Fast food is a cheap way to fill your belly, but what’s the real price? Gabe Mirkin, the author of a weekly health newsletter, “DrMirkin.com,” wrote in July 2012 about a study in Circulation Research that examined the impact of frequently eating fast food. Researchers followed 52,000 Chinese people living in Singapore to analyze the large rise in heart attacks and diabetes in Southeast Asia that’s associated with the increase in fast food restaurants in the region.
The results were the same as studies done in the United States. Those who ate in fast food restaurants once a week increased the risk of dying from a heart attack by 20 percent; dining on fast food two to three times a week increased the risk to 50 percent. Eating four or more fast food meals a week and the risk rose to 80 percent, plus the risk for diabetes increased 27 percent.
Mirkin wrote: “Saturated fats are in meat, milk shakes and ice cream, and burnt fats (called Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons or PAHs) are in all fried foods, such as fried chicken and French fries. Blocked insulin receptors prevent the body from responding to insulin and cause high rises in blood sugar.”
Another common fast food favorite is sugared beverages, which cause blood sugar levels to rise. Sugar not burned for energy, or stored inside the liver and muscle cells as glycogen, is converted to triglycerides. High triglycerides increase the risk of diabetes and are the cause of fatty liver disease, which can lead to liver inflammation, scarring and even failure.
A small study (published in 2008 in the journal Gut) observed 18 slim, healthy men and women who “took a fast food challenge,” eating two meals daily at fast food restaurants for four weeks with limited exercise. They gained an average of 14.5 pounds, and their liver cells filled with fat. Their liver test numbers, ALT, quadrupled after one week, indicating that they were well on their way to developing a fatty liver and, potentially, diabetes — a major cause of heart attacks in the U.S. today.
McDonald’s now displays nutrition data in all of its restaurants, and it’s possible to eat a relatively healthy meal at McDonald’s – if you make the effort. But fast food in general isn’t the place for healthy eating. It’s up to us to track what we eat and recognize how it can affect our bodies.