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One Major Side Effect of Eating Fast-Food Burgers, Says Science

This answer may not come as a surprise, but maybe you need to hear it again.

Have you heard of the most health-conscious restaurant in the United States, the one that tells you exactly what to expect in every bite? Located in downtown Las Vegas, the Heart Attack Grill is arguably the most honest eating establishment in America—unabashedly honest. While most fast-food restaurants try to portray a healthier image, the Heart Attack Grill isn't trying to convince you that eating fast food burgers doesn't come with major side effects.

Compared to other restaurants that try to antioxidant-coat their marketing message, the Heart Attack Grill is quite the opposite. HAG customers are called "patients." Food orders are "prescriptions." The wait staff serves you your Quadruple Bypass burger (9,982 calories) dressed as nurses. The Heart Attack Grill is not ashamed to tell you there's one major side effect of eating fast food burgers. In fact, celebrates it through their entire marketing schtick.

So, let's drill down and dissect why scientific research says eating fast food burgers regularly can be bad for your heart. Then take note of these 100 Unhealthiest Foods on the Planet.

A fast-food burger is fuel for obesity.

Niklas Rhöse/ Unsplash

A typical double cheeseburger and large fries contain upwards of 1,100 calories. Add a large soda and slather those spuds with bacon and cheese, and you can put away nearly a day's worth of calories at lunchtime. When you take in more calories than you burn off through digestion, metabolism, and movement you store the surplus as fat, and over time, you may become overweight or obese.

Many studies have shown that eating away from home is associated with weight gain and related health problems. One such analysis, the CARDIA study, looked at the number of times 3,000 young adults ate at fast-food restaurants or sit-down-style restaurants and compared weight, waist circumference, and other metabolic measures. The researchers reporting in the Journal of Nutrition found that people who ate the most fast food at the start of the study weighed 13 pounds more on average and had larger waists than people who ate the least amount of fast food.

Another study from Australia found a correlation between the number of fast-food restaurants in a neighborhood and heart attacks in the same geographic area. For every fast-food joint in a neighborhood, there were four additional heart attacks per 100,000 people each year in that area, according to the report from the European Society of Cardiology.

Here are the 4 Worst New Burgers on Fast-Food Menus, According to RDs.

A fast-food burger is full of salt.

fast food burgers

Salt is the spice of life. It's an essential nutrient for your body, but too much sodium contributes to high blood pressure, a key risk factor for heart attack and stroke.

A McDonald's Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese and condiments contains 1,360 milligrams of sodium. That's nearly as much as the 1,500 milligrams the American Heart Association says most adults with high blood pressure should ideally keep their salt intake under for an entire day. Read nutrition labels and you'll find out how quickly milligrams of sodium can add up.

One study presented to the American College of Cardiology showed that average daily sodium consumption grew to 3,100 milligrams over the 14-year-study period. The researchers found that people who had high blood pressure consumed an average of 2,900 milligrams of sodium daily in 1999, which grew to 3,350 mg per day in 2012.

Keep the sodium intake low by ordering one of these 19 Best Low-Sodium Fast Food Orders, According to Dietitians.

A fast-food burger is surprisingly high in sugar.

shake shack burger

Ground beef isn't the only part of the burger that can contribute to cardiovascular disease. High fructose corn syrup in the ketchup, pickle relish, and the hamburger bun (not to mention all that no-fiber white flour) can boost triglyceride levels, which increase the risk of heart disease, according to the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

A fast-food burger's foundation is red meat.

fast food burger

When researchers reporting in JAMA Internal Medicine examined the intake of red meat and poultry from six studies involving over 29,000 people, they found a significant association with cardiovascular disease and death. How much extra meat was associated with heart trouble? Roughly two burgers per week.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average American eats about 216 pounds of red meat and poultry in a year, which works out to the ground beef equivalent of 864 quarter-pound hamburgers.

A fast-food burger uses pro-inflammatory ingredients.

mcdonalds cheeseburger
Photo: Shutterstock

Sugary condiments, white flour, cheese, and bacon, the typical ingredients that bookend hamburger patties, are all inflammatory foods, say researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in a 2020 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Their study showed that people who ate a lot of pro-inflammatory foods had a 38% high risk of cardiovascular disease compared with people whose diets were anti-inflammatory.

Instead, focus on these 30 Best Anti-Inflammatory Foods.

A fast-food burger still contains bad fats.

fast food burger
PJ Gal-Szabo/ Unsplash

Hamburger meat contains saturated fat, which has been linked to heart disease. While some studies have suggested that saturated fat is not the devil it's been made out to be, the American Heart Association still recommends avoiding too much-saturated fat.

But there's another fat naturally found in burger meat, trans fat, which is known to raise LDL (bad) cholesterol levels without elevating the good HDL. The FDA allows food to be labeled trans fat-free if it has less than half a gram of trans fatty acids. But even if it has a small amount of trans fat (for example, Five Guys' hamburger contains 8 grams of saturated fat and 1 gram of trans fat), it can add up quickly to harmful levels through other foods you may be eating. Both saturated fat and trans fat have an unhealthy effect on LDL cholesterol levels, and as a result, boost heart attack risk, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Burgers, however, aren't the only fat bombs to watch out for. Check out these 30 Sneaky Restaurant Foods With the Most Trans Fat.

Jeff Csatari
Jeff Csatari, a contributing writer for Eat This, Not That!, is responsible for editing Galvanized Media books and magazines and for advising journalism students through the Zinczenko New Media Center at Moravian University in Bethlehem, PA. Read more about Jeff
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