I grew up eating a lot of fast food. My Mom didn’t enjoy cooking and so grabbing a quick meal from McDonald’s, KFC, Maryland Fried Chicken (remember that one?), Dog n Suds, A&W, Pizza Hut, Wendy’s or Taco Bell was a regular occurrence for me and my siblings. On average, I probably ate it at least 3 times every single week growing up.
If I ate so much junky processed food growing up and still managed to end up a relatively healthy adult, why on earth don’t I buy my kids standard issue fast food even once in awhile? Am I a crazy, over the top, helicopter Mom because my kids have never eaten a McDonald’s meal?
You might be asking yourself a similar question. If you ate a lot of fast food growing up and you’re still here, why shouldn’t you let your kids eat it too? Isn’t the fact that you’re still standing proof that this stuff isn’t that bad?
The answer is that the fast food of today is not the same fast food we ate during our childhoods. Not even close.
The packaging may be the same, the buildings (and the smells) are the same, the scary Ronald McDonald clown is still the same, but the food is not.
It’s waaaaay worse. So much worse that it really no longer qualifies as food.
You see, the fast food we ate way back when was actually food. It was just prepared fast and served up quickly.
The fast food of today is still prepared fast and served up quick but it is no longer food.
Here are the major changes I’ve identified:
- French Fries: Most people don’t realize that McDonald’s used nutritious beef tallow to fry its french fries until the sea change in the restaurant industry some 30 years ago in favor of cheaper, partially hydrogenated (trans)fats. People caught on to the transfat scam in the late 1990s forcing fast food restaurants to slowly change over to fats that were not partially hydrogenated. But are these “transfat free” oils any healthier? No they are not. In fact, they may be worse. Fast food french fries today are typically fried in genetically modified soy oil that has been processed via interesterification. Kids of today are eating frankenfries with their Happy Meals, not the nutrient loaded beef tallow fries of my fast food eating youth.
- Soda: I drank quite a bit of soda growing up but the soda I drank did not contain the belly fat and inflammation triggering high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) of today. Sodas from my childhood were made with white sugar, not great but at least it was real. Today’s soda is not only made with HFCS, it is genetically modified HFCS from GMO corn! If you are a parent trying to avoid this highly processed, inflammatory food for your children by buying “old fashioned” sodas instead, know that if the label says “sugar” it is made at least partially from genetically modified beets. You must get old fashioned sodas (like this one) made with cane sugar and specified as such on the label to be sure you are getting a GMO free product.
- Chicken, Beef, and Eggs: The chickens and cattle of today are fattened with genetically modified corn and soy feed. GMOs didn’t exist when I was a kid and the meat I ate was never from animals consuming it. What are the long term effects of humans eating meat from GMO fed animals? We really don’t know. What we do know is that the isoflavones (plant estrogens, aka phytoestrogens) from the GMO feed get into the eggs and tissues of soy fed animals. What do these residual plant hormones do to people who consume them? Good question, but given that a soy fed chicken develops weeks earlier than a non-soy fed chicken and tends to be much fatter, consumption of these isoflavone laced foods may potentially contribute to childhood obesity problems and early or abnormal sexual development in children. Today, as many as 10 in 100 white girls, 15 in 100 Hispanic girls, and 25 in 100 African American girls are experiencing breast development as early as 7 years old! In boys, estrogen mimickers can increase the chances for ADHD, urogenital abnormalities, prostate problems, and lower semen quality as adults. As you can see, the chicken, beef and eggs from fast food restaurants today is of far worse quality than what I ate as a kid and didn’t have the potential to screw up my hormones for life.
- Milk/Dairy: The cheese, milk, ice cream and other dairy products served in fast food restaurants today come from confinement cows eating genetically modified corn and soy and treated with the recombinant growth hormone rBGH – a genetically engineered hormone injected into lactating cows so that they produce more milk. It was approved by the FDA in 1993. According to the American Cancer Society, “milk from rBGH-treated cows has higher levels of IGF-1, a hormone that normally helps some types of cells to grow. Several studies have found that IGF-1 levels at the high end of the normal range may influence the development of certain tumors. Some early studies found a relationship between blood levels of IGF-1 and the development of prostate, breast, colorectal, and other cancers, but later studies have failed to confirm these reports or have found weaker relationships. While there may be a link between IGF-1 blood levels and cancer, the exact nature of this link remains unclear.” Ummm, today’s children consuming conventional dairy at fast food restaurants that contains estrogenic residues from GMO soy feed and IGF-1 hormone that some research has indicated increases cancer risk? Not the same fast food I ate by a long shot.
As you can see, the fast food and processed foods of today are far worse than what many of us adults consumed as children. The downhill slide has occurred slowly, so slowly in fact, that it has escaped the notice of the general public. According to GMO Inside, only 26% of Americans even know that that GMOs are in every single bite of their fast food.
If you would like your children to be excluded from this vast experiment being conducted by the industrial food system with millions of unwitting participants, I would suggest finding restaurants in your area that serve fast food made the way it was when we were kids. We have a place like this where I live that I am happy to take my children to where we can enjoy a burger and fries the way I ate it as a kid. More and more places like this are popping up all over the country. Find them and support them so they stay in business.
It is not necessary to raise your child in a bubble. What is necessary is to teach your child that not all fast food is the same and how to wisely discern the good from the bad.
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist