In the midst of busy and stressful lives many of us don’t have the time or the patience to prepare a meal ourselves. Why should we research recipes, tediously prepare ingredients and cook ourselves when some- one else will do it for us? For this reason fast food is now an integral part of many of our diets.
However as you queue up in your favourite Fried Chicken take-away or scroll through the menu at McDonalds, most of us are aware that the food we’re about to consume is absolutely no good for our bodies and yet we do it anyways. Why? Well new research suggests that we could actually be addicted.
American scientists believe that fast food could be as addictive as heroine as we can become overly dependent on its high sugar and fat content. Princeton University researcher Dr John Hoebel, one of the leaders of the study claims that this is because high fat foods stimulate pleasure chemicals in the brain.
During a study conducted on lab rats, Mr Hoebel and his team found that once they withdrew the sugar and fat from their diets they rats began to experience chattering teeth and the “shakes”; similar withdrawal symptoms to those of drug addicts.
This research is supported by a new study conducted by American researchers at Yale University. Earlier this year they found that the sight of a chocolate milkshake had the same effect on the brain as the sight of cocaine has on a drug addict. This study wasn’t conducted on fried chicken fiends but on a number of women of different weights and lifestyles.
This isn’t the first time that it’s been suggested that we could become chronically hooked on fast food. Back in 2003, a group of
American teenagers sued McDonalds, blaming their “addictive” food for making them obese. Among the group was Gregory Holmes a 15 year old boy who had become a “Mac-aholic”. He ate breakfast, lunch and dinner at McDonalds on a daily basis and his weight skyrocketed to 400ibs despite the fact that he was just 5’6 tall. The devastating effects were clear for all to see and yet this young man simply could not help himself.
This case was thrown out of court after the Judge ruled that the group had failed to “allege sufficiently” that McDonald’s food is addictive and concluded that it was “not the place of the law to protect them against their own excesses”.
While the likes of McDonalds and Burger King have since made attempts to clean up their image for PR purposes, it would be ludicrous for us to expect to be told of all the health risks associated with their products.
In 2008, a BBC investigation found that the UK was the country “most attached” to fast food ahead of the United States and our weakness keeps the industry thriving at the cost of our health.
Fast food is most commonly associated with Obesity due to large amount of calories it contains as researcher Andrew Prentice explains;
“We all possess a weak innate ability to recognise foods with a high energy density.We tend to assess food intake by the size of the portion, yet a fast food meal contains many more calories than a similar-sized portion of a healthy meal.”
“Our bodies were never designed to cope with the very energy dense foods consumed in the West and this is contributing to a major rise in obesity.”
Today, almost half of the British population are overweight and around 20% are obese. It was recently reported in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition that one in eleven of all deaths in the UK are related to carrying excess fat.
At the same time, many of us will claim that our junk food diets have no effect on our weight. This is true as some people with high metabolism may escape the exterior ramifications of such a diet but there’s no avoiding the damage it does internally.
Fast foods genuinely contain a lot of salt, fats as well as artificial ingredients. None of these are good for our bodies although for a number of reasons.Salt may be that magic seasoning that makes almost everything taste better but it can have some very dramatic effects on our bodies, particularly our kidneys.
The kidneys use a delicate balance of sodium and potassium to draw toxins out of our bloodstream. Salt increases the amount of sodium, interfering with the balance and reducing the ability of the kidneys to remove the toxins. This causes high blood pressure due to the extra fluid as well straining blood vessels leading to the Kidneys.
As the Kidney’s weaken, our bodies are slowly poisoned by our own waste products and overtime this leads to kidney failure. Complete kidney failure causes seizures, coma’s and ultimately death.
The high blood pressure caused by excess salt may also clog up arteries leading to the heart which can results in a heart attack.
In terms of fats, there are two types which we should be particularly concerned about; Saturated fat and the more stealthy trans fats.
Large quantities of Saturated fat lead to high cholesterol which over time narrows our arteries. This puts a strain on the heart as it has to work harder to pump blood through the body and over time this can also cause a heart attack.While we can often keep tabs on the amount of saturated fats and salt in our food, the quantity of trans fat present in our food is never revealed. Trans fats are generally listed as hydrogenated vegetable oil or not at all.
It is essentially oil that is chemically altered to harden it up. This oil is used to extend the shelf life of prod- ucts and can be altered to add wonderful textures to processed food. They make burgers more bulky, crisps and biscuits crunchier and give cakes and pastries a velvet like quality.
It’s also used by companies as means of increasing profit as it is far cheaper than butter or any other non- industrialised ingredients. However it has no nutritional benefits and experts have compared it to eating candle wax or plastic.
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (N.I.C.E) claim that 40,000 deaths could be avoided annually by banning these toxic fats.
They can also have some serious effects on our brains, as Dr Alex Richardson, of the University Laboratory of Physiology in Oxford explains;
“Every time children eat crisps, biscuits or cakes they are filling themselves with what are essen- tially toxic fats,” she said.
“There are no health benefits and many health costs to these hydrogenated fats, yet they are all that some children and adults are eating. They are replacing the essential fats that would make their brain and body work properly with ones that are clogging up the machinery.”
Nutritionist Patrick Holford supported her claims.
“Trans fats can get incorporated into the brain but they do not allow the signals to flow in the nor- mal way, In layman’s terms the brain gets thicker – and in practical terms it makes you thicker.”
These fats have been banned in many European countries and American states but the British government have refused to follow suit. Artificial flavourings are often used in our favourite drinks and desserts. Fresh fruit and vegetables are never uniform in taste. Some Oranges are sweet while other bitter and so companies use artificial flavourings to ensure that the taste of their products is consistently perfect.
A 2006 guardian report found that most strawberry fast food milkshakes contain “artificial strawberry flavorings”.
These flavorings are essentially a Charlie in the chocolate factory like mix of chemical ingredients such as methyl salicylate, mint essential oil, neroli essen- tial oil, nerolin and neryl isobutyrate among others. In total the report found that 59 chemicals are used. Remember this isn’t engine oil or a cleaning solution but a strawberry milkshake.
With this knowledge in hand, it’s up to us to start improving our diets and treating our bodies with more thought for the long term. We cannot continue to allow fast food companies to make huge profits from essentially killing us slowly.
One of the primary reasons for the popularity of Fast Food is its presentation. Thanks to the chemicals and artificial ingredients used, it often looks good, smells great and as such the thought of giving it up for a “healthy diet” isn’t very appealing. After all who really wants to swap golden french fries for celery sticks?
However, we can counter this by presenting healthier foods in a desirable way. With a little effort and creativity we can our own meals just as desirable. Not only would this put those “scientists of death” out of work but we’d be doing our bodies a world of good. No one would knowingly put the wrong fuel in our cars so why should we do that to ourselves? While cars can be replaced, we only get one body and so we it’s in our best interests to take better care of it.