You’d think New Yorkers would know this already, and many probably do. But this warning bears repeating: Among the greatest correctable risks to American health is a diet of unhealthy processed food. It leads invariably to obesity, which is becoming a national epidemic. Obesity can encourage — not merely increase the risk but encourage — heart disease, diabetes, and a host of other chronic health issues.

One fast-food chain made the news recently by telling its employees: “While convenient and economical for a busy lifestyle, fast foods are typically high in calories, fat, saturated fat, sugar, and salt and may put people at risk for becoming overweight.” Yet millions of Americans eat a fast food meal every day.

The Bad News Burger

Red meat in moderation isn’t necessarily bad for your body. But a fast food meal of a burger, fries, and a soft drink typically has lots of fat and almost no fiber. This one meal contributes nearly all of your recommended daily allowance (RDA) for fat and sodium without supplying any of the vital nutrients and complex carbohydrates your body craves.

As found in starchy vegetables and whole-grain bread, complex carbohydrates help lower your cholesterol, improve your digestion, and reduce the risk of heart disease and some types of cancer. A healthy diet includes a balance of complex carbohydrates, protein, fruits and vegetables, and a serving of dairy. Fast food provides none of these.

Salt in the Wound

As if fast food wasn’t bad enough for you already, it’s also high in sodium, contributing to high blood pressure and strokes. In addition, fast food, like many processed foods, often contains trans fat. Eating trans fats raises your bad cholesterol (the low-density lipoproteins or LDLs), increasing your heart disease risk.

Fast food is tempting. It’s quick, inexpensive, and perfect on the go. Many fast-food chains offer a “super-size” option, where you can get more for your money. But this option adds more of the same unnecessary calories.

Make Better Choices

Ideally, it would help if you strived to eat a balanced meal every time, but that’s not often realistic. Fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains feed your body. These foods can give you energy when you need it, too. If you must eat a fast food meal once in a while, make better choices. Instead of the usual, try one of the salad options if available– watch for the sauces, though! Sauces can be a real trap of excess unnecessary calories and fats. Instead of a soft drink or coffee, choose water. You’ll feel better, have more energy throughout the day, and improve your health.

Obesity is a significant health problem in the U.S., and the epidemic affects children as much as adults. To decrease the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic cardiovascular illnesses, switch to a healthier diet. Eat more fruits and vegetables, more whole-grain bread, and enjoy those complex carbohydrates. Don’t forget to exercise. You’ll live longer and feel better.

Visit our Manhattan Gastroenterology center or contact our NYC Gastroenterologist to learn more about how your diet affects your digestive system.

Updated on Oct 16, 2022 by Dr. Shawn Khodadadian (Gastroenterologist) of Manhattan Gastroenterology