Fast Food Nutrition and Health

Food consumption has achieved a remarkable landmark due to the modernization of eating habits and lifestyles. This has contributed to the development of fast foods which in the present context is the main topic to focus on. Fast foods may appear to induce or stimulate appetite with the delicious ingredients mixed in the recipe in contrast to the conventional dishes. Their taste varies from region to region. Their popularity relies on their ability to satisfy the appetite as soon as possible leaving a memorable impression. This has made the availability of fast foods in different forms through the widespread establishment of eating corners and restaurants. However, this alternate contemporary diet has raised questions regarding its safety and nutrition. So, there is a need to explore the concerns prevailing in society.

Block, Scribner, and DeSalvo (2004) described an association between fast foods and obesity. They conducted a large study by examining the geographic distribution of 156 fast-food restaurants relative to neighborhood sociodemographics. They reported that the connection between fast-food restaurants and low-income neighborhoods might enable them to gain insights into the environmental causes of the obesity epidemic in these populations (Block, Scribner & DeSalvo, 2004). This may indicate that people residing in areas populated with fast food corners may become susceptible to health hazard obesity through the environment as a mediator.

In a similar study, scientists have dissected the relationship between overweight in preschool children and three environmental factors–the proximity of the children’s residences to playgrounds and to fast-food restaurants and the safety of the children’s neighborhoods(Burdette and Whitaker, 2004). They described that being overweight was not associated with the attachment of neighborhood to fast food restaurants. Hence this aspect of fast-food appears to be in controversy. Powell, Chaloupka, and Bao (2007) further conducted cross-sectional multivariate analyses to examine associations between local-area racial, ethnic, and fast-food restaurants.

It was revealed that a higher proportion of fast-food restaurants may enhance the risk of obesity in neighborhoods predominantly with black compared to white populations (Powell, Chaloupka & Bao, 2007). This has also indicated that fast foods exhibit racial differences in their mode of risk contribution. This report may address the earlier issue and strengthens the role of fast food in the episode of obesity.

Further, some of the ingredients of fast food may pose a serious health concern. It was reported that acrylamide formation is more rampant during high-temperature processes such as frying, baking, roasting, and extrusion especially in high-carbohydrate foods (Jackson & Al-Taher 2005). This was revealed when French fries fried at 150-190 degrees C for up to 10 min had acrylamide levels of 55 to 2130 microg/kg(Jackson & Al-Taher 2005). The highest levels were found in the most processed (highest frying times/temperatures) and the most highly browned fries. Similarly, dark” toasted bread slices were found to contain 43.7-610.7 microg/kg wet weight than “light” (8.27-217.5 microg/kg) or “medium” (10.9-213.7 microg/kg) toasted slices (Jackson & Al-Taher 2005).

As these foods constitute one of the commonly serving fast food items, there is a risk of health threats connected with the adverse effects of acrylamide. Hence, the formation of acrylamide needs to be regularly checked or monitored in fast foods by making a colorimetric analysis of surface color components that correlate with acrylamide levels(Jackson & Al-Taher 2005).

This may suggest that restaurants targeting fast foods as their lucrative food items should be equipped with modern-day scientific instruments to avoid all possible health problems.

Next, families may be especially in need of educational counseling about the effects of fast food, choosing healthier and convenient family meals as they constitute one of the frequent purchasers of fast food. It was observed that parents who reported purchasing fast food for family meals at least 3 times per week were more likely to report the availability of soda pop and chips in the home than parents who reported purchasing fewer fast-food family meals(Boutelle et al., 2007).

This has strengthened a much earlier description that emphasized the strategic interventions to minimize the frequency of fast-food restaurant use (FFFRU) and promote awareness of healthy eating (French, 2001). This is because it was found that much of FFFRU was linked with the optimum intake of energy, percent energy from fat, daily servings of soft drinks, cheeseburgers, french fries, and pizza (French, 2001). Hence, this strategy may appear reliable in face of existing controversies.

It was reported that food may contribute to cancer when it is cooked in different ways. As fast-food preparation also differs, it is reasonable to assume that individuals who rely on fast food may be at an increased risk of cancer. Therefore, the nurses need to provide health education advice to patients on the various cooking methods that could be used to lessen the risk of developing forms of cancer and also the types of food that offer protection against cancer (Banning, 2005).

Fast food might predispose individuals to develop increased LDL-cholesterol levels. This was revealed when overweight men fed with fast food as breakfast had more myristic, palmitic, stearic, and trans fatty acids compared to organic beef meal and turkey meal. The fast-food served has a burger, French fries, and root beer sweetened with high fructose corn syrup (Bray, 2007). Therefore, it may indicate that fast food composition may play a vital role in inducing altered cholesterol levels through a high fatty acid diet.

For this purpose, earlier workers conducted a large prospective study internationally to compare diet, assessed by food frequency questionnaires, in a comparable manner between different countries. They described a strategy of Nutritional assessment by diet analysis to evaluate food consumption, and conversion of food into nutrient intake by using a food composition database that contains the list of mean nutritional values for a given food portion. They reported that the database, primarily based on the USDA food composition, would help reduce the differential errors in nutrient estimation and improving the validity of between-country comparisons. This could also facilitate the accurate measurement, method of selection of foods for testing, and assays used for nutrient estimation (Merchant & Dehghan, 2006).

Rosenheck (2008) described that there is a need to concentrate on the effects of fast food having high energy densities and glycemic content, among subpopulations such as children and adolescents due to the increasing rates of overweight and obesity in the USA. These problems could be better solved by following the databases on fast food composition approved by government agencies, as developed by the earlier workers (Merchant & Dehghan, 2006).

It was revealed that fast food was filled with calories from refined sugar and fats (especially, the artery-clogging saturated and hydrogenated fats, which are repeatedly heated to high temperatures for obtaining fried products). It is very high in sodium but is deficient in dietary fiber and essential micro-nutrients like vitamins and minerals. It was described that high-calorie foods rich in fats, refined sugar, and salt could reconfigure the hormones in the body making it susceptible to the chances of addiction. Therefore, the widespread consumption of fast food across many countries may be due to addiction. This trend is more witnessed in children who from a very young age become passionate about fast food. These children may become obese adults due to the adverse impact of fast foods. Fast foods are reported to contain Trans fats that damage the cholesterol content of a meal, clog arteries, and increase the risk of heart attack. Trans fats convert oily foods into semi-solid foods and do not possess any nutritional benefit.

Next, fast food chicken was reported to contribute to cancer. This was revealed when samples of grilled chicken from various restaurants were found with carcinogenic compound PhIPm which belongs to a group of heterocyclic amines (HCAs) found in grilled meat. This has also prompted the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) to file a case against fast food majors McDonald’s, Burger King, Outback, Chick-fil-A, Applebee’s, Chili’s, and TGI Friday’s.

Heterocyclic amines are produced when amino acids and creatine (a chemical found in muscles) react at high cooking temperatures. There were 17 different HCAs identified resulting from the cooking of muscle meats that may pose a human cancer risk. It was revealed that the development of specific types of cancer relies on the methods followed while cooking meat. The formation of HCA was reported to be influenced by four factors such as type of food, cooking method, temperature, and time. HCA was found to be largely produced by drying, broiling, and barbecuing because the meats are cooked at very high temperatures. However, studies have indicated low levels of HCAs in fast food meat products. This was due to factors such as cooking temperature and time. Therefore, it can be inferred that the preparation of fast foods needs to be carefully monitored to avoid the consequences of overheating.

There is a need to assess the levels of HCA in cooked meat that may be used in fast foods recipes. To this end, researchers have developed a metastable atom bombardment (MAB) ionization mass spectrometry for the fast characterization of mutagenic/carcinogenic heterocyclic aromatic amines (HAAs) formed during heating processes of meats (Jamin et al., 2007).

They have detected significant levels of HAAs in fast foods.

Anderson et al.(2005) described that Heterocyclic amines (HCA) in association with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, formed in temperature- and time-dependent manners during the cooking of meat, serve as mutagens and carcinogens. They conducted a study to determine the link between the dietary intake of HCA and benzo (a) pyrene [B (a) P] and exocrine pancreatic cancer. They described that HCAs and B(a)P from barbecued and pan-fried meats may be associated with increased risk for pancreatic cancer (Anderson et al.,2005). These reports may strengthen the role of fast foods in the development of cancer with special emphasis on heterocyclic amines.

Another health aspect to focus on fast food was its hyper-alimentation. It was reported that fast food-based hyper-alimentation induces serum alanine transferase (ALT) elevations in less than four weeks (Kechagias, 2008). This was revealed when subjects on two fast-food-based meals intended to gain body weight were selected and observed (Kechagias, 2008).

The elevated levels of ALT observed in the patients may indicate a health problem. This is because serum ALT activity was used as a marker to assess hepatic injury (Prati, et al., 2008).

It is independently related to body mass index and laboratory indicators of abnormal lipid or carbohydrate metabolism (Prati, et al., 2008). Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that fast foods may be associated with liver dysfunction. But this may need further confirmation.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is another health hazard that is likely to be induced by fast foods in addition to other well-known food items (MacDermott, 2007). It was described that the occurrence of IBS symptoms is most frequent and severe only after allergic or hypersensitivity reactions to foods and beverages that stimulate the gastrointestinal tract (MacDermott, 2007).

Therefore, individuals addicted to fast food may be at great risk of developing the complications mentioned above. However, an awareness of fast food nutrient concentration may help to minimize all possible clinical manifestations. So, it is essential to explore more on the nutrition aspects of Fast foods.

Astrup et al. (2008) described that fast food in most countries has an unacceptable level of industrially-produced trans-fatty acids that contributes to type 2 diabetes and coronary artery disease. They also highlighted that a high intake of trans fat might lead to abdominal obesity, which is considered as another important factor in metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease (Astrup et al., 2008). Hence, modification of diet was suggested with

fat-reduced, without any industrially-produced trans-fatty acid, fibre-rich, high in low energy density carbohydrates (fruit, vegetables, and whole-grain products), and with a restricted intake of energy-containing drinks(Astrup et al., 2008).

The recommended diet for the average adult should be 2,000 calories. This should possess a total fat of 65 grams, saturated fat -20 grams, cholesterol -300 mg, and sodium-2400 mg. These values must be in agreement with body size, age, gender, and pregnancy. So, from the previous information, it can be assumed that the improper or unhygienic nutritive values of fast foods may be involved in the acquisition of various disorders. This may also vary with the place of fast food preparation.

The burger is one of the well-known fast food items. Its popular brand, Supreme Beef Burrito has 430 calories that constitute up to 22% of the daily dietary intake. It would fulfill about one-quarter of an individual’s calories for a given day. It has a total fat of 18 grams, cholesterol – 40 mg, and sodium -1210-mg. Another brand Wendy’s Classic Double with Everything (11 oz) has 760 calories and constitutes 38% of daily dietary intake. It has a total fat of 45 grams, cholesterol -175 mg, and sodium- 1730 mg.

It was reported that fast-food restaurants serve chicken sandwiches in grilled and fried forms. Grilled chicken also has less sodium compared to the fried chicken. So, there is also a need to know about these commonly served fast food items.

Burger King Chicken Whopper (10 oz.) has 580 calories and constitutes up to 29% of the daily dietary amount. It has 26 grams of fat, 85mg- cholesterol, and 1600 mg sodium.

Wendy’s Spicy Chicken Sandwich (7 1/2 oz.) has 410 calories and constitutes up to 21% of the daily dietary amount. It has 14 grams of fat, 65mg- cholesterol, and 1280 mg sodium. KFC (Kentucky fried chicken) Crunch Sandwich has 490 calories and constitutes up to 25 % of the daily dietary amount. It has 29 grams of total fat, 70 mg –cholesterol, 710 mg –sodium. McDonald’s Chicken McGill (8 oz.) contains 450 calories and constitutes 22% of the total daily dietary amount. It has 18 gms of fat, 60 mg –cholesterol, and 710 mg- sodium.

Similarly, McDonald’s French Fries – super size (7 oz.) contains 610 calories, 29 grams of total fat, 390 mg –sodium. KFC potato wedges contain 280 calories, 13 gms of total fat, 5 mg –cholesterol, 750 mg- sodium.

Side dishes that are served along with fast food items also possess nutritive values. Taco Bell Mexican Rice has 190 calories, 9 grams of fat, and Wendy’s Sour Cream and Chive Baked Potato have 370 calories and 5 grams of fat.

Further, fast food meals are reported to constitute a very unsafe or risky combination. This may be because of variation in fat and calories exerted by the independent items of the overall “meal”. So there is a need to choose healthier foods highest in fat and calories and substitute the substandard portions. Burger king meal includes Bacon Double Cheeseburger, Large Fries, and Large Coke. It contains 1440 calories, 62 grams of total fat, 120 mg of cholesterol, and 2110 mg of sodium. McDonald’s meal includes Big ‘N Tasty Burger, Medium Fries, and Medium Coke. It contains 1200 calories, 54 grams of total fat, 80 mg-cholesterol and 1280 mg –sodium. KFC meal includes Extra Crispy Chicken (Breast and Whole Wing) Mashed Potatoes with Gravy and Biscuit. It contains 990 calories, 54 grams total fat, 80 mg cholesterol, and 2290 mg –sodium.

Given the above information, fast food appears to influence modern eateries with its diverse representations. Its introduction into the common restaurant table and household recipes has brought many concerns regarding its safety and ingredients. The prevalence of obesity in specific populations has prompted researchers to investigate the residential locations where fast-food restaurants have been located in proximity (Block, Scribner & DeSalvo, 2004). This has provided a clue on the involvement of race and environment in the fast-food-induced health threats (Powell, Chaloupka & Bao, 2007).

The composition and cooking style of fast food has proven central to the understanding of the potential effects of acrylamide and the role of temperature (Jackson & Al-Taher, 2005). This relationship has raised concerns over the function of many fast-food restaurants against which strict lawsuits were imposed ( Intervention programs have been sought to educate families as they were considered as the frequent purchasers of fast food (Boutelle et al., 2007). In addition to obesity, the risk of cancer has also been reported to be fast food mediated due to various modes of cooking (Banning, 2005).

As the increased levels of trans fats may contribute to high LDL-cholesterol levels, the safety of fast foods has become a much more serious issue (Bray, 2007). This may be because of its contribution to type 2 diabetes and coronary artery disease (Astrup et al., 2008) Hence, the nutritional analysis sought with the development of databases may help in addressing the health-related issues (Merchant & Dehghan, 2006). Popular brands of fast food although may contain calories and fats to meet the daily requirements, may pose a risk when the appropriate nutrient ratio gets altered, especially in meals. Therefore, it can be inferred that fast foods may not provide complete hygienic and nutritient satisfaction, and further confirmations may be largely required from various perspectives.


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