Case Study: What's Wrong with Fast Food?
Like many Americans, 20-year-old Kevin eats fast food several times a week. After a long day of classes and work, it’s easy for him to pick up fast food for dinner from a drive-through window on his way home. He also often has fast food for lunch on his short break. He knows that fast food probably isn’t the healthiest choice, but it is convenient and he enjoys it. Besides, he’s young and only slightly overweight, with no major health problems, so he’s not too concerned about it affecting his health.
One day, Kevin gives his friend Carlos a ride home, and suggests they pick up some fast food on the way. Carlos says, “Nah, I don’t eat that stuff very often. It’s not good for you.” Kevin feels a little defensive and asks Carlos what exactly is wrong with it. Carlos says, “Well, it has a lot of calories and it’s not exactly fresh food.” Kevin says he doesn’t think it has any more calories than other types of meals, and he eats some fresh fruit and vegetables at other times — is it really that bad for his health to eat fast food five or six times a week?
Carlos thinks about this. He has heard many times that fast food is not good for your health, but he’s not sure of the exact reasons. When he gets home, he decides to do some research. He visits the website of Kevin’s favorite fast food restaurant and looks up the nutritional information for his typical meal of a cheeseburger, large fries, and a large soda. Some of the information he found is shown in the tables below.
Kevin’s favorite fast food meal of a cheeseburger, large fries, and a large soda — a meal that is typical for many people.
Nutritional Information for a Typical Fast Food Meal
|Food||Calories||Total Fat (%DV)||Saturated Fat (%DV)||Trans Fat||Carbohydrates (%DV)|
|Food||Sodium (%DV)||Iron (%DV)||Vitamin A (%DV)||Vitamin C (%DV)||Calcium (%DV)|
% DV = percentage of adult recommended daily value (DV) for each nutrient, based on a 2,000 Calorie a day diet.
What does this nutritional information mean? How can it help Carlos understand the potential health impact of Kevin frequently eating meals like this? As you read this chapter, you will learn about the nutrients your body needs to function and stay healthy, and how eating too much or too little of certain nutrients can wreak havoc on your health. You will learn how to interpret the tables above, and will better understand the health consequences of a diet that is heavy in typical fast food items. At the end of the chapter, you will learn why eating this meal frequently is not the best choice for Kevin’s health, and how he — and you — can make better food choices.
Chapter Overview: Nutrition
In this chapter, you will learn about nutrients, proper nutrition, and the negative health consequences of bad nutrition and improperly prepared food. Specifically, you will learn about:
- The six major classes of nutrients — carbohydrates, proteins, lipids, water, vitamins, and minerals — which are substances the body needs for energy, building materials, and body processes.
- Essential nutrients, which must be obtained from food, and nonessential nutrients, which can be synthesized by the body.
- Macronutrients, which the body needs in relatively large quantities, and micronutrients, which the body needs in relatively small quantities.
- The functions of specific nutrients in the body and sources of these nutrients.
- Phytochemicals and their potential role in maintaining normal body functions and good health.
- Guidelines for healthy eating and good nutrition, and why a healthy diet can reduce the risk of many diseases.
- Energy homeostasis, which is the balance between calories consumed and those that are used by the body.
- Types of malnutrition, including undernutrition, overnutrition, and unbalanced nutrition.
- Nutrient and energy density and how knowledge of these factors can be used to make healthier food choices.
- How appetite is regulated.
- Eating disorders including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder and their causes, health effects, and treatments.
- Obesity and how it is defined, its causes, health consequences, ways to prevent and treat it, and the impact on public health.
- Undernutrition and how it is defined, its causes, specific undernutrition syndromes, and the often irreversible effects on children.
- The impact of undernutrition around the world, including richer nations, and public health approaches to treat and prevent undernutrition.
- The causes of foodborne diseases, including microorganisms and toxins; symptoms of foodborne disease; and ways to prevent foodborne disease including good hygiene and proper food preparation and storage.
As you read this chapter, think about the following questions related to the tables above that contain nutritional information for Kevin’s typical fast food meal:
1. Which nutrients might Kevin consume too much of if he eats meals like this frequently? Why would these nutrients be a concern? What health issues could consuming them in excess cause?
2. Which nutrients might Kevin not get enough of if he eats meals like this frequently? What health issues could this cause?
3. What are some ways Kevin can make better food choices, even at a fast food restaurant? Why would these choices improve his diet and health?
Credit: Jon Bunting;
License: CC BY-NC 3.0