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Is convenience a good reason to damage your health for life?

Motion picture director Morgan Spurlock made history in 2004 with the documentary Super Size Me about the legal, financial, and health costs of the North American fascination with fast food. He took his filming equipment to 20 cities and interviewed dozens of experts who gave him scientific data, along with their thoughts and opinions about the growing problem of obesity.

During his month-long tour, Spurlock ate only at McDonald’s restaurants, and he followed three simple rules: (1) He could eat only what was offered to the general public; (2) he had to increase the size of a serving if it was offered; and (3) throughout the month, he had to try everything on the menu.

The result?

His health, which had been excellent, deteriorated rapidly. He experienced chest pains and had difficulty breathing. He began to suffer from depression, insomnia, and chills. His liver began to protest, and after 20 days his doctor begged him to quit the experiment. However, he kept on, and at the end of the month, he weighed 25 pounds more than when he began!

With such negative consequences, why do so many people choose to eat fast food?

For many, the primary motive is convenience. “I have to get back to work,” says John. “All I have time for is a double hamburger with cheese, fries, and a soda.”

In just a few minutes John has eaten enough to feel satisfied.

Something quick and fast?

Unfortunately, John is not aware of the huge number of calories he’s taken into his body in such a short time. Below is the nutritive value of his meal. With his quick and fast menu, John committed several dietetic transgressions, all of which tend toward obesity:

  • He took in 1,590 calories—an amount approaching the 2,000 that are recommended for a person living a sedentary life.
  • He took in 71 grams of fat, which in this one meal exceeded the recommended 65 grams for the day.
  • He took in 41 percent of his calories from fat, when the recommendation is that the calories from fat should not exceed 30 percent of the total.
  • The 79 grams of sugar he got from his soda and other sources in the meal greatly exceeded the maximum 50 grams of sugar that is recommended for the day.
  • He took in 1,610 milligrams of sodium (salt)—a relatively high amount in view of the recommendation that sodium intake should not exceed 2,400 milligrams per day.

Does fast food lead to obesity?

It’s estimated that in 1978, 14 percent of adults in the United States were obese. By 2000 that figure had more than doubled to 31 percent. Even more troubling is the fact that 37 percent of American children and adolescents are either overweight or obese. Yet 1,000 new fast-food restaurants open each year in the United States!

Let’s examine the problem more closely.

High caloric content. Fast food has about 50 percent more calories than a Mediterranean diet and 150 percent more calories than the traditional African diet. At the same time, fast food tends to be low in weight and volume. Thus the stomach tends to feel less satisfied with fast food than it would with a larger weight and volume of food, and it delays sending out the signal that it’s had enough. As a result, by the time a person feels satisfied, he’s eaten too many calories.

Studies have shown that the energy density of food (the proportion of calories in relation to weight) is an important factor in regulating the amount people eat. Food with a high energy density causes people to eat more calories than they need without being aware of it. Yet the higher the caloric intake, the higher the risk of obesity, especially when combined with a sedentary lifestyle.

High fat content. Fast food generally has a higher fat content than home-cooked food. The high fat content makes this food more tasty, but it’s also much more fattening. Furthermore, because of its nonvegetarian source (especially meat and cheese), fast food tends to have a higher proportion of saturated fats. Saturated fats serve as an energy reserve in the body for times of hunger and scarcity of food. But if those times never come, the reserve of saturated fat grows, causing obesity.

High sugar content. Many nutrition experts insist that, to avoid obesity, we must reduce the amount of sugar we eat each day, especially white and refined sugars. In a healthful diet, the proportion of calories coming from sugar should not exceed 10 percent of the total calories for the day, which would be 50 grams of sugar. Yet the typical soft drink, which is often part of a fast-food meal, can exceed that amount.

Sucrose, or table sugar, is a simple carbohydrate that in the small intestine quickly changes to glucose and fructose. In the nonvegetarian diet, which is typical of fast food, these sugars pass rapidly from the small intestine into the blood stream, causing a rapid rise in glucose (some fructose also changes to glucose). This increased level of glucose causes the pancreas to  release more insulin, which contributes to the storage of fat, especially in the absence of physical exercise.

The more sugar we eat and the less exercise we get, the more weight we gain.

In addition to promoting obesity, fast food increases the intake of the four great enemies of the heart and arteries:

  1. Saturated fat
  2. Excess salt
  3. Refined sugar
  4. Meat

The risk of heart disease is in direct proportion to the amount of fast food that one eats. One can say, in other words, “Fast food, fast disease.”

How to eat well without gaining weight

The following suggestions will help you to eat well without putting on those pounds:

What to eat

  • Eat at least five servings of fresh fruit a day. Fresh fruit does not lead to obesity, as some people erroneously believe. To the contrary, in addition to having a very low energy density (few calories in a lot of weight), it provides vitamins and fiber that inhibit obesity.
  • Eat a plate of fresh vegetable salad each day.
  • Reduce or eliminate the typical fast food: hamburgers, hot dogs and other sausages, snacks, sauces, pastries, and sweets.
  • Drink enough water each day so that your urine is clear, colorless, and odorless. It’s been shown that a high intake of water and a low intake of salt is a simple way to avoid gaining weight.

Where to eat

  • As much as possible, practice the traditional custom of the enitre family sitting down for a meal together.
  • Do not eat in the bus, the car, as you walk, or as you talk on the telephone. These activities will distract your mind, causing you to eat more without feeling satisfied.

How to eat

  • Eat slowly, savoring and chewing each mouthful well. This will improve your digestion and help you to eat less than if you ate rapidly.

When to eat

  • Eat at regular times, and avoid snacking between meals.
  • Set aside enough time for your meals, especially breakfast, which should be your most important meal of the day.


Solomon, the wise man, gave good advice when he said, “Put a knife to your throat.”1 This means exercising self-control over our appetite when it tells us to eat a lot in a short time. Self-control is one of the fruits of the Spirit mentioned by Paul2 that is ours by simply asking our heavenly Father for it. With His help it will be easier to control the what, the where, the how, and the when to eat, making it easier to avoid putting on excess weight.

1Proverbs 23:2. 2Galatians 5:23.

Jorge Pamplona is a medical doctor and writes from Madrid, Spain.

Fast Food, Fast Disease

by Jorge Pamplona
From the June 2005 Signs