Dollar menus, or "Value" menus at fast food restaurants are as popular as ever. We all know that fast food isn't healthy but we secretly love those salty, fatty, gooey "treats". Often, we feel that real food is just too expensive.
We love the convenience, the taste and price. But what are we really getting for our money?
That dollar you spend on your "value menu" item will get you plenty of food additives that improve its taste, texture, color and extend its shelf life. You might recall this article that shows fast food that never goes bad - it stays "fresh" for years.
Majority of these additives are labeled as GRAS - "generally recognized as safe" chemicals. So, what's the problem? The tests that decide whether or not the food additives have any harmful effects are generally conducted on animals, like mice or rats. If the chemical passes the lab tests that show it's not going to break down in your digestive system (or more accurately, a lab simulation of your digestive system) and it doesn't kill mice and rats, it's deemed safe for you to eat. And it stays innocent until proven guilty - that is until enough people develop serious enough health problems.
Let's take a look at some of the common additives.
A gelatinous substance that's used as a thickener or stabilizer, xanthan gum is almost impossible to escape. You will find it in sauces, dressings, baked goods, cheese-like food products, ice cream and even medicine.
Xanthan gum is a relatively benign additive if consumed in small doses. It's deemed safe if you consume less than 15 grams a day.
How much processed food would you have to eat to get 15 grams a day? Good question! FDA approved xanthan gum as a GRAS food additive but placed no limitation on how much can food contain. What's more, companies don't have to disclose how much xantham gum is in their product.
Potential side effects:
- Indigestion, bloating or stomach cramps can happen if you consume too much xantham gum. It is a mild, bulk-forming laxative, so be careful if you are already treating constipation.
- Lower blood sugar: xantham gum in excess can lower sugar absorption from food. This may seem like a good thing but you need to be careful if you are taking medication for diabetes.
Mono- and Diglycerides
These chemicals are derived from fatty acids but they are classified as emulsifiers, not fats. Why does this matter? You have heard about the evil trans-fats, right? Mono- and diglycerides can contain trans fats but because they themselves are not considered fats, they don't have to be listed on the labels under that category. So here you are, happily munching on that burger and fries, thinking that at least the fast food company removed the really offensive trans-fats. There are 0 trans-fats on the label, yes, but they can still be lurking in your food.
This lovely sounding food additive brings you that nice salty flavor. Just like the infamous MSG, this flavor enhancer comes with a cost. Many people are sensitive to disodium inosinate and it is banned in foods made for babies due to possible negative side effects.
Possible side effects:
- Indigestion, bloating, and nausea.
- Skin rash that can become permanent if you consume disodium inosinate regularly.
- Headaches and migraines.
- Gout flare-ups.
You can find convenient snacks without chemical additives. Wild Zora bars are one of them.
OK, I get it. Food additives are bad for you. But you know, it's still food and it's cheap.
The truth is, there isn't much food in fast food. You get a lot of calories but very little nutrition from the value menu items. Here is what you are getting:
Plenty of added sugar and carbs
Even the savory fast food is loaded with added sugar - in form of molasses, corn syrup, maltodextrin, and dextrose. They will cause a spike in your blood sugar, followed by a crash. If you expose your body to this blood sugar rollercoaster on regular basis, you are on a road towards type 2 diabetes. As for the short-term impact, those processed foods are not satisfying and you will feel hungry again soon.
Almost no fiber
Fiber helps you feel fuller for a longer period of time. It's also crucial for healthy digestion - it helps food move around in your digestive system and it feeds the good bacteria in your gut. Fiber comes from fruits, veggies, and whole grains. Sadly, the most common vegetable in fast foods is iceberg lettuce (no, ketchup is not a vegetable!), the least nutritious vegetable known to mankind.
You have probably seen different articles claiming that different fast food restaurants use "meat" that's actually made with something else. The latest accusation was aimed at Subway and their chicken. While the fast food companies vehemently deny their meat isn't really meat, they can't hide the fact that the meat they serve us is full of antibiotics. To drive prices down, the fast food industry uses the cheapest, commercially raised meat. That means antibiotics, growth hormones and often horrible conditions for the animals. You won't get grass-fed beef with all its benefits for a dollar!
So, I am getting some food additives and not a great nutrition. But hey, it's still cheap!
The Real Cost
Frequent consumption of fast food will bring you a host of health problems. Food additives are prime suspects in development of cancer, dementia and Alzheimer's disease. We already mentioned type 2 diabetes. It can get quite expensive quickly. In 2013, The National Institute of Health estimated that
Mind you, this was four years ago and the cost went up since then. In the perfect world, those costs would be covered by health insurance but sadly, the state of the healthcare system in America doesn't allow for much optimism.
Now what? I am on-the-go all the time and I need a quick bite to eat now and then!
Relax. Wild Zora has you covered. No food additives, just food. Fiber and vitamins from organic veggies and fruits, plus the goodness of pasture raised, all natural meats. All in a small pack that fits in your pocket.
P.S.: Did you know real food is also really tasty?
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