Fast food doesn’t offer much in the way of nutrition.
Monosodium glutamate, or MSG, is far from the only chemical additive used in fast food. Limiting your intake of fast food reduces your exposure to numerous other harmful substances, such as trans fats and artificial dyes. It also cuts your overall intake of calories, sugar and salt if you replace them with more nutritious choices.
Terrible Trans Fats
Though some fast-food restaurants are phasing out their use of trans fats, these chemicals are still present in many fast-food fried items and desserts. Trans fats are made by adding hydrogen to unsaturated fats, which means they have a longer shelf life than other types of fat, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. Trans fats raise bad cholesterol levels and lower good cholesterol, a combination that is harmful to your heart health. Trans fats also increase inflammation, which is linked to heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration no longer considers trans fats to be “generally recognized as safe.”
Bad Butylated Hydroxyanisole
Butylated hydroxyanisole, or BHA, is a chemical added to foods that contain oils to help prevent them from going rancid, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The chemical, however, is a carcinogen, which means it has the potential to cause cancer. The National Toxicology Program reports that animal studies suggest a strong link between the chemical and the formation of cancerous tumors and that human studies suggest that it raises the risk of stomach cancer. BHA is found in foods fried in animal fats, baked goods, dehydrated potatoes, sausage, chicken and meat products.
Horrible Hydrolyzed Vegetable Proteins
Hydrolyzed vegetable proteins are low-quality sources of protein, and they contain a large amount of salt, including monosodium glutamate. The chemical is used to lend a meaty flavor to certain fast foods, and it also helps fast-food restaurants cut down on how much of the actual food they use in their recipes. Further studies must be done to determine the long-term effects of the chemical, especially in children, according to Ruth Winter, author of “A Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives.”
Dangerous Dyes and Artificial Flavors
Many fast foods, such as brightly colored soda and desserts, contain artificial dyes and flavors. These are often used to replace real food, such as fruits, vegetables and eggs. Certain dyes, such as Yellow #5 and #6, are potential carcinogens. Dyes can also increase the risk of behavior problems and hyperactivity in children, according to David W. Schab, an assistant professor at Columbia University, and Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Artificial flavors and sweeteners also have the potential to be carcinogens.
The Average Fast-Food Meal
Order a burger and fries with a soda, and you’re likely to consume all of these dangerous chemicals. The burger likely contains BHA and hydrolyzed vegetable proteins, and many fast-food restaurants still cook their fries in oil that contains trans fats. If you order a colored soda, you’re consuming artificial dyes, and if it’s fruit-flavored soda, you’re also getting a dose of artificial flavors. Swap the burger for chicken nuggets, and you’ll still consume BHA and hydrolyzed vegetable proteins. If you opt for pizza, you’ll probably be consuming trans fats in the crust, and if you go for Chinese food you’ll likely be eating MSG, BHA and, depending on the entree, artificial dyes and flavors.