study published in the journal Circulation found. The high fat and sodium content of fast food is to blame. In fact, if Americans reduced their sodium intake, there would be 120,000 fewer cases of heart disease, 66,000 fewer strokes and 99,000 fewer heart attacks each year, according to the British Medical Journal.
You improve your memory and ability to learn.
It’s not just years of relying on the fried fare of these restaurants that will affect your body, either. Rats who ate a diet of junk food displayed memory loss and a lack of cognitive ability after just one week, according to a study published in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. And those effects extend to humans, too: Researchers from Oregon Health and Science University compared people’s blood levels of trans fats to their brain volume via MRI. They found that trans fats actually shrink your gray matter, replacing good fats in its membranes and affecting its ability to function. Yep, fast food can fry your brain.
You get happier.
Think a Whopper with cheese is comfort food? Think again. Eating fast food is associated with a higher rate of depression, and the risk gets higher the more fast food that’s eaten, a study published in the journal Public Health Nutrition found. The reason may lie in a separate study published in Brain, Behavior and Immunity: Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that women who ate a diet high in foods that trigger inflammation (such as soft drinks, refined carbs, red meat and margarine) had a 41% higher risk of depression over 12 years compared to women who ate a diet rich in inflammation busters like healthy fats, vegetables, coffee and wine. So, alright, that black coffee from McCafe gets a pass.
You slash your risk of diabetes.
Eating a diet high in saturated and/or trans fats — hello, fast food! — can lead to insulin resistance, a condition in which the body releases more and more sugar into the blood. Over time, this can lead to weight gain and a vastly increased risk of Type 2 diabetes. In fact, regularly eating fast food doubles your chance of developing insulin resistance, a study published in the journal The Lancet showed.
You get stronger bones.
Those deliciously salty fries can have unappetizing long-term effects: Excessive salt consumption is associated with high blood pressure, strokes and reduced kidney function, according to researchers at the University of Stony Brook. And, as if negatively impacting your heart, brain and kidneys weren’t bad enough, some studies suggest sodium also affects your bones by competing in your body with calcium. Translation: the more sodium you take in, the more calcium you pee out. That can lead to bone demineralization and a decline in bone mass, which increases the risk of osteoporosis and breakage.
You have more energy.
Fast food is high in sugar, and it lurks in menu items that don’t sound remotely sweet. A McDonald's Crispy Chicken Sandwich contains 36 grams of sugars — 100% of the recommended daily allowance, or the equivalent of nine teaspoons! When you consume a high amount of refined sugar and simple carbs, the pancreas secretes insulin to keep your blood sugar low. Because fast food doesn’t contain enough complex carbs to give you lasting energy, your blood sugar levels crash soon after you finish eating, leaving you tired — and craving another quick hit of energy from more junky sugar and carbs.