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Fast food facts

By Marilyn Nefer Ra Barber
Special to the Michigan Citizen

As far back as ancient Greece and Rome, inns and taverns generally served food to people who were traveling. Restaurants have been around for quite a while in some form or another, catering to people to dine when away from home.

With the invention of cars, drive-ins became popular. By the time the car-hops brought their meals to them, it was usually cold and it took a long time.  The McDonald brothers responded, playing an important part in the development of fast foodservice.

Fast food burger and fries

Fast food burger and fries

The McDonald’s brothers designed an assembly line style of mass production, which is now central to the fast industry. It allows restaurants to prepare and store a large amount of food, then cook and serve it as needed. This requires a high level of processing, thereby changing it into a food product. Processed foods are

– Higher in fat and lower in fiber

– Higher in calories and sugar

– Higher in salt

It is therefore important to understand the impact of fast food consumption on healthy nutrition.  In one fast food meal, you can consume almost as many calories and sodium and more fat than you should consume in one day.  If you eat a sandwich, large fries, apple pie and a large drink, you’ll be consuming approximately:

– 1700 calories

– 70 grams of fat

– 1630 milligrams of sodium

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Guide recommends most adults limit their daily consumption to approximately:

– 2000 calories

– 65 grams of fat

– 1779 milligrams of sodium

In addition, many of the fats in fast foods are trans fats, also known as partially hydrogenated oils. These oils increase a person’s risk of heart disease more than other fats. However, people like the taste of trans fats, and they’re cheaper than other oils.

The fat, salt and trans fat are part of the delusion of fast food — they taste good. They have the ability to deliver lots of calories in one sitting.  The excessive salt, fat and sugar give fast food an addictive quality. In addition, the high concentrations of salt, fat and sugar are necessary to make mass-produced food flavorful without making it too expensive.

Due to lifestyle changes, restaurants market the convenience of not having to cook food at home; appealing commercials with toe tapping jingles, cheap prices and mesmerizing children with popular character toys. But there is a greater price we are paying by putting ourselves at risk for serious diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure from the consumption of process foods (fast foods).

Fast food does not always get a welcoming reception around the world. McDonald’s restaurants have been attacked in several countries, including the United States, China, Belgium, Holland, India, Russia, Sweden and the U.K. Protestors have accused McDonald’s and other chains of selling unhealthy food, marketing aggressively to children and undermining local values and culture. Despite this, it still remains the world’s largest fast-food chain.

I am not telling you to stop going to these restaurants. But, you can choose healthier options: Try ordering your sandwich without mayonnaise, or no cheese. Avoid sandwiches that have special sauces: (it’s a good place for fat to hide).

If you must have a fast food meal, divide the meal in half, and eat only half the sandwich and half of the fries. Serve it with a fresh salad that you purchased from the Eastern Market, your neighborhood grocery store or the local farmers market.

Plan your meals in advance. Get acquainted with your kitchen again. You can prepare delicious healthy meals at home with a crock pot. Have healthy snacks in your car or bag near you. When you feel the urge, try carrot or celery sticks. It may not taste like the fries from the golden arches, but it will not clog your arteries.

The fast food industry now caters to the poor with happy dollar menus. Urban families don’t have to have cars — you can even order meals utilizing walk-up windows outdoors — there’s a fast food restaurant in every neighborhood. Even if there isn’t a fast food restaurant in your neighborhood, watch out: A coffee or burger joint might be creeping on to your block any day!

Marilyn Nefer Ra Barber is the farm manager of the D-Town Farm.  For more information, visit www.fastfoodsnutrition.org, www.fda.gov, www.calorieking.org, www.acalorieconter.com and www.nutrition.gov.

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