Eating fast food is no longer a fashion. It is now a necessity. It is the most attractive solution in the fast-paced life as its inexpensive, tastes good and is made and served fast.
But then fast-food is also known to contribute to the obesity epidemic. What is the way out then?
Interestingly, experts note that Asian food habits are healthy as they lay emphasis on sufficient intake of vegetables and "small servings of stir-fried meats." But Americanization has spoilt the very purpose of these more balanced fast foods and has only infused them with more of fat and calories.
So bad is the scene over there in the US that some states are suggesting a moratorium on fast food joints, while more and more fast joints are being opened up every day across the country. "We think fast food is equivalent to pornography, nutritionally speaking." Says
Besides there are other problems, like dressing up even the salads! Vinod Kumar, chef and nutritionist, Grand Appetit, Chennai, opines, "Fast food does not literally translate to obesity. Fast foods can and will provide healthier and more nutritious food if there are stricter quality control checks and better food inspectors. To provide tasty food, some joints even dress up salads with cheese, mayonnaise and olive oil. Even in fruit juices they add essence and cream to make it thicker and tastier."
Excessive calories are another issue with fast food. A regular but not overly filling meal at McDonald's of a Big Mac, large fries, and a large Coca-Cola drink amounts to 1430 calories
. And a diet of approximately 2000 calories is considered a healthy amount of calories for an entire day. One should remember that "The journey of a thousand pounds begins with a single burger."( Chris O'Brien)"Believe it or not, American eat 75 acres of pizza a day."
ConveyedBoyd Matson, TV journalist in a programme.
Like fast food, preprocessed products can be equally held responsible for obesity.
In preprocessed food there is the extra quantity of preservatives. "Pre-processed food is everywhere. The rows of supermarkets are filled with instant microwave popcorn, instant curd rice, ready-to-eat microwave meals, puliyodharai mix, potato mashes, ketchups, sauces, frozen cooked meat, pre-packaged sandwiches, doughnuts, sautéed vegetables, etc. And sometimes it becomes so easy and so tempting to buy lemon rice mix or coconut rice mix, instead of cooking from scratch. At the end of the long work day, it's so easy to opt for this, though being a doctor I know its ill-effects," says Dr Vidhya Shreeram, a general physician of Chennai.
Doctors are more concerned about youngsters, who seem to have a natural attraction to fast-food-life and accept it without any fuss that the regular meal often becomes a rarity. Daily dose of fast food with its low fiber content, low quality carbohydrates and its overdose of fat plays havoc with the health of a youngster. It is no wonder that obesity is the new childhood epidemic in countries like USA.
"Most kids aspire to be cool, hep and thin. For them cool is being spotted in an overcrowded, highly-priced fast food joint with a coke in one hand and a hamburger or hotdog in the other. What they don't realize is that coke is just a sugared drink and that too a highly-refined sugar drink; quite different from unrefined healthier options like jaggery or pana vellam
. A hamburger contains processed meat with preservatives and highly-refined Maida; the anti-thesis of a healthy meal," says Dr Shalini, a psychologist, Shifa Hospital, also of Chennai.
The consumption pattern must also be noted; patients have a tendency to consume abundantly when they are under stress or pressure.
Our brain determines the satisfactory-levels of our eating and the more stressed you are, the more you may be directed to fill yourself.
"Fast food consumption has been shown to increase calorie intake, promote weight gain, elevate risk for diabetes and even cause colon cancer. And with the increase in weight, you have higher blood pressure, more strain on your heart. Obesity is a serious issue," says Dr Shalini.
On the plus side, in a few Indian restaurants, the serving size, grams and calorie count of the food is given on the menu card. This trend should be encouraged so that customers know what they are eating. Some fast food owners have switched to cooking oils that do not contain trans-fats and have included servings of fruits and vegetables in their menu to provide "healthier" fast foods.
But fast food alone need be the sole focus when combating obesity, experts say and point out that a lot of other factors leading to urban obesity, lack of "activity" for instance also tops the list.
Office-goers prefer commuting by cars or bikes to offices and in office they prefer using escalators and lifts. Many white-collar jobs are sedentary in nature as it requires no greater effort than sitting in front of the computer the whole day. At home they become the proverbial couch potato watching television for the rest of the day.
"When I was a college student, I was a bit plump at 92 kgs. After I joined a software company, I have gained more than 30 kgs and am now 126 kgs. I don't know how I'm going to lose all this weight. Even riding a bike has become problem for me, as I prefer traveling by car, despite petrol cost overheads," says Niscthala Krishna, aged 23.
More than anything else, experts say, physical inactivity leads to "non-performing weight-gain" and therefore to obesity.
A simple cure could be 30 minutes of exercise a day.
There is a gross mismatch between calorie-consumption and calorie-burning. As one grows older, the amount of muscle in the body gets atrophied curtailing metabolism.
Alcohol, certain drugs for slight mental disorders, steroids and migraine medications may all contribute to obesity.
Covert Bailey, in his bestseller book, "The New Fit or Fat," prescribes thus: "The ultimate cure for obesity is exercise".
So the golden rules for consuming fast foods could be:
- Do not habituate yourself
- Inspect what you are eating
- Do not stack yourself
- Avoid being tempted by the ads and their claims
- Check your weight, often
- Exercise daily