Someone asked “Just how toxic is fast food?” and along those lines, eating out at restaurants and eateries in general. And I realized most people know it’s not great but probably have no idea just how bad it is. It’s important to think beyond just ingredients and consider the entire journey those ingredients take. Basically, by the time it is served it tastes good but is often barely still food, and has been bombarded with toxic elements at every step of the way. I haven’t seen any other lists like this one.
Most of these steps are the same for eating in restaurants too as well as places that have buffet or grab and go type of foods, such as grocery stores and gas stations. And even if you try to choose the “healthier” places or healthier items, it’s nearly impossible to avoid all of the steps along the journey to your mouth.
How important is this in the scheme of things, like in comparison to other actions and exposures in life, how much of a priority is it to avoid eating toxic things ? It is of PARAMOUNT importance. You literally are what you eat! The only thing that usually is a bigger source of toxic exposure to people is the air they breathe; simply because you breathe every single second, so it is a constant source of exposure. See my post about air purifiers.
Fast food is full of chemically made ingredients, and so processed that it does literally nothing for your body. It’s almost all so cancerous and inflammatory. Keep in mind that early stages of inflammation and toxin overload include fatigue, weight gain, depression, anxiety, brain fog etc., that are all too common. Here is an article detailing the consequences on health. And if you think it’s just your waistline, think again. “ New Study Shows Fast Food Shrinks Our Brains And Affects Our Mental Capabilities.”
I am continually surprised by how often I see people assuming that things are fine “in moderation” but first of all, research has proven that people don’t even know what moderation actually looks like (they don’t actually limit things). 1 in 3 eat fast food every day.
Also, cancer and toxic overload has been described like an bucket. Everyone’s bucket is different sized, and is invisible, so you never know when your bucket is going to get full and tip (you get cancer or sick or die). Some things are just plain horrible for you in any amount. So it’s best not to make these things a habit, and avoid as much as possible.
The health effects can be immediate. This article has this great quote: “What if every time you enter a fast food restaurant, you exit a little unhealthier and a little less attractive?”
The Main Toxic Steps the Ingredients Take When Eating Out
1. First, nearly all the ingredients are not organic, meaning the plants were grown with chemical Pesticides/ fertilizers/Fungicides/ etc. There is high glyphosate content in the GMO soy, wheat and corn. Glyphosate is the same pesticide as round up – also clearly linked to cancer and chronic illness. The animal products were grown in crowded, inhumane CAFO conditions and fed the above GMO plants as well as additional things including hormones and antibiotics. More places are claiming to serve antibiotic-free meat, but that is only one of so many toxic things given to animals. chiptole got sued for saying they were non-gmo when in fact they aren’t. And most places use a lot of antibiotics.
2. Then the ingredients are processed and mixed with artificial flavors and dyes, MSG, tons of preservatives, and other additives.
3. Here is a step most people don’t know or think of: The ingredients are packed into toxic containers before being transported to the eatery. These include large aluminum cans (which leach BPA from the lining, and even if they claim no BPA, the substitutes may be even worse) for things like beans and legumes, large plastic bags for things like raw eggs (without shells) and pre-made soups. Often the foods like soups are re-heated in the plastic bags, which leaches plastic components into the food. Plastic wrap is used on pretty much everything else and again, the food is often re-heated in the packaging.
4. Cookware and serving pans and spoons, often aluminum or non-stick Teflon or plastic or scratched stainless steel, can leach heavy metals and toxins into the food as well. See my cookware post. Keep in mind that rice usually has high levels of arsenic and is usually cooked in non-stick or aluminum cookware. Bread is also baked in non stick pans. The phrase “pick your poison” or “ choose the lesser of evils” is appropriate though, because sometimes I choose rice when need something other than just veggies, given the alternatives (meat has concentrated toxins of all kinds). I don’t eat rice at home and eat out extremely rarely though.
5. Cooking oils are incredibly dangerous, often rancid, and linked to cancer and chronic inflammation. You’d be hard pressed to find any eatery that does not use poly unsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) including canola, vegetable oils, sunflower/safflower oil – these are directly linked to obesity and cancer. Even if they were to say they use olive oil, most olive oil is inauthentic and actually vegetable oil. Butter has the same toxic qualities as meat, plus phthalates. Your cells are literally made of the type of fat you eat, and some have hypothesized that one contributor to stubborn weight gain is that some types of hydrogenated/trans fats aren’t fully digestible, so they get stored as fat… forever.
5. One last step often adds some of the worst chemicals into the serving packaging, much of which is coated in PFAs (I have posted many articles in an album on my Facebook page): A forever chemical that is used a lot in water repelling and stain proofing. Think of the waxy papers used, or those pressed paperboard bowls that salad places use. Those have been treated with waterproofing and have been found to contain PFAS, which leaches into food. PFAS can harm the immune system and reduce a person’s resistance to infectious diseases.
Styrofoam is also very toxic and has been shown to leach into food. It’s also particularly horrific for the environment. Those plastic clamshell containers aren’t great either. Plastic utensils are usually what is used with take out / fast food, and same goes for leaching when those get heated.
6. Don’t forget to consider all these steps for things like condiments, toppings and salad dressings too.
7. Through it all, food workers aren’t always using the best sanitation or food safety procedures (most people have a food poisoning story from fast food). Illness or parasites can be transferred through food. Here’s more things they don’t want you to know, in this article.
Considering all this, it is pretty much impossible to avoid ALL these sources of toxicity. In short, food is fuel, fast food is not!
Better Options/ What I do Instead
Let’s face it, I know you’re going to eat out regardless, so don’t beat yourself up too much. When you eat out, it’s for the convenience and experience, so enjoy those things. But also recognize that it’s best to minimize the toxic load. One great way to reduce your overall toxic inputs is controlling all the factors when you are at home, the best you can. This includes things like ingredients and cookware (see my cookware post linked above).
1. At the very least, you can minimize the occurrence of eating out, and when you do, make “better” choices, by avoiding fried food, not putting anything hot into take-out containers, or heating those containers. There’s been plenty of scientific research showing that plastic, especially when heated, leaches into the food. Affiliate link to cute Yoda Pyrex I use: https://amzn.to/3fZLEgl
2. I personally avoid fast food at all costs (yes, it can be done!). To reduce buying things on the road, I plan ahead and eat at home before I leave, and pack snacks and food (in a cooler with ice packs if needed).
3. If I need something else on a road trip I’ll stop at a grocery store (either a naturally minded one like Whole Foods, or a large chain; they have more options than small stores.) Some health food stores have a cafe attached. Things I would buy from these stores include non-perishables: Bananas, nuts, and sometimes organic packaged snacks can be found. Perishables (would need to be eaten right away or put in a cooler if you’re not getting home soon): Baby carrots, Non-dairy unsweetened yogurt (Harmless Harvest or Foyager), and some foods from the hot bar or fresh-cooked grab and go such as roasted sweet potatoes.
Note that the hot bar and prepared sweet potatoes still aren’t ideal because they aren’t organic and use vegetable oil to cook with, but better than fast food! Also not ideal are the containers for the hot bar; they are either plastic or cardboard with a waterproof lining that likely contains PFAS chemicals.
Another option at places like Whole Foods is buying from the frozen section and using their microwave, if you’re ok with that. One time one of my family members bought an Amy’s Organic frozen burrito, unwrapped the plastic, put it on top of a few napkins, and microwaved it.
I doubt there’s anything I would buy at a gas station, other than sometimes you can find ones that sell bananas and nuts/ seeds (but these are usually salted and roasted in unhealthy oils).
4. If I had to get fast food, some of the salad places, such as Sweetgreen, often have some organic ingredients (but keep in mind all the steps, such as organic beans cooked in a toxic slow cooker and packed in a can with BPA).
5. If we have time for a restaurant, sometimes I use “vegan” as a search term to find one, because vegan eateries are more likely to have healthier, gluten free and/or organic options. Or, I look for a place that would have veggies, such as places that serve “Southwestern” food (although I avoid chips, tortillas and cheese), or Thai / Asian food places (but the sauces are often sugary and I avoid noodles and rice). Another option is looking for a place with a salad bar, such as Ruby Tuesday. I don’t eat non-organic lettuce or greens, but usually there are other veggies, hard boiled eggs, etc.
6. When we get to our destination, I usually stay at air BNBs rather than hotels so I can have a full kitchen to cook food instead of eating out. If their cookware is too toxic, I buy a clear Pyrex baking dish and roast things in the oven with it (and leave it behind if we can’t bring it home easily).
7. A last-resort option that is controversial that you you may want to look into (Dave Asprey is one expert who talks about it), is taking activated charcoal with your meal if you’re eating something very concerning. It is said to adsorb (different than absorb) toxicants, but also can adsorb nutrients from the food, and pull beneficial bacteria out of your gut. There are so many factors at play that will vary between people and meals, so we can’t really be sure what the effects will be if you take it. I hesitated to mention this because I don’t want to feed into the belief that you can easily wipe the slate clean or easily negate the bad effects. Also, like all supplements, activated charcoal can itself contain heavy metals, so ask for a COA.
If you’d like to watch documentaries or videos on the subject, there are many to choose from. I haven’t watched any of these because I have no time for movies, and am not a big YouTube user. Documentaries list here.
On YouTube, FlavCity’s channel goes to fast food places (including the beloved Chick-fil-A) and will breakdown the ingredients in the popular food items and what you should avoid. Like I said I haven’t watched it but I assume he hasn’t even delved into all the “steps” I outlined above.
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