The fast food culture has reached global proportions and many restaurant chains are found worldwide. The Mayo Clinic warns that fast food consumption is generally unhealthy and is leading to an alarming increase in obesity in both children and adults. It is also a culprit in cardiovascular disease, which affects the heart and arteries. Fast food can increase the risk of atherosclerosis, or hardening and narrowing of the arteries, heart disease and stroke due to the types of ingredients it contains and the amounts people typically consume.
Many processed and fast foods contain saturated trans fats that are created by a process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils. Trans fats, also known as partially hydrogenated oils, raise your unhealthy cholesterol levels, leading to fatty plaques and hardening of the arteries. The American Heart Association advises that these unhealthy fats should be limited to less than 1 percent of your total daily calorie intake, or less than 2 grams a day. Fast food contains high amounts of trans fats. For example, a large serving of fries at one chain contains about 3.5 grams of trans fats.
Fast food meals often include beverages such as fruit juice, milkshakes, smoothies and sodas that are high in sugar and calories. A 12-ounce soda contains 9 teaspoons of sugar and 140 calories. An article published in the medical journal “Pediatrics” warns that high sugar consumption can lead to obesity and an increase in Type 2 diabetes in both adults and children. All types of diabetes can have consequences for the body including diseased arteries, according to the American Diabetes Association. Although diet sodas have fewer calories, they may encourage poor food choices by increasing sugar cravings.
Weight gain and obesity, commonly caused by consuming more calories than you expend each day, can lead to cardiovascular disease. Fast food is energy dense, meaning that it is higher in calories than a similar sized portion of other healthier foods. As most people estimate food intake by how big the portion looks, it is easy to eat too many calories in a fast food meal. For example, a quarter-pound burger with cheese at one fast food chain contains approximately 520 calories and a large serving of fries contains 400 calories. This provides almost half of the average 2,000 calories that most adults require per day.
In addition to being packed with calories, fast food is typically served in large portion sizes. This promotes sales because customers feel they are getting a good deal. Fries, burgers, milkshakes and sodas are super-sized to entice customers to purchase more and are available at relatively cheap prices in comparison to healthier foods. A report published by BBC News notes that portion size leads to overconsumption of fast food and contributes to weight gain, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.