What are the costs of eating fast food? Of course, one cost is the simple consumption of an unsatisfying, typically over-salted meal in either a car seat or a sticky and garish fast-food environment, rather than sitting down to a leisurely meal with family or friends. That’s a given. Then there’s the weight gain that tends to result from slamming down high-calorie processed foods. But now research is indicating there’s even more to it.
The Washington Post recently published an article about the curious association between fast-food consumption and phthalates. (Yes, “phthalate” is a real word, and no, I have no idea how it is pronounced.) The study tracked fast-food intake by 9,000 research subjects — fast-food was defined as any food served at a restaurant without waiters or waitresses — and took urine samples from them. Analysis of the urine samples showed that people who had eaten any fast food in the last 24 hours had higher phthalate levels than people who had not eaten any fast food during that same period, and the larger your fast food intake, the higher your phthalate levels tended to be.
The results are troubling because phthalates are industrial chemicals used to soften plastic and vinyl and make it more flexible, and the Post reports that they have been associated with a number of adverse health effects. Male infertility is one of them, and another is diabetes. Why do people who consume fast food have higher phthalate levels? Researchers don’t know for sure, but they suspect it is because the processed nature of fast food means that the food tends to touch a lot more machines, conveyor belts, plastic wrapping, other packaging materials, and other potential sources of phthalates before it gets onto your plate — I mean, your cheap cardboard box, paper bag or foam container.
But here’s the most troubling part of the Post story from my standpoint: the research revealed, and other government studies confirm, that one-third of the participants eat some form of fast food every day. That includes one-third of kids and adolescents.
A diet that includes fast food every day. Just the thought of it makes my mouth feel dry and briny from anticipation of the salt intake. It’s no wonder that we’ve got some serious health and obesity problems in the U.S. of A. We’ve got to start taking better care of ourselves, and it starts with eating better food.