Every once in a while, when you’re in a rush and have an intense craving, swinging by your favorite fast food restaurant is okay for your health. At most, celebrity chef and certified nutritionist Serena Poon suggests dining at one of these places once a month, and if you do, choose smartly. This means having a salad or fruit as a side, rather than fries—or choosing one of these 20 Surprisingly Healthy Fast Food Orders. And saying ‘no’ to soda and selecting a bottle of water instead. You can also pass on condiments, which are packed with sugar and preservatives. But what if you’re eating fast food every day, or on a more regular basis?
“Make one adjustment to your regular fast food meal at a time to avoid feeling deprived,” Poon says. “Remember, foods that are fresh and as close to their natural state as possible will nourish and energize your body.”
But, if you are chowing down at McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Burger King, and other popular chains daily, your body will take a significant hit, and you may experience some ugly side effects of eating fast food every day. Here’s how, and for even more healthy tips, be sure to check out our list of 15 Underrated Weight Loss Tips That Actually Work.
More often than not, most people order burgers, fries, and sugar-filled drinks when they go through a fast-food drive-thru. While it might taste great at the moment, this type of meal lacks the essential nutrients we need including fiber, antioxidants, and phytonutrients that a balanced diet would deliver.
“These nutrients are essential for both optimum health and protecting your body from inflammation and oxidation,” Poon says.
In fact, according to The Cleveland Clinic, the five most inflammatory foods are added sugars, trans fat, red and processed meats, too many omega-6 fatty acids (found in oils), and refined carbs—all elements of the meals you consume if you’re eating fast food every day.
“This list of inflammatory foods is almost synonymous with what you’ll find in one fast food meal,” Poon adds.
In the short-term, Poon says chronic inflammation may cause discomforts such as pain, fatigue, depression, weight gain, and digestive problems.
“And, inflammation is also a known precursor to chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, autoimmune diseases, and neurodegenerative diseases,” she says.
Here are 14 Tips to Reduce Inflammation to Lose Weight Faster, According to RDs.
Because they are laden with unhealthy fats, sugar, salt, and processed carbs, most fast food options are extremely high in calories based on volume, explains nutrition expert and author Dr. Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S.
“This combination of ingredients and flavors really appeals to our taste buds and makes it easy to overeat, and we can wind up consuming upwards of 1,000 calories or more in one fast food meal,” he says.
And worst of all, because the food didn’t offer any nutritional value, you’ll be hungrier faster, and you’ll always want more. As Dr. Axe explains, the more someone is accustomed to eating highly-palatable foods that are processed, the more someone craves them, creating a cycle of unhealthy habits.
Instead, treat yourself to some delicious meals at home with our list of 100 Easiest Recipes You Can Make.
Poon says researchers have found that diets that are high in processed foods, which are the same type of diets if you are eating fast food every day, negatively affect the gut microbiome. While many people believe the gut is only about how we digest food, this delicate environment rules our immune system and our bodies’ primary function. When we have an imbalance in this area, it can lead to irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, and obesity.
What’s potentially even scarier, according to Poon, is research further shows that an imbalance in your gut microbiome caused by a diet that is high in sugar, fat and refined foods can become encoded in your DNA, passing on health risks to your children.
“Your gut microbiome thrives on foods that are rich in prebiotics, such as beans, bananas, Jerusalem artichokes, and oats and [probiotics] such as fermented foods as well as vegetables, fruit, fiber, and omega-3s,” Poon recommends.
There’s nothing worse when you can’t seem to get comfortable, no matter what position you’re in or what you’re wearing. According to weight loss coach Stephanie Mansour, bloating is no fun for anyone, and fast food only makes this symptom exaggerated. Because these foods are incredibly high in sodium, which causes your body to retain water, you may feel swollen or bloated after eating a lot of fast food, especially after a few consecutive days of doing so.
“Some fast food meals contain half the amount of sodium you should have in one day, so you definitely should look out for this after eating fast food,” she says.
In addition to pesky bloating, Poon says that regularly eating a high in sodium diet can lead to high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, osteoporosis, and cancer. “Combining the effects of sodium overconsumption with the other deleterious effects of a fast food meal makes it difficult to find an argument for eating fast food at all,” she warns.
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If you start to notice breakouts and rashes on your face or body after eating at a fast-food restaurant, you’re not alone. Mansour explains that carbohydrates often cause acne due to the blood sugar spikes that occur after consumption.
“Because lots of fast foods are high in carbohydrates, it’s important to understand the effects they can have not only on your internal body but on your skin as well,” she continues. “If acne worsens, try cutting out some carbs.”
But not all carbs are bad! It’s just a matter of the types of carbs you consume. Incorporate these 9 Best Complex Carbs for Weight Loss regularly into your diet to feel full and satisfied.
Believe it or not, your one meal at a fast-food restaurant could send your macronutrients over the edge fast. As Poon estimates, one burger from a fast-food restaurant can contain about 30 grams of fat and 11 grams of saturated fat. A medium side of fries contains about 17 grams of fat and 3 grams of saturated fat. If you consume 2,000 calories per day, the daily recommended intake of fat is between 44 and 78 grams. The American Heart Association suggests that your daily limit for saturated fat at this average energy intake is 13 grams.
“By these calculations, one meal of burger and fries would easily set you over the recommended daily limit for saturated fat and well within your recommended daily fat intake,” Poon continues. “Aside from contributing to overall weight gain, regularly eating a diet that is high in saturated fat can raise LDL cholesterol and increase your risk for heart disease and stroke.”
Are you still looking for a quick meal on-the-go that doesn’t require much effort? These 100 Best No-Cook Recipes of All Time can help you when you’re in a crunch for time!