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What’s Really in Your Fast Food?

What’s Really in Your Fast Food?

You might want to think twice before heading back to your favorite chain

Pig hearts, tongues, and stomachs all go into the famed McRib.

One of the reasons for fast food’s enduring popularity is the fact that no matter where you are, you know exactly what you’ll be getting. A McDonald’s cheeseburger tastes pretty much exactly the same in Sheboygan as it does in Milan, and for that reason tourists the world over often decide against sampling local specialties in favor of returning to the familiar and comfortable. But hiding inside your favorite fast-food dishes are some additives and ingredients that are neither familiar nor comfortable. We tracked down a bunch of them, so buckle up, because this is going to get interesting.

What’s Really in Your Fast Food? (Slideshow)

The problem with fast food is the fact that it needs to be produced as cheaply as possible, as quickly as possible, with as much consistency as possible. It also needs to taste delicious, and keep you coming back for more. In order to succeed on all these fronts, in many cases that means that these chains can’t rely entirely on fresh, wholesome ingredients. While chains hype the freshness of their lettuce and tomatoes in expensive ad campaigns, that’s pretty much all they can hype: just about everything else you’re consuming is about as processed and chemical-laden as it gets.

Don’t get us wrong — we’re sure that fast-food chains out there are doing their best to present a healthy face to the world, but the fact of the matter is that chemical use is unavoidable. For example, you’d be hard-pressed to find a fry-o-lator that doesn’t contain dimethylpolysiloxane — one of the main ingredients in Silly Putty — because it’s the best way to keep the oil from foaming. And if you think that one burger comes from one cow, well, isn’t that quaint: A 1998 study found that one 4-ounce patty could contain meat from more than 1,000 cows (and don’t forget about "pink slime," a fast-food burger mainstay that contains intestines, connective tissue, and other nasty stuff).

It should be fairly common sense by this point, but there’s really no getting around the fact that no matter what you eat at a fast-food restaurant, it’ll be not entirely natural, and certainly not entirely healthy. Click here to learn about some of the evils lurking inside your fast-food meal.


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Our favorite fast foods could come back to bite us, according to a report released Wednesday — and it’s not just the extra calories.

The new report grades the 25 largest US fast food chains on where they stand on antibiotics.

The results are a mixed bag: For the third year in a row, the only two As were awarded to Chipotle Mexican Grill and Panera Bread. More companies passed this year than ever before.

But 11 of the top 25 chains received an F, having taken “no (discernible) action to reduce use of antibiotics in their supply chains.”

Nine companies didn’t respond to the survey at all, just like last year.

“These drugs have historically been given to animals that are not sick, to accelerate weight gain and prevent disease in crowded and unsanitary industrial farming conditions,” wrote the authors, who come from six public interest groups including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Consumers Union and the Center for Food Safety.

While regulations and consumer pressure have encouraged some chains to cut back on the use of antibiotics, some experts worry it’s not enough to stave off development of “superbugs” that can’t be killed by some of our current medicines. These bugs may get into our meat and produce.

“If we don’t rein in this pattern of antibiotic resistance in bacteria, what we will see is half a century of medical progress reversed,” said Lena Brook, a food policy advocate with the Natural Resources Defense Council. She has served as a lead expert on the report for each of the past three years.

Despite nearly half of restaurants receiving a failing grade, this is an improvement over the 16 that failed last year, the authors said.

“It’s a rapid shift that we’ve seen in just a few short years, and that leaves me really hopeful,” Brook said.

Who passed, and who didn’t?

A total of 14 fast food and “fast casual” chains earned passing grades, a boost over nine last year. There were only five the year before that, in 2015.

“It is important to note, however, that while remarkable progress has been made to reduce or even eliminate use of medically important antibiotics, this progress has largely occurred in chicken production,” the authors said.

This is how Chipotle and Panera have stood above the rest: by making sure that pork and beef — in addition to poultry — are raised without antibiotics.

“While we are pleased to see others in our industry follow our lead in this important area, this report shows that there is still more work to be done across the industry,” Chris Arnold, a Chipotle spokesman, said in an email.

The credit for most improved goes to KFC, which jumped from an F last year to a B- after committing to phase “medically important” antibiotics out of its chicken supply by the end of 2018. Antibiotics are considered “medically important” for their use in humans, per the World Health Organization.

Subway earned a B+ for working to curtail antibiotics in poultry and meat. However, its plan to do the same with pork and beef was far off in the future in comparison, keeping it from an A.

Earnings Bs and Cs were Wendy’s, Taco Bell and Chick-fil-A. All have made moves to reduce antibiotics in their chicken.

McDonald’s also earned a C+, just like last year. The company updated its “Vision for Antibiotic Stewardship” policy in August, saying it planned to pare down unnecessary antibiotic use in all meats. However, the company failed to give a timeline for pork and beef, the new report said.

“We remain committed to making meaningful reductions in the use of antibiotics in beef and pork and will share our progress on beef in 2018,” Marion Gross, senior vice president for McDonald’s North America supply chain, said in a statement.

Pizza Hut “made a token effort,” the report authors said, receiving a D+ for creating policies that affected only a small portion of its chicken. Starbucks earned the same grade for pledging to address antibiotic use in poultry, but not pork or beef.

Earning a D were four chains: Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts, Jack in the Box and Papa John’s. These restaurants committed to limiting antibiotic use in some or all of their chicken. However, the companies’ plans were unclear or, in the case of Papa John’s, unverified by an outside auditor.

So what?

“Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest health threats facing us today,” says CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. “We’ve taken too many drugs, and as a result, they don’t work the way they used to.”

When animals get antibiotics, often in their food or drinking water, the drugs may kill a number of bacteria. But a handful might harbor a gene that makes them resistant to drugs. Those bacteria may survive, multiply and spread.

These bugs “can move off of farms,” Brook said, “and find their way into communities.” They can even share their genes with weaker bacteria.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization have repeatedly warned about the not-far-off public health threat of antibiotic resistance. The CDC estimates that at least 2 million Americans contract antibiotic-resistant infections every year and that 23,000 die as a result.

And these infections are often longer, more costly and more serious, according to the CDC.

The WHO cautioned in a 2014 report: “A post-antibiotic era — in which common infections and minor injuries can kill — far from being an apocalyptic fantasy, is instead a very real possibility for the 21st century.”

Taking steps

While some experts criticize the routine use of antibiotics, others defend the practice, saying that antibiotics play an important role in maintaining animal health and may prevent an entire herd of sick animals that require these drugs down the line.

Despite the improvements detailed in the new report, Brook said it’s unclear why there are so many “holdouts” with failing grades, many of whom did not answer the groups’ questions.

“These companies tend to have long-range contracts. Perhaps they’re buying from recalcitrant producers,” Brook suggested.

With so much variation among the top chains, she said it “points to the real need for federal policy to step in.”

The US Food and Drug Administration has taken steps to limit the use of some antibiotics in food animals.

By January, animal drug manufacturers no longer allowed medically important antibiotics to be prescribed solely for growth purposes, according to the FDA. But this left open the possibility that these drugs could be used to routinely prevent disease, even if no animals were sick, so long as a veterinarian had written a prescription.

This drew criticism that the FDA’s efforts didn’t go far enough.

“This represents a giant loophole in FDA guidelines, which effectively do little to stop the misuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture,” the authors of the new report said.

“While the FDA believes the prevention use of antimicrobials in animal agriculture can play an important role in effectively managing animal disease, it is critical that such use be judicious,” the agency said in a statement.

The FDA recommends that these drugs only be given if “there are no reasonable alternatives” to prevent disease. It doesn’t endorse giving these medications to “apparently healthy animals in the absence of any information that such animals were at risk of a specific disease,” the agency added.

“Because (the FDA’s) initiative was not fully implemented until January 2017, it is too early to speculate on how this effort may impact antimicrobial use in the animal agriculture setting,” the agency said of its plan, which launched in December 2013.

Before the FDA’s announcement, around 70% of “medically important” antibiotics were used in farm animals, not humans, according to data by the FDA and QuintilesIMS.

The vast majority of these drugs used in animals are tetracyclines, a class of antibiotics that also includes treatments for chlamydia, Lyme disease and other harmful microbes in humans.

“These are drugs that are really, in plain words, important to the functioning of human medicine as we know it,” said Brook.

“What I’m mostly hoping for is that this (report) … will inspire companies to make similar commitments really quickly.”


Natural Beef Flavor

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McDonald's World Famous Fries are made with natural beef flavor that "contains hydrolyzed wheat and hydrolyzed milk as starting ingredients," according to the restaurant's website.

Back in 2002, CBS News reported that McDonald's Corporation settled a group of lawsuits for labeling their fries and hash browns as vegetarian although they were enhanced with beef from the vegetable oil.

The FDA outlines that any food labeled with the term "natural flavoring" means "the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring" should come from a variety of food products. So what exactly is in the beef flavor if beef is not indicated on the ingredient list? Read more about 23 Worst Food Additives in America.


Five Guys' Cheeseburger

The food at Five Guys is so good that you don't even need to get fancy with your order. In fact, to get the true Five Guys experience, start off by ordering their cheeseburger. It's exactly what you expect: two beef patties that have been grilled, two slices of American cheese, and two soft buns that have been gently toasted. There's really no need for all those extra toppings here, but they're free, so order up if you just can't stand the thought of a toppling-less burger.

It might not sound compelling, but your taste buds will agree that your first bite is life-changer. Your idea of what a fast food burger can be will forever be changed.


6. Copycat Arby’s Curly Fries

To go along with the delicious ham and cheddar melt or as a side to any meal, you have to try these copycat Arby’s curly fries. This recipe recreates the perfect combination of seasonings and crunchy fried potatoes that will taste just like Arby’s favorite.

Your secret weapon in this recipe is a spiralizer. The simple, yet genius idea of using a spiralizer will create perfectly cut curly fries. Then, before deep frying, you’ll create a delicious batter for the fries. The whole family will defintiely be begging for these again and again.


True Beauty Winner: Barbara Burke

Here's how to make your evaluation and treatment smoother

Few things are as scary as having to go to the emergency room. Perhaps, walking down the aisle (kidding!)? In truth, the E.R. is there to either save your life or to help you feel better. The important thing is that you utilize emergency services when you need to, and not allow fear of having a bad experience dissuade you from going. Interesting fact: according to the most updated CDC website, in 2016, the mean wait time to see a medical provider was 24 minutes in less busy emergency rooms and 48 minutes in the busier ones. Expectedly, people with more concerning symptoms such as chest pain are seen quicker than those with the complaint of a stubbed toe (I really did think I had broken it).

For those of you who are off to the emergency room, here are some (hopefully) helpful tips for making your evaluation and treatment smoother. Of course, depending on your symptoms and on whether you are being brought to the emergency room by an ambulance, you may not have the time or capacity to follow these tips (it's difficult to pack an overnight bag when you are unconscious).

Bring Another Set of Eyes and Ears

Whether it be a friend, family member or a work colleague. Having someone there to help advocate for you (asking the charge nurse why you haven't been seen in six hours) and to also listen to what the nurses and doctors tell you is extremely helpful. Additionally, s/he can act as a liaison and keep your other friends and family members informed of how you are doing.

Be Prepared

This step can be done months earlier in anticipation. You should keep an updated list of your current medications along with dosages (including vitamins and herbal supplements) as well as a record of your medication allergies. A great place to store this information is under notes if you use a smartphone. Otherwise, the old-fashioned method of keeping these details on a piece of paper tucked away in your wallet will also suffice. Other particulars you should keep handy are your insurance information, your doctor's name and phone number, a brief summary of your medical history, such as previous diagnoses such as asthma or kidney problems, and a list of your prior surgeries. For those of you with a history of heart disease or who are presenting to the emergency room with chest pain, shortness of breath or dizziness, having a copy of your most recent electrocardiogram (EKG), which is an image of your heart's electrical activity and can signify signs of heart disease, can be extremely helpful. In fact, you should consider keeping a copy of your most recent EKG under pictures if you use a smartphone, or in your wallet, if you are a technophobe.

Try to Be as Nice and Understanding as You Can Be

Clearly, you are likely very nervous and not yourself, as being in pain and not feeling well can bring out the worst in us. However, it is important to remember that the professionals in the emergency room are likely working their hardest and have the best of intentions, and you are likely not their only patient. Try to envision how you would respond if you had to deal with your worst self (frankly, I would probably call security and have myself thrown out).


True Beauty Winner: Barbara Burke

Here's how to make your evaluation and treatment smoother

Few things are as scary as having to go to the emergency room. Perhaps, walking down the aisle (kidding!)? In truth, the E.R. is there to either save your life or to help you feel better. The important thing is that you utilize emergency services when you need to, and not allow fear of having a bad experience dissuade you from going. Interesting fact: according to the most updated CDC website, in 2016, the mean wait time to see a medical provider was 24 minutes in less busy emergency rooms and 48 minutes in the busier ones. Expectedly, people with more concerning symptoms such as chest pain are seen quicker than those with the complaint of a stubbed toe (I really did think I had broken it).

For those of you who are off to the emergency room, here are some (hopefully) helpful tips for making your evaluation and treatment smoother. Of course, depending on your symptoms and on whether you are being brought to the emergency room by an ambulance, you may not have the time or capacity to follow these tips (it's difficult to pack an overnight bag when you are unconscious).

Bring Another Set of Eyes and Ears

Whether it be a friend, family member or a work colleague. Having someone there to help advocate for you (asking the charge nurse why you haven't been seen in six hours) and to also listen to what the nurses and doctors tell you is extremely helpful. Additionally, s/he can act as a liaison and keep your other friends and family members informed of how you are doing.

Be Prepared

This step can be done months earlier in anticipation. You should keep an updated list of your current medications along with dosages (including vitamins and herbal supplements) as well as a record of your medication allergies. A great place to store this information is under notes if you use a smartphone. Otherwise, the old-fashioned method of keeping these details on a piece of paper tucked away in your wallet will also suffice. Other particulars you should keep handy are your insurance information, your doctor's name and phone number, a brief summary of your medical history, such as previous diagnoses such as asthma or kidney problems, and a list of your prior surgeries. For those of you with a history of heart disease or who are presenting to the emergency room with chest pain, shortness of breath or dizziness, having a copy of your most recent electrocardiogram (EKG), which is an image of your heart's electrical activity and can signify signs of heart disease, can be extremely helpful. In fact, you should consider keeping a copy of your most recent EKG under pictures if you use a smartphone, or in your wallet, if you are a technophobe.

Try to Be as Nice and Understanding as You Can Be

Clearly, you are likely very nervous and not yourself, as being in pain and not feeling well can bring out the worst in us. However, it is important to remember that the professionals in the emergency room are likely working their hardest and have the best of intentions, and you are likely not their only patient. Try to envision how you would respond if you had to deal with your worst self (frankly, I would probably call security and have myself thrown out).


What’s Really in Your Fast Food? - Recipes

If there’s one thing I know from being a functional medicine expert for over a decade, it’s that people are really confused about what to eat and when . From paleo and vegan to keto and lectin-free, there are so many different philosophies, experts, and diets out there to choose from — and each claim to be the only effective way to get healthy for life!

Obviously, they can’t all be right. And the truth is, there’s no one diet that’s right for everyone. Finding the best eating plan for you requires you to tune into your body and your intuition about food it requires you to identify the foods your gut loves and hates and it requires you to eat when you’re hungry and even more challenging, not eat when you aren’t .

Unfortunately, thanks to the many underlying health issues that plague our modern society — from blood sugar imbalances to gut dysbiosis to anxiety and chronic stress — it can be difficult to access our intuition about food.

Many of us deal with internal chaos every single hour of every single day. And when your body is out of balance, it can be very difficult to discern what your body really does need. This can lead to overeating, stress eating, and eating out of sheer habit instead of intention.

For all these reasons and more, I wrote my new book, Intuitive Fasting , which helps you finally access your intuition about food and correct underlying health imbalances that get in the way. At the core of the book is a four-week intuitive fasting plan that will help you learn to listen to the still, small voice of your intuition that tells you exactly what to eat and even more importantly, when. Each week focuses on a new aspect of fasting, to really reset your body, your intuition, and your health.

Many people are intimidated by intermittent fasting, so here’s a sneak peak into what a day in the life of the 4-Week Intuitive Fasting Plan looks like:


Food and Nutrition: What's Really in Your Fast Food

The humble potato, fried in a vat of simmering oil, and finished with a sprinkling of salt. What could be simpler? Apparently, quite a lot. Fast-food fries often have more than 15 ingredients, including sugar and artificial coloring. They also have preservatives like sodium acid pyrophosphate and tert-butylhydroquinone, which in high doses has been linked to vision problems.

Hamburgers

Ground beef, right? Sure -- but there also may be growth hormones and antibiotics, which can end up in your system. And in one study, some burgers had over 100 calories more per serving than the fast-food places said they did.

It's the same soda you buy at the grocery store. But when you get it at a fast-food chain, you get more calories because the drink sizes are so large. And we're not talking "supersize." A large soda at a typical fast-food place is about 32 ounces and has about 270 calories. Studies show that if you order it, you'll drink it.

Breakfast Sandwich

Some of the ingredients listed for what one national outlet calls a "fried egg" include modified corn starch, soybean oil, medium chain triglycerides, propylene glycol, artificial flavor, citric acid, xanthan gum, and -- oh yeah -- egg whites and yolks (listed separately). If you didn't bargain for all of that, ask for the propylene glycol (also used in fog machines and to make polyester) on the side.

Hot Dog

What's in them? Let's just say they make full use of the animals that supply the meat. They're also loaded with salt and saturated fat (which most Americans get too much of) and with nitrates, a preservative linked to diabetes and cancer.

Chicken Nuggets

A piece of chicken breast battered and fried to golden perfection? Not exactly. There's meat in there, but there are also bones, blood vessels, nerves, connective tissue, and skin. And they have loads of salt and fat, which are linked to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Strawberry Milkshake

Besides milk and sugar, one leading fast-food outlet also adds high-fructose corn syrup, preservatives like sodium benzoate, and artificial flavors and colors to this drinkable dessert. One thing that appears to be missing: actual strawberries.

Sauces

The first ingredient listed for almost any sauce served at a fast-food restaurant is sugar. It may be called sucrose, dextrose, maltose, rice syrup, barley malt, high-fructose corn syrup, or any number of other things, but the end result is the same: quick delivery of lots of calories with almost zero nutritional value.

Food and Nutrition: What's Really in Your Fast Food

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  • American Journal of Medicine: "The Autopsy of Chicken Nuggets Reads 'Chicken Little.'"
  • Consumers Union: "Which fast food chains serve meat on drugs?"
  • National Institutes of Health: "Toxicology of tert-butylhydroquinone (TBHQ)," "tert-Butylhydroquinone (tBHQ) protects hepatocytes against lipotoxicity via inducing autophagy independently of Nrf2 activation," "Cytotoxicity and DNA damage properties of tert-butylhydroquinone (TBHQ) food additive," "Risk Assessment of Growth Hormones and Antimicrobial Residues in Meat," "A review of potential metabolic etiologies of the observed association between red meat consumption and development of type 2 diabetes mellitus," "Total N-nitroso compounds and their precursors in hot dogs and in the gastrointestinal tract and feces of rats and mice: possible etiologic agents for colon cancer," "Small, medium, large or supersize? The development and evaluation of interventions targeted at portion size," "What is the role of portion control in weight management?"
  • Sugar Science: "Hidden in Plain Sight."

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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the eMedicineHealth Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.