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Health-Washing: Is 'Healthy' Fast Food for Real?

Caesar Salad Fast FoodMcDonald's Fruit & Maple Oatmeal is a supposedly "healthy" breakfast item that actually contains more sugar than a Snickers bar. Fast-food joints routinely offer healthy-sounding options that aren't really health food. Time Magazine lists a few, including:

McDonald's Premium Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken

The chicken is listed as "grilled chicken breast fillet," but it's not breast meat -- it's reconstituted rib meat combined with 22 additives such as "polysorbate 80" and "autolyzed yeast extract".

Jamba Juice Mango Mantra Light Smoothie

A 20 ounce Mango-a-go-go contains 85 grams of sugar. The "light" variety, however, only contains 48 grams -- but bear in mind that the daily limit recommended by the American Heart Association, which is already far too high, is 34 grams of added sugar for women and 36 grams for men.

Subway Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki Sandwich

A foot-long Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki sandwich actually contains 34 grams of added sugar, or your total daily recommended intake of sugar if you are female. Add to this 2,020 mg of sodium, that's 520 mg more salt than the USDA recommends that children, those with high blood pressure, the elderly and African Americans should consume in an entire day.

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

Have you been health-washed by one of the big fast food chains into believing their incredibly skewed health claims about their products? Chances are, if you live in the US, you've been exposed to the tactics currently being used by the processed fast-food industry to convince you their products are good for you.

But are they healthy?

Not according to the article above, which refers to the tactics used by fast food chains as "shell games". In an ongoing effort to make their menu items sound healthy, they often leave out the details of what is actually in their products, which (fancy marketing aside) is where the real trouble begins in the first place.

The article encourages you to:

"…always scope out the nutrition information on a fast-food restaurant's website before you show up and order. You may be surprised by what you learn."

I couldn't have said it better myself. But it turns if you look a little deeper, there's a lot more you can learn about fast food menu items that you will never discover from looking at the nutrition information on their website.

Problem #1 with Fast Food Menu Items

Feedlot animals.

Eating the food at nearly every fast food chain (except maybe Chipotle and a few other restaurants committed to sustainable, organic suppliers) means you are consuming feedlot animal meat – flesh that comes from animals raised in crowded unsanitary conditions, fed massive doses of antibiotics and unnatural "frankenfeed" full of GM crops and some other truly disturbing ingredients.

The problem begins at the massive CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations), where the beef, chicken of pigs are fed genetically modified corn and soybeans and excessive grains in general (which are not the natural diet of these animals), along with the following almost unbelievable feed ingredients:

  • Plastics -- for the many animals whose digestive systems need roughage to pass food through them, the CAFOs now use of plastic pellets.
  • Meat from members of the same species -- CAFOs turn farm animals into cannibals. Scientific research has linked this practice to the spread of both mad cow disease and avian bird flu.
  • Manure and animal feces-- this can include cattle manure, swine waste, and poultry waste. It also includes wood, sand, rocks, dirt, sawdust and other non-food substances.
  • Roxarsone -- more commonly known as arsenic, which is put into chicken and pig feed to control intestinal parasites which might cause them to eat less and grow slower. Chicken litter (containing the arsenic that passes through the birds) is also collected from chicken CAFOs and fed to feetlot cattle, for some apparent reason that defies common sense.
  • Animal byproducts -- categorized as "animal protein products", this includes rendered feathers, hair, skin, hooves, blood, internal organs, intestines, beaks and bones, dead horses, euthanized cats and dogs, and road kill.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all the decidedly unhealthy practices that go on at an CAFO, in fact see these previous articles on the dangers of GM crops, which are the exclusive plant-based feed of most AFO animals. The main thing to remember is the CAFOs exist only to extract maximum profit out of each unit of animal – this means spending the least amount of money possible to house the animals, feed the animals and care for the animals.

Do I even have to tell you that the cheapest food, housing and care does not produce the highest quality end result?

So if you're eating fast food meats, you're eating feetlot produced meats -- and if you really took the time to investigate all the mind-boggling things that go on at modern day CAFOs, you might understand once and for all why I am continually encouraging you to eat only organic meats and fish.

Problem #2 with Fast Food Menu Items

Salt. Also known as sodium, and usually comes in the form of sodium chloride which is 40 percent sodium.

The daily requirement for the general population set by the USDA for sodium is surprisingly low, just a little over one teaspoon of table salt, 2,400 mg of sodium. Most fast food items are high in sodium, because that translates to more flavorful food. Eating several different fast food items in the same meal will send your sodium count well above the USDA recommended daily amount fairly quickly. For more information about just how quickly, check out the website of your favorite fast food restaurant, where they must now list the nutritional information about all their products.

So what does consuming more than 2,400 mg of salt per day lead to?

High blood pressure, also called hypertension. There is a known direct link between excessive sodium intake and high blood pressure. Hypertension is such a common health problem that one out of three of you reading this article has it, and uncontrolled hypertension is a serious health concern that can cause heart disease and increase your risk of having a stroke. It's especially dangerous because it often has no warning signs or symptoms.

Hypertension can lead to the following:

a drop in your average walking speed sleep apnea
kidney disease heart disease
dementia stroke

So if you're regularly eating fast food, or restaurant food in general, your daily sodium intake is probably much too high.

Problem #3 with Fast Food Menu Items

  • Sugar
  • Corn Syrup
  • Fructose

Today, the average American is consuming almost 60 gallons of soda annually, much of it no doubt purchased at fast food restaurants. Soda consumption has risen by 70 percent since 1977. And sugar is in nearly everything on the menu at your favorite fast food restaurant: It's in the drinks, in the buns, in the sauces and in the desserts. One of the problems we've now discovered about consuming all this sugar -- it's raising your uric acid levels.

What does this mean?

It's been long known that people with high blood pressure and kidney disease, and people who are overweight, often have elevated uric acid levels. It was previously thought this increased uric acid in your body were a result of these diseases, but it now appears now it may be CAUSING these diseases in the first place! And what causes your elevated uric acid levels is sugar and especially fructose.

Not surprisingly, uric acid levels have been increasing for the past hundred years in the US population thanks to the ubiquity of sugar in the our food supply. And we now know that when your uric acid level exceeds about 5.5 mg per dl, you have an increased risk for a host of diseases, including:

Hypertension (Again! That makes two out of three main problem ingredients at fast food joints that cause hypertension!) Fatty liver
Kidney disease Elevated triglycerides, elevated LDL,
and cardiovascular disease
Insulin resistance, obesity, and diabetes For pregnant women, even preeclampsia

So sugar in the form of soda and high-fructose corn syrup isn't just bad for you, it's probably the number one cause of your less-than-optimal health. As with my recommendation to avoid foodlot meats and excess sodium, I also recommend that you avoid sugar whenever possible -- and eliminate it completely from your diet if you are serious about regaining your health.

Please see this information about strategies for reducing your sugar addiction.

How to Effectively Reverse a Fast Food Diet Without Drugs

If you find yourself diagnosed with hypertention or diabetes, or if you are currently overweight or obese because you've been eating a fast food or processed food diet for years without really thinking about the consequences, don't give up hope. A vast majority of people can normalize their blood pressure and blood sugar levels, as well as take off some excess weight simply by implementing a few techniques that address the underlying cause of these conditions, namely high insulin levels.

The techniques for reversing a fast food diet and regaining your health are as follows:

Exercise – One of the most effective ways to lower your insulin levels is through exercise. A regular, effective exercise program can go a long way toward reducing your insulin levels and your blood pressure.

Avoid foods that boost insulin levels – Another effective method is to avoid foods that will raise your insulin, such as sugar-type foods and grains. Even whole, organic grains will rapidly break down to sugars, so they too should be avoided.

If you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or obesity, you'll want to avoid foods like:

  • Breads
  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Cereal
  • Potatoes

While vitamin C may be helpful, you'll also want to avoid eating too many fruits; the types and amounts being adjusted based on your nutritional type. One food that can be helpful for reducing your blood pressure is crushed, raw garlic. Many people swear by it, and it's something you can easily add to your diet.

Have tools to help you address your stress – You'll also want to take steps to reduce your stress, as that is a factor for some people. Prayer, meditation, or the Emotional Freedom Technique are all useful techniques.

Optimize your vitamin D levels – It has recently become clear that normalizing your vitamin D levels can have a powerful effect on normalizing your blood pressure. Lower vitamin D levels is also unquestionably associated with an increased risk for heart disease.

Balance your omega-6 to omega-3 fat ratio – Most Americans eating a standard American diet have a ratio of 25:1 or even as high as 50:1 omega 6:3 ratio, which is highly unbalanced. The ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats is 1:1. Therefore, you'll want to lower the amount of vegetable oils (the prime omega 6 oils) in your diet, and make sure you have a high quality, animal-based source of omega-3s.

How to Avoid the Unhealthy Fast Food Pitfalls

Even when they tout their food as healthy, as the article above shows in vivid detail, fast food is anything but healthy. The big three things to look out for, whether you are eating fast food or eating out in general, are the CAFO feedlot meats, high sodium intake and high sugar intake.

A great way to counter the CAFO feedlot meats is to buy only organic, grass fed beef and organic chicken. When shopping, always look for the USDA organic label, or buy from local farmers who you know to be using organic, sustainable methods. You can also use the helpful GMO Shopping Guide which will help you to choose not only organic meats, but organic foods in general.

Ideally, you'll also want to consume as much whole, raw, organic and/or locally grown foods as possible. That's why so many people like vegetable juicing. You're consuming living raw food. Most vegetables also have very low carbohydrate levels that minimally disturb insulin metabolism -- another important trait of a healthful diet.

I also believe optimal health is largely dependent on eating the right foods for your nutritional type. To find out your type, visit my Nutritional Typing test.

Lastly, if you're absolutely hooked on fast food and other processed foods, you're going to need some help and most likely some support from friends and family if you want to kick the fast food lifestyle. Besides surrounding yourself with supportive people, you can also review my recent article "How to Wean Yourself Off Processed Foods in 7 Steps."

+ Sources and References