Is convenience a good reason to damage your health for life?
Motion picture director Morgan Spurlock made history in 2004
with the documentary Super Size Me about the legal, financial,
and health costs of the North American fascination with fast food. He
took his filming equipment to 20 cities and interviewed dozens of
experts who gave him scientific data, along with their thoughts and
opinions about the growing problem of obesity.
During his month-long tour, Spurlock ate only at McDonald’s
restaurants, and he followed three simple rules: (1) He could eat only
what was offered to the general public; (2) he had to increase the
size of a serving if it was offered; and (3) throughout the month, he
had to try everything on the menu.
His health, which had been excellent, deteriorated rapidly. He
experienced chest pains and had difficulty breathing. He began to
suffer from depression, insomnia, and chills. His liver began to
protest, and after 20 days his doctor begged him to quit the
experiment. However, he kept on, and at the end of the month, he
weighed 25 pounds more than when he began!
With such negative consequences, why do so many people choose
to eat fast food?
For many, the primary motive is convenience. “I have to get
back to work,” says John. “All I have time for is a double hamburger
with cheese, fries, and a soda.”
In just a few minutes John has eaten enough to feel satisfied.
Something quick and fast?
Unfortunately, John is not aware of the huge number of
calories he’s taken into his body in such a short time. Below is the
nutritive value of his meal. With his quick and fast menu, John
committed several dietetic transgressions, all of which tend toward
- He took in 1,590 calories—an amount approaching the 2,000
that are recommended for a person living a sedentary life.
- He took in 71 grams of fat, which in this one meal exceeded
the recommended 65 grams for the day.
- He took in 41 percent of his calories from fat, when the
recommendation is that the calories from fat should not exceed 30
percent of the total.
- The 79 grams of sugar he got from his soda and other
sources in the meal greatly exceeded the maximum 50 grams of
sugar that is recommended for the day.
- He took in 1,610 milligrams of sodium (salt)—a relatively
high amount in view of the recommendation that sodium intake should not
exceed 2,400 milligrams per day.
Does fast food lead to obesity?
It’s estimated that in 1978, 14 percent of adults in the
United States were obese. By 2000 that figure had more than doubled to
31 percent. Even more troubling is the fact that 37 percent of American
children and adolescents are either overweight or obese. Yet 1,000 new
fast-food restaurants open each year in the United States!
Let’s examine the problem more closely.
High caloric content. Fast food has about 50 percent
more calories than a Mediterranean diet and 150 percent more calories
than the traditional African diet. At the same time, fast food tends to
be low in weight and volume. Thus the stomach tends to feel less
satisfied with fast food than it would with a larger weight and volume
of food, and it delays sending out the signal that it’s had enough. As
a result, by the time a person feels satisfied, he’s eaten too many
Studies have shown that the energy density of food (the
proportion of calories in relation to weight) is an important factor in
regulating the amount people eat. Food with a high energy density
causes people to eat more calories than they need without being aware
of it. Yet the higher the caloric intake, the higher the risk of
obesity, especially when combined with a sedentary lifestyle.
High fat content. Fast food generally has a higher fat
content than home-cooked food. The high fat content makes this food
more tasty, but it’s also much more fattening. Furthermore, because of
its nonvegetarian source (especially meat and cheese), fast food tends
to have a higher proportion of saturated fats. Saturated fats serve as
an energy reserve in the body for times of hunger and scarcity of food.
But if those times never come, the reserve of saturated fat grows,
High sugar content. Many nutrition experts insist
that, to avoid obesity, we must reduce the amount of sugar we eat each
day, especially white and refined sugars. In a healthful diet,
the proportion of calories coming from sugar should not exceed 10
percent of the total calories for the day, which would be 50 grams of
sugar. Yet the typical soft drink, which is often part of a fast-food
meal, can exceed that amount.
Sucrose, or table sugar, is a simple carbohydrate that in the
small intestine quickly changes to glucose and fructose. In the
nonvegetarian diet, which is typical of fast food, these sugars
pass rapidly from the small intestine into the blood stream, causing a
rapid rise in glucose (some fructose also changes to glucose). This
increased level of glucose causes the pancreas to release more
insulin, which contributes to the storage of fat, especially in the
absence of physical exercise.
The more sugar we eat and the less exercise we get, the more
weight we gain.
In addition to promoting obesity, fast food increases the
intake of the four great enemies of the heart and arteries:
- Saturated fat
- Excess salt
- Refined sugar
The risk of heart disease is in direct proportion to the
amount of fast food that one eats. One can say, in other words, “Fast
food, fast disease.”
How to eat well without gaining weight
The following suggestions will help you to eat well without
putting on those pounds:
What to eat
- Eat at least five servings of fresh fruit a day. Fresh
fruit does not lead to obesity, as some people erroneously
believe. To the contrary, in addition to having a very low energy
density (few calories in a lot of weight), it provides vitamins and
fiber that inhibit obesity.
- Eat a plate of fresh vegetable salad each day.
- Reduce or eliminate the typical fast food: hamburgers, hot
dogs and other sausages, snacks, sauces, pastries, and sweets.
- Drink enough water each day so that your urine is clear,
colorless, and odorless. It’s been shown that a high intake of water
and a low intake of salt is a simple way to avoid gaining weight.
Where to eat
- As much as possible, practice the traditional custom of the
enitre family sitting down for a meal together.
- Do not eat in the bus, the car, as you walk, or as you talk
on the telephone. These activities will distract your mind, causing you
to eat more without feeling satisfied.
How to eat
- Eat slowly, savoring and chewing each mouthful well. This
will improve your digestion and help you to eat less than if you ate
When to eat
- Eat at regular times, and avoid snacking between meals.
- Set aside enough time for your meals, especially breakfast,
which should be your most important meal of the day.
Solomon, the wise man, gave good advice when he said, “Put a
knife to your throat.”1 This means
exercising self-control over our appetite when it tells us to eat a lot
in a short time. Self-control is one of the fruits of the Spirit
mentioned by Paul2 that is ours by
simply asking our heavenly Father for it. With His help it will be
easier to control the what, the where, the how, and the when to eat,
making it easier to avoid putting on excess weight.
Jorge Pamplona is a medical doctor and writes from Madrid, Spain.