We know fast food is bad for us. The discussion about why fast food is unhealthy usually revolves around the high levels of saturated fat, sodium, salt and sugar. We talk about pairing a giant cup of soda with fries that have been submerged in corn-based oil, which is considered by many to be the unhealthiest oil to humans.
Of course, we also focus on the fact that the vast majority of fast food is unnatural and heavily processed. These manmade substances, which I would hardly classify as food, make us overweight and chronically ill.
The evidence about the effects of processed fast food on our health has existed for decades. But the danger may go deeper than the food itself and the awful ingredients. New research suggests that the high amount of processing exposes fast food products – and eventually the people who eat them – to harmful substances and chemicals.
All food is exposed to some environmental conditions before it hits store shelves or our plates. Even organic produce is packed in a crate and driven to a local farmer’s market. Although the risk is minimal and based on bad luck rather than processing, we wash fruit and vegetables before we eat them.
But fast food is exposed to far more than a crate and a car ride. Fast food touches a number of metals, plastics, chemicals and machinery. Researchers at George Washington University, as reported by the Washington Post, suspect that this exposure increases the chance that fast food will contain high levels of phthalates, which are chemicals used to give plastic and vinyl more flexibility, durability and longevity.
Phthalates, also called plasticizers, are commonly used in food packaging, as well as flooring, adhesives, detergents, lubricating oils, garden hoses, soap, toys and other products. To be clear, the impact of phthalates on human health has yet to be conclusively proven, although studies have linked phthalates to diabetes, high blood pressure, infertility in males, and allergic diseases and behavioral issues in children.
But common sense should tell us that we should limit our exposure to these types of chemicals, and we certainly don’t want it in our food supply. The George Washington University researchers found that people who consume fast food do indeed have much higher levels of these phthalates than people who don’t.
Looking at the bigger picture, any food that comes in a package could potentially expose us to harmful chemicals and substances. That’s why the only truly safe and healthy packages are the ones that God created. An orange peel. The shell of an egg or nut. The skin of fresh fish.
This new research should tell us two things. First, if you need another reason to avoid fast food, this is it. Second, choose foods that are exposed to as few substances as possible between the source and your plate. If it comes in a box, a bag, a can or a drive-thru, you can always find something healthier.