By Dr. Mercola
McDonald's is the poster child for the modern Western diet and all the health problems that it engenders. As a general rule, "food" was designed to supply your body with all the nutrients it needs.
Processing destroys many of the nutrients and is the primary contribution to most of the chronic degenerative diseases many experience today. I would also argue that food processed to the point of not decomposing after more than a decade is not actually real food and shouldn't be consumed...
Ironically, the fast food giant recently ended up with a PR nightmare after suggesting its own employees forgo fast food fare for healthier options like salad and water. As reported by Business Insider:1
"Several excerpts from the posts, which were created from a third-party vendor, warned against the negative effects of fast food, even going so far as labeling a cheeseburger and fries, core items on its menu, as an 'unhealthy choice.'"
The site also warned employees that fast-food meals are "almost always high" in calories, fat, sugar, and salt—and rightfully so, I might add. Warning employees of the health hazards of the very food they produce and serve, however, does not make for good PR.
In response to the controversy, McDonald's shut down the website in question, which was aimed at providing "work and life advice" to employees. According to a company spokesman,2 the information was "taken out of context," thereby generating "unwarranted scrutiny and inappropriate commentary." Employees will still be able to receive work and life advice over the phone.
Is Fast Food Giant Skirting Social Responsibilities?
McDonald's has received a variety of unflattering attention lately. Last month, fast food workers around the US rallied in protest of low wages, demanding the hourly wage to be raised to $15 per hour.
At present, the average fast food worker makes less than $9 per hour, and according to a recent study by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, more than 50 percent of US fast food workers are enrolled in some form of public assistance program,3 costing US tax payers an estimated at $7 billion annually.
You might be asking yourself why you're being forced to subsidize fast food profits, especially when you consider that such foods are at the heart of our current health crisis...
Contrary to popular belief, nearly 70 percent of fast food workers are actually adults, and the main wage earners in their family. Gone are the days when fast food joints were staffed primarily with high school students. This too, I believe, is a sign of how the food culture has changed in this country.
Fast food restaurants are a primary source of food for a lot of people these days. British chef Jamie Oliver is but one vocal "real food" advocate who addresses this issue head-on, pointing out that our food culture has changed so drastically over the last 30 years that a majority of today's youth do not even know what fresh, whole food is.
Fast food restaurant work is also full-time employment—if not a career, albeit a poor-paying one—for many. Case in point: Nancy Salgado, a single mother, claims she still makes $8.25 after working for McDonald's for a decade! The following video went viral last October, when Salgado was threatened with arrest for shouting out a protest during a talk given by McDonald's president Jeff Stratton.
"It's really hard for me to feed my two kids and struggle day to day. Do you think this is fair, that I have to be making $8.25 when I have worked for McDonald's for 10 years?" she shouts.
How Government Farm Subsidies Have Created a Disease-Ridden Country
There's little doubt that the Western diet, high in ultra-processed food, is a major source of many of our modern diseases. McDonald's and other fast food restaurants are not necessarily the root of the problem, though. They're simply an outgrowth of the food system created and upheld by the US government.
As you can see below, US food subsidies are grossly skewed toward factory-farmed meats, grains, and sugars, with very little fresh fruits and vegetables or healthy fats from nuts and seeds. What you end up with when you get paid to mass produce those ingredients is a cheap fast food diet.
The following chart was published by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine4 (PCRM) back in 2007, yet little has changed since then. The fact that a hamburger can be had for less than an organic salad is a major contributing factor to why fast food is consumed as frequently as it is. The same goes for soda, loaded with cheap high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), compared to a bottle of plain water.
Needless to say, if your diet consists of burgers and super-size sodas, your meals may be cheap, but it is also excessively high in grains, sugars, and factory-farmed meats. This is a recipe for obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, just to name a few of the conditions that commonly befall those who consume "the Standard American Diet."
Tellingly, in contrast to third-world countries, in the US, higher rates of obesity is actually linked to poverty, suggesting that the American "poor man's diet" (which tends to be exceptionally high in processed foods and fast food) has a drastic and adverse impact on your metabolism. Indeed, many on the most limited food budgets, such as those who receive food assistance dollars, live in "food deserts"—areas without grocery stores, and perhaps only a convenience store or a fast-food restaurant where they can purchase their food.
The Food Lobby Wields Great Power Over Public Health...
Thanks to the tireless efforts of the powerful food lobby, Congress keeps subsidizing foods that we really should be eating LESS of – including factory farmed meats and corn (which ends up as HFCS that is used in nearly every single processed food and sweet beverage on the market.) The farm bill also has a direct impact on what your child gets fed in school, and what food assistance programs will distribute to poorer households.
I believe many of our society's chronic health problems could be resolved if attention was paid, at the highest levels of government, to the root problem – our agricultural subsidies. If growers of subsidized fresh vegetables were in a clear majority, you might start to see some fine advertising campaigns promoting the consumption of those veggies.
Unfortunately, the Department of Agriculture is deeply entrenched with the agri-business, and current legislations protect the profits of these large industries at the expense of public health. Sadly, you also see this influence in nutrition science. It is actually not designed to help you make sound dietary choices but rather to allow food companies to make health claims to increase profits, and this is a primary reason why you cannot get sound dietary advice from the US government.
Processed Food Contains Many Potentially Dangerous Ingredients
I've written numerous articles highlighting the hazards of specific fast food fare, and why such heavily processed foods cannot be considered "real food." This includes:
- Chicken McNuggets, which have made it into mainstream news on a number of occasions because of the potentially hazardous additives they contain.
- Soda can contain any number of health harming substances, from high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) to benzene and aspartame.
- French fries are loaded with the worst types of fat on the planet -- typically highly refined and genetically modified omega-6 oils, such as corn, canola, and soybean oils.
Thankfully, the FDA recently announced it may remove trans fats found in margarine, vegetable shortening, and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils from the list of "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS) ingredients. This would be the first step toward ridding the American diet of this harmful fat.
- McDonald's seasonally-available McRib sandwich contains more than 70 ingredients, including a chemical used in gym shoes. And the pork is actually a restructured meat product made from the less expensive innards and scraps from the pig.
It's quite clear that fast food leads to obesity and insulin resistance. As demonstrated in one 15-year long study,5 eating fast food just twice a week can make you gain 10 pounds and double your risk of developing insulin resistance, compared to eating it less than once a week. The bottom line is that if you want to stay healthy, and keep your children healthy, you have to avoid fast food and other processed foods, and invest some time in your kitchen, cooking from scratch.
What Makes for a Healthy Diet?
I firmly believe that the primary keys for successful weight management and optimal health are:
- Severely restricting carbohydrates (refined sugars, fructose, and grains) in your diet
- Increasing healthy fat consumption
- Unlimited consumption of non starchy vegetables. Because they are so low calorie, the majority of the food on your plate will be vegetables
- Limit the use of protein to less than one half gram per pound of body weight
Healthful fat can be rich in calories, but these calories will not affect your body in the same way as calories from non-vegetable carbs. As explained by Dr. Robert Lustig, fructose in particular is "isocaloric but not isometabolic." This means you can have the same amount of calories from fructose or glucose, fructose and protein, or fructose and fat, but the metabolic effect will be entirely different despite the identical calorie count. Eating dietary fat isn't what's making you pack on the pounds. It's the sugar/fructose and grains that are adding the padding.
So please, don't fall for the low-fat myth, as this too is a factor in the rise in chronic health problems such as heart disease and Alzheimer's. Your brain, heart, and cardiovascular system need healthy fat for optimal functioning. In fact, emerging evidence suggests most people need at least half of their daily calories from healthy fat, and possibly as high as 85 percent. My personal diet is about 70-80 percent healthy fat. Add to that a small to medium amount of high-quality protein and plenty of vegetables. You actually need very few carbs besides vegetables. However, by volume the largest portion of my plate is clearly vegetables.
Take Control of Your Diet and Your Health
I don't think fast food companies like McDonald's are as clueless about the health impact of their food as they would like you to believe. And advising their employees to forgo fast food fare and soda for more wholesome food is indeed good advice. The thing is, it's advice that applies to every single one of their customers as well... Healthy eating is actually far easier than most people think. Here's a quick and dirty summary: if you're new to healthful living, these four basic steps can put you on the right path toward vastly improved health, regardless of what your government's dietary guidelines are:
- Focus on raw, fresh foods, and avoid as many processed foods as possible (for those who still have trouble understanding what "processed food" is: if it comes in a can, bottle, or package, and has a list of ingredients, it's processed)
- Avoid foods that contain fructose (check the label for ingredients like corn syrup or high fructose corn syrup)
- Limit or eliminate grain carbohydrates, and replace them with healthful fats, such as avocados, butter made from raw grass-fed organic milk, grass-fed meats, and organic pastured eggs, coconuts and coconut oil, and raw nuts such as macadamia
- Replace sodas and other sweetened beverages with clean, pure water