We’ve all consumed these kinds of food; a plate of french fries here, a burger there, pizza, hotdogs, name it. We have munched on fast food, also known as junk food, because it’s cheap, easy to attain, convenient if we don’t want to cook, but above all, tasty. Even as we lick our fingers, we’re all too aware of the negative effects of eating such food on a regular basis, the commonest being weight gain. However, the effect is much more than just your inability to fit in your favourite pair of jeans.
Weakening immune system
Fast food contains saturated fat which, when oxygenated, liberate free radicals that are harmful to the body system because they cause disruption of living cells. According to Isaac Bikorimana, a nutritionist at Kibagabaga Hospital in Kigali, the body regulates the activity and harmfulness of free radicals by use of antibodies, which are obtained from vitamin E, and Vitamin C. These nutrients are found in fruits and vegetables. However, Bikorimana says that because of its sweet, rich and appealing taste, junk food usually suppresses the craving for, and therefore, the consumption of natural sweets such as fruits and vegetables, consequently reducing the amount of antibodies, thereby maiming the body’s ability to fight off diseases. Saturated fat can be obtained from meat and dairy products.
In a Nutritional Journal, Dr Ian Myles, a doctor at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in America, also linked weak immune systems to poor diet. He said, “Poor dietary choices get “encoded” into both DNA scaffolding and into the gut microbiome, meaning that food and lifestyle choices can permanently change the balance of bacteria in our bodies and can weaken the immune system. It also means those changes can be passed onto offspring.” So to speak, a person’s eating habits could affect the health of their future children.
Fast food is rich in sodium, concentrated and saturated fat, and refined carbohydrates and fats. Studies have shown that these contents have effects such as clogging the blood system, thinning the blood walls and causing insulin resistance. This is highly linked to diseases such as type two diabetes, high blood pressure, heart problems, and hypertension. While these diseases are more likely to affect middle-aged or older people, young people are not immune to the effects of unhealthy eating habits. They are likely to suffer from obesity, allergies, skin rashes, eczema and precipitation or aggravation of asthma. Fast foods also affect bones. Eating fast food that is high in sugar creates bacteria that resides in the mouth, forms acid and deteriorates the teeth.
Disruption of body functions
While discussing the dangers of consuming fast food, the focus has been on the long-term effects. But consuming fast food has some immediate negative effects as well. According to Dr Rachna Pandey, a specialist in internal medicine at Ruhengeri Hospital, one tends to feel drowsy after consuming fast food as the only meal. The chemicals present in the brain and responsible for its normal activity depend on nutrients of the food for good functioning. Deprived of the nutrients, one can feel depressed or angry without reason after consuming fast food. Bikorimana agrees with this input, stating, “The brain needs unsaturated fats to effectively carry out cognitive functions. However, fast food is usually rich with saturated fats. When these fats reach the brain, they slow it down, thus slowing down in the ability to concentrate, learn or even remember things.”
Other effects include shortness of breath, poor muscle strength, heartburn, constipation and nausea. Fast food may also disrupt sleep patterns due to the dyspepsia and heartburn following consumption of fast food. Caffeine containing substances can make one have difficulty in falling sleep.
It’s possible to get addicted
When the negative effects set in, some people strive to get back to a healthy diet. However, this isn’t always possible. Fast food is usually sensationally tasty. The tastiness is what causes us to have cravings. Scientifically, cravings are underpinned by the activation of the reward system, which is the brain’s way of encouraging us to do things that sustain us-things such as eating. However, eating junk food causes excessive release of dopamine in the reward system. Dopamine is a chemical in the body that is associated with cravings, attention, motivation and addiction.
Dr Nora Volkow, the Director of National Institute on Drug Abuse in the US, says the pleasure sensation that the brain gets when dopamine levels are elevated creates the motivation for us to proactively perform activities that are indispensible to our survival. Eating junk food regularly causes the brain to associate it with the reward system and this could result into addiction. More junk food, more harm to your body, more health risks. Therefore, the next time you are about to gobble a plate of fries for the fourth time in a week, just remember the wise words of Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, an 18th century French politician: “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are.”