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Fast Food, Is It Only Harmful?

Posted November. 14, 2004 23:16,   


Is Fast Food really harmful to our health?

The movie “Supersize Me,” which is currently playing in theaters in Korea, is about film director Morgan Spurlock, 34, who ate at MacDonald’s for thirty days straight. Spurlock gained 11 kg and experienced higher blood pressure and higher cholesterol after the 30 days. Environmental Activist Yoon Gwang-yong, 31, attempted a similar project, but had to stop after 24 days because of his worsened liver condition.

Have they done a fair job in proving the harmfulness of the fast food?

These projects are merely claims meant to look like scientific experiments.

Spurlock recorded his physical changes with three doctors and at a health clinic. Yoon took blood tests and body composition tests every week.

These projects, however, are not scientific experiments that can truthfully judge the harmfulness of fast food. They both lack a control group that has same conditions as theirs, except with a different food intake as the variable.

To prove the harmfulness of fast food, a multiple of participants with similar physical conditions are needed. The participants should live in the same type of environment and partake in the same activities. In the experiment, some of the participants will be given the fast food containing the same calories as the non-fast foods are given to the rest of the group. The true conclusions can be drawn only when statistics of 100 participants is provided.

The problem with fast food is the calories and the fat

The total calories in a Big Mac meal, according to MacDonald’s in Korea, is a whopping 1,075. This number takes up 43 percent of the total 2,500 calories of an adult per day as recommended by the Korean Nutritional Society.

This fast food meal also contains 50g of fat. This totals the entire daily fat intake per day as recommended by nutritionists. With the 9.45 calories for each gram of fat, a Big Mac, containing 470 calories, has 43 percent of its calories from fat.

A Hot Crispy Chicken Combo (two pieces of chicken, a salad, a biscuit, and a Coke), according to KFC Korea, has 985 calories with 49g of fat. This also is a high-fat food with the fat taking 47 percent of the total calories. Lotteria’s Bulgogi Burger Meal also has 40 percent of its total 738 calories coming from fat.

Foods that contain a lot of fat bring feelings of satiation slowly, therefore causing a person to overeat. Fats taken in do not get used immediately but is stored in the liver, subcutaneous tissues, intestines, and muscles. That is why people can easily become obese when they eat too much of fast food.

The most recent issue about eating fast food regards Trans Fat. Trans Fat is produced by adding hydrogen to the vegetable oil for preservation purposes. Shortenings, frequently used in frying food, contain a high amount of Trans Fat.

Trans Fat increases the level of cholesterol by hardening cell membranes in blood vessels. With too much intake, it causes heart’s blood-related diseases. The Food and Drug Administration of the U.S. requires every food product to have Trans Fat recorded on the label, starting in 2006. Currently, national fast food companies do not even hold analysis records of Trans Fat contained in their foods.

It’s not the kind of the food. It’s the quantity.

However, distinguishing good food from bad food depends on different situations. For people who are undernourished, hamburgers can be nutritional. It is important to control the total intake amount of food, rather than just picking good foods.

A usual Korean meal contains about 700 calories. Eating hamburgers every day makes it difficult to control calories. Eating a small-sized hamburger once a week, without French fries and with milk or water instead of soda, will not be a big problem.

However, the habit of eating greasy food is very difficult to change later on. That is why it is important for children not to get into a habit of eating fast food.

(Sources: Professors Yoo Tae-woo and Cho Bi-ryong at Seoul National University Family Medicine Department, Professor Kim Ttol-mi of Severance Hospital Internal Medicine, Lee Sun-hee, department head of Samsung Seoul Hospital’s Health and Medicine Center’s Nutrition Counseling)

TK Sohn sohn@donga.com