And if they see me with a big mac “: Why fast food is not as harmful as we think 

FAST FOOD IS CALLED TO END HUNGER when there is no time for measured meals – such an industrial achievement was inevitably bound to arise with the acceleration of the pace of life in big cities. Now associations with the word “fast food” are often negative – primarily because of the notorious harm to health and cheapness. Yet not all fast food is bad, and not all slow food is good. Finding out why fast food doesn’t have to be avoided, and why people shouldn’t be embarrassed when meeting people they know in fast food chains.

What is considered fast food

While the first thing most people think of is McDonalds burgers or a bag of chips, fast food has been around much earlier. In ancient Rome, for example, people could have a snack on the run in a tavern. The invention of the sandwich is credited to the Earl of Sandwich, who lived in the 18th century, but it’s hard to believe that people would never have thought to put something between two pieces of bread and eat without getting their hands dirty. It is believed that until the end of the 18th century, people ate outside the home only when necessary, that is, for the sake of communication, no one sat in restaurants, and by and large all food in establishments was fast.

Of course, fast food turned into a huge industry in America at the beginning of the 20th century: White Castle opened in Kansas in 1921, and the first McDonalds appeared in the 1940s. The cleanliness inside and the open kitchen, allowing customers to see the cooking process, immediately increased the confidence in hamburgers – before that in the States, they were considered low-quality food, prepared almost from meat production waste. And then it went and went: the kitchens became such that employees spend as little time as possible on moving, a format appeared with many cash registers, and then windows through which you can buy food without leaving the car. Now there are McDonalds restaurants in 101 countries , and their number exceeds 36 thousand; Subway is even more popular – almost 44 thousand establishments in 112 countries for 2018.

In any case, fast food is not only the products of giant corporations. Fast food in the narrow sense includes any type of burgers and pizza, regardless of the place and time of preparation. In broad terms, everything that can be eaten on the go, without wasting time on serving and without using appliances, and then ice cream in a waffle cone, homemade pies or sandwiches are included in the list. However, it is customary to refer to modern fast food as industrial products that are stored for a long time, that is, a burger from all the same fast food chains falls into this category, and a fresh minced burger, grilled at home or in a good restaurant, no longer exists. So the key criteria for fast food are reduced eating and cooking times, no cutlery or simplified cutlery and eating off the table.

Harmful or not

Current dietary guidelines – from WHO to a new Canadian guide – focus on avoiding industrially processed foods. They can be off scale in the amount of sugar, salt, fat (including trans fats, if they are not prohibited in a particular country) and at the same time lack fiber, vitamins and protein. If you eat only such foods, even without going beyond the optimal amount of calories, a deficiency of some substances and an excess of others may occur. The same Canadian recommendations state that it is important to cook on your own more often, eat slowly and enjoy sharing a meal with loved ones. With this approach, the concept of fast food is more in conflict not even with the composition of homemade or any other “slow” food, but with the recommended unhurried format of eating.

The creators of restaurants are aware of the peculiarities of human psychology: the volume of food eaten and the speed of food intake are influenced , for example, by lighting and sound. While soft lights and pleasant music make people eat more slowly and enjoy the atmosphere itself, noise and bright lights in fast food chains make people eat faster and more. People eat faster when it takes less effort, that is, when they can eat with their hands, rather than with a knife and fork. The environment encourages overeating – during the experiment, people alone ate 33 % less than in the company of another person. In the company of two, three, four, five, six or seven or more people, everyone ate 47 %, 58 %, 69 %, 70 %, 72 % and 96 % more. Interestingly, when, in another experiment, people ate in a fast food restaurant, but in a separate room with pleasant music and soft lights, they spent the same amount of money, but ate more slowly and more often did not finish.

Nevertheless, it is still not worth demonizing fast food – absolutely harmful and certainly healthy food does not exist. What’s really important is balance and variety in the diet – something that a person eats on a regular basis. An occasional snack in a fast food network will not harm your health, but it will bring joy, and in an extreme situation, even a can of cola and a pack of chips can save you from hunger. That said, bottled drinks like cola and forfeits, although high in sugar, can sometimes be safer than tap water.

If you look at the composition of the most popular dishes, there is nothing special in it: a regular cheeseburger contains 300 calories, 15 grams of protein, 33 grams of carbohydrates and 12 grams of fat. The sodium and saturated fat content is 28 % of the RDA. The Big Mac contains 540 calories, 50 % of the daily value of fat, 39 % of salt. With pizza, it all depends on its origin: pre-cooked (for example, frozen) may contain a lot of salt and fat, and instead of olive oil – palm oil . At the same time, Neapolitan pizza, which has been protected in the EU with a special quality guarantee mark for ten years , remains a perfectly balanced combination of products. The margarita can only contain tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, olive oil, salt and basil, and the marinerite allows the use of oregano and garlic.

Guilt and shame

One of the pros suggests treating fast food establishments as an opportunity to get to know a new country better. Kirill K. says that when traveling abroad, he always eats a Big Mac, and in any of the US states he eats an apple pie from McDonalds. Sergey K. says that when he lives in Thailand, he almost constantly eats fast food, which does not prevent him from keeping fit and running a half marathon in less than two hours. Traditional local snacks are often easier and cheaper to sample at street stalls, from wok noodle boxes in Asia to ceviche in Central America. Fast food chains, by the way, also adapt to local traditions – in the same McDonalds in Colombia, you can ask arepas for breakfast for breakfast.

As the results of a large study in the United States show , the higher the income, the more people eat fast food. In a British work on a similar topic, although low income and walking distance to fast food establishments were correlated with overweight and obesity, the factors themselves were independent of each other. In a study of 605 people, the most common reasons for visiting fast food outlets were: fast (92 %), nearby restaurant (80 %), great food (69 %). People with a high level of education more often chose fast food because of the lack of time to cook, and the unemployed – because it is an opportunity to have fun and spend time with loved ones; about half of the participants confirmed that for them fast food is something of a reward.

At the same time, in New Zealand, 50 % of 1,017 respondents reported that they seize emotions with fast food, after which they feel guilty. Fast food consumers generally admit that they would not like to run into someone they know at a fast food cafe, and the reasons range from “embarrassing, because everyone will think that I eat like that all the time and from this fat” to “embarrassed that I , young, beautiful and athletic, I buy myself such nasty things. ” Irina Kh. Says that she is ashamed of her love for fast food so much that she pays in cash, and not with a family card, so that her husband does not find out about it. Nina L. notes that she is afraid to meet friends from the gym in a cafe, because “the gym is about healthy lifestyle, and fast food is the opposite.”

To write this article, we interviewed about sixty people; Interestingly, in many of the comments, the shame associated with visiting fast food chains, or the strict ban on fast food for your own children, goes hand in hand with worries about your figure and words like “I can’t lose weight in any way.” Those who are in more peaceful relations with their bodies speak out more calmly: “sometimes I eat, I am not ashamed, I do not condemn others.” Someone just doesn’t like the aesthetics of fast food: the cafe is noisy, strong smells, people eat with their hands; In transport, chips inevitably create more trash than, for example, a banana or an apple.

Psychiatrist and psychotherapist Ekaterina Sigitova notes that the division of food into “good” and “bad”, as well as the feeling of guilt over eating the “wrong” food is not uncommon. Shame arises for various reasons: firstly, many believe that fast food is unhealthy, but even buying it, they still internally forbid themselves to live “wrong”. An important role is also played by a pernicious traditional attitude like the one that a “real woman” cooks herself. Secondly, sweet and fatty foods bring pleasure, which in itself can trigger negative “returns” in the psyche. We respond well to doses of carbohydrates and dense, nutritious meals — an evolutionary mechanism to help us choose and stay in “good” eating areas. However, to accept such a simple thing as endorphins from french fries, people are ashamed, including for social reasons.

Many women, in principle, are not able to enjoy food and their bodies: the cult of thinness and gender standards teach that you need to eat only low-calorie food all the time and lose weight in order to get closer to the “norm”. According to Sigitova, it is important to remember: if what a person ate determines his psychological state, then this situation itself is a sign of a cycle in which there is background discomfort. Food relieves this discomfort, but, in turn, triggers negative feelings, so that the vicious circle is closed. In some cases, this cycle can be interrupted by simply stopping the division of food into “forbidden” and “allowed”.

Slower but not better

Several studies have shown that a home-cooked diet is generally healthier, with fewer calories in home-cooked meals, and families, especially those with multiple children, tend to stick to the plan better. But, of course, constant cooking at home is not a guarantee of a balanced diet. Homemade meals can also contain excess fat, sugar, and salt, while fruits and vegetables may be in short supply. New Year in Russia or Christmas in the USA and European countries is a triumph of homemade food, and at the same time a period of massive overeating and problems with the gastrointestinal tract. Homemade compote can contain as much sugar as a canned drink – so it’s best not to overuse either one on a regular basis.

On the contrary, fast food doesn’t mean heavily processed food for a long time. Even for a snack on the run or breakfast on the way to work, there is now a large selection, especially in big cities: from ready-made oatmeal in Moscow cafes to the opportunity to buy a boiled egg at a street kiosk in New York. Fast food itself, like any other, is not evil. Everyone is free to make decisions about their diet independently, and in order not to harm themselves, awareness will not interfere; it is worth reading labels, trying to follow the recommendations on the composition of the ” healthy plate ” and strive for variety. According to numerous studies , a balanced diet makes us happier (dietary adjustments are even being used to treat depression), and this does not depend on weight loss or weight changes in general. And it is also worth remembering that everyone lives their own circumstances, and condemning someone for visiting a fast food cafe is the last thing.

local_offerevent_note May 5, 2021

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