Despite decades of health warnings, Americans are eating more fast food than ever. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 40% of us eat fast food on any given day. It might not be a coincidence that obesity and overweight are also at record levels. But aside from providing an unpleasant experience on the bathroom scale, eating fast food regularly has been associated with five serious chronic diseases. It's enough to make you want to drive past the drive-through. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You Have "Long" COVID and May Not Even Know It.
Diets that are high in saturated fat and processed foods—basically fast food to a T—are associated with an increased risk of heart disease. Experts like the American Heart Association recommend limiting your saturated fat intake to no more than 13 grams a day. One McDonald's Big Mac and large fries will put you at 14 grams. (To say nothing of the refined grains that can raise your risk of diabetes and obesity, and the sodium that can spur high blood pressure.)
Soda, that fast food staple, can really screw up your health. And there's no healthy substitute. Multiple studies have found that regularly drinking either sugar-sweetened sodas or diet sodas can increase your risk of developing metabolic syndrome—a condition associated with high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high blood triglycerides, low HDL ("good") cholesterol, and large waist circumference—which been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and dementia.
Type 2 Diabetes
Obesity, eating too much added sugar, consuming too many processed foods—they're all associated with an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, a condition in which the body isn't able to properly process blood sugar. That's because the body becomes resistant to insulin, the hormone assigned to that crucial job. One 15-year study found that the risk of developing insulin resistance may double when you eat fast food more than twice per week.
Fast food is high in fat, calories and sodium, three bad influences on your blood pressure. Consume too much and you're at risk of developing hypertension, or high blood pressure, which in turn carries the risk of heart attack and stroke. In a study published in the Journal of Nutrition, researchers found that study subjects who ate one high-fat fast food meal saw their blood pressure soar 1.25 to 1.5 times that of a group who ate a low-fat meal.
Studies have found that consuming added sugars and processed meat—two MVPs of the fast food industry—may increase your risk of cancer. One 2018 study published in BMJ found that a 10% increase in ultra-processed foods (that factory-made stuff that's high in fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt) in a person's diet was associated with a 12% higher risk of cancer. "Drinks, sugary products, fats and sauces were most strongly associated with a heightened cancer risk," reported Time magazine, "while sugary processed foods were most strongly linked to breast cancer." And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.
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