5 Hazardous Toxins In Your Favourite Fast Foods
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5 Hazardous Toxins In Your Favourite Fast Foods

Nutrition
Lakshmi Devan
3 min read

5 Hazardous Toxins In Your Favourite Fast Foods

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Time to make an introduction. Meet the sneaky chemicals in your food that are making you sick.

So what is your favourite juicy burger composed of? Oh, that’s easy – buns, cheese, chicken patty, lettuce, and mayonnaise, right? Yes, except that you forgot to mention a few ingredients there. An average burger, from an average food joint, comprises over 67 ingredients – no kidding! Fast food is not as simple as it looks. Most of our favourite guilty pleasures today are processed foods, i.e., foods that have been modified from their natural state, for safety or convenience.

These processed foods tend to have multiple additives/substitutes in order to:


  1. Make them cheaper to produce
  2. Keep them flavourful and fresher for longer
The production is plainly profit-centric, and both manufacturers and suppliers don’t care if the quality and nutritional value of the foods are compromised. Now imagine this – across an entire fast-food menu, there are thousands of ingredients, ranging from the ubiquitous MSG to the exotic xanthan gum, which is used as a thickener in sauces and dressings. The flavour enhancer, monosodium glutamate, has been all over the news for its supposed side effects, including headaches, flushing, sweating, numbness, heart palpitations, chest pain, nausea, and weakness. Following a media uproar, restaurants and packaged food manufacturers have been strictly discouraged from using MSG over a critical limit. But that’s only 1 ingredient from the LONG list of chemical toxins that you still continue to poison your body with, every time you decide to have a burger, fried chicken, pizza, or even fries from that beloved joint.


Time to make an introduction. Meet the sneaky chemicals in your food that are making you sick:


  1. Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) – BHA is a chemical added to fried foods, baked goods, dehydrated potatoes, sausages, and other meat products, in order to prevent them from going rancid. The National Toxicology Program observed animal studies that suggested a strong link between the chemical and cancerous tumours. Similar studies on humans suggested that it raises the risk of stomach cancer in the subjects.
  2. Sodium benzoate and potassium benzoate – These preservatives are sometimes added to aerated drinks, to stave off the growth of mould. The bad news here is that benzene is a well-known carcinogen that is also known to cause serious thyroid damage. An accumulation of benzene can occur when plastic bottles of these drinks are exposed to heat, or upon contact with ascorbic acid (vitamin C).
  3. Sodium nitrates and sodium nitrites – Among the several purposes these chemicals serve, one of the crucial ones is to impart a reddish-pink colour to processed meats. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) listed them on its ‘Dirty Dozen’ list of dangerous food additives, and in the past, they have also been linked to cancer of the stomach and the colon. In case you’re wondering what to avoid, they’re found in processed meats like bacon, ham, sausages etc.
  4. Trans fat – When regular fats like soybean or palm oil are blasted with hydrogen and turned into a solid state, trans fats are born. The main job of trans fats is to help packaged foods stay ‘fresh’, or in other words, unspoilt, for years, on a supermarket shelf. Your doctor would tell you that it increases your LDL (bad cholesterol) and decreases your HDL (good cholesterol), thereby increasing your risk for blood clots, heart attacks, strokes, and type 2 diabetes.
  5. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) – This additive is literally in everything! From soda, candy, sweet yoghurt, salad dressing, frozen foods, breads, and canned fruits to granola bars, energy bars, and sports drinks. The fructose in HFCS is believed to go right to the liver and trigger lipogenesis, the cause of liver damage in 70 million people every year, globally. More often than not, HFCS comes with contaminants like mercury, that in the long term, may cause damage of the nervous, digestive, and immune systems, lungs, and kidneys, and may even be fatal.


As per the ‘Fast Food Market in India 2015-2020’ report, the fast food market in India is expected to be worth US $27.57 billion by 2020, growing at a rate of 18 per cent.

You don’t have to completely forego your dearest foods, but you may also not want to let brands make a profit at the cost of your health. What I’m trying to say is that nothing beats a home-cooked meal, but if you must eat outside (and you know what, once in a while – why not?), just make sure you pick your order wisely.

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