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This is Your Grandfather’s Fast Food

Mar. 11, 2015|397 views
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A new study has shown that the fast food Americans eat with alarming regularity has changed little since 1996. First developed soon after man conquered space, most fast food menus still include high amounts of fat, sodium and calories. One change for the good has involved a sharp decline in the use of trans fats. These toxic artificial fats were gradually phased out between 1996 and 2013. The saturated fat content of some chains’ french fries has also declined somewhat.

While it seems as if portion sizes have surely increased over the years, new reports from researchers at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (USDA HNRCA) at Tufts University show that, at least among the samples reviewed, this does not appear to be a significant trend. Calories, sodium content, and fat have remained relatively consistent. 

“However,” said Alice H. Lichtenstein, D.Sc., director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at the USDA HNRC, “the variability among chains is considerable and the levels are high for most of the individual menu items assessed, particularly for items frequently sold together as a meal, pushing the limits of what we should be eating to maintain a healthy weight and sodium intake."

For example, at some chains, a cheeseburger “meal,” featuring a large cola and fries, packs enough calories to provide nearly 90% of a person’s daily requirement for caloric intake, which is assumed to be about 2,000 calories. Daily needs vary depending upon your size, age and sex. Most healthy adults require about 2,000 calories per day to maintain a healthy weight. A similar meal would also provide up to 90% of a person’s daily requirement for sodium.

Too much sodium in the diet has been linked to elevated blood pressure, although I should note that recent research maintains that fructose in that large cola may be even more of a threat to a diner’s blood pressure levels. Researchers claim to have discovered, recently, that fructose— especially when consumed in liquid form—is especially bad for one’s blood pressure. Anoccasional fast food indulgence probably won’t ruin your health. But keep in mind that you may be blowing your daily calorie budget by dining on a fast food “meal”.

Lorien E. Urban, Susan B. Roberts, Jamie L. Fierstein, Christine E. Gary, Alice H. Lichtenstein. Temporal Trends in Fast-Food Restaurant Energy, Sodium, Saturated Fat, andTransFat Content, United States, 1996–2013. Preventing Chronic Disease, 2014; 11 DOI: 10.5888/pcd11.140202

Lorien E. Urban, Susan B. Roberts, Jamie L. Fierstein, Christine E. Gary, Alice H. Lichtenstein. Sodium, Saturated Fat, andTransFat Content Per 1,000 Kilocalories: Temporal Trends in Fast-Food Restaurants, United States, 2000–2013. Preventing Chronic Disease, 2014; 11 DOI: 10.5888/pcd11.140335