The safety of fast food from the health point of view
is evaluated on two different fronts, i.e. from the angle of hygiene
standards and, secondly, by evaluating its nutritional status. The fast
food available from the well-known international franchise
organizations, as well as the good quality local restaurants, is quite
safe as far as the hygiene conditions are concerned; however, the
nutritive value of such foods is debatable. The grilled food served on
street corners is also safe, if consumed while hot, but the doubts about
the cleanliness of the utensils used and the extent of environmental
pollution in areas where the food is prepared cannot be dismissed.
Moreover, the grade of raw materials such as meats, vegetables, fats,
spices, flour, etc. is often of low quality. For instance, if the same
fat is used repeatedly for frying, it becomes unfit for human
consumption for several reasons. Firstly, the oil consisting of
unsaturated fatty acids gets converted at high temperatures into
transfatty acids (TFAs).
The TFAs may cause a hardening of the arteries,
leading to a variety of heart diseases. Repeated frying in the same oil
also results in chemical changes, such as polymerization, which produces
a variety of toxic substances. Food should not be sold or served in
highly unhygienic surroundings, where there are garbage heaps, stinking
open gutters or stagnant water, because the air here is full of
pathogens and flies carrying various bacteria are in constant contact
with the food. So the fast food service should be carefully chosen.
During the last few decades, fast food has faced a
lot of controversy as a result of the increasing incidence of
cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, hypertension, cancer, obesity,
overweight etc. among regular consumers of fast food. The
epidemiological data has confirmed that the constant intake of
imbalanced fast food is a major risk factor. This does not mean that
fast food should not be eaten at all; it is only a note of caution that
it should be modified and the frequency of consumption of fatty food
should be reduced. Let us briefly evaluate the nutritional plus and
minus points of the common fast foods so that we can modify the meals
ourselves and perhaps pass on good suggestions to fast food suppliers as
Frenck fries, if consumed in large quantities at
every meal, are harmful even for growing children. We often forget that
diseases such as heart attack, diabetes, cancer etc., which mostly
appear at a later stage of life, are often the result of an imbalanced
diet. French fries supply fat and potato starch; the latter raises the
blood sugar level rapidly as compared to a cereal product, i.e. bun,
stick, biscuit, cracker, bread etc. The fat used for frying is not only
in excess but is also rich in saturated fatty acids (SFAs) that
adversely affect the serum lipid profile. SFAs raise LDL (low density
lipoproteins) and cholesterol dramatically.
Fast foods generally contain fair amounts of cheese.
Dairy fats contain SFAs and it is advisable to consume these only in
limited amounts, although their protein and calcium are badly required
by the body. Nutritionists have therefore suggested consuming low-fat
cheese yogurt and milk products. Fast foods are usually rich in meat
products as well. and it is recommended that red meat should only be
taken once or twice a week because it contains SFAs, and the RDA
(recommended daily allowances) of protein (meat is rich in proteins) is
only 10- 12% of the total energy required by the human body and even
that amount of protein should contain a majority of plant proteins.
For the last few years, it has been emphasized that
the above-mentioned chronic diseases are the result of low consumption
of the dietary fibers that are abundantly present in fruits and
vegetables — which are usually deficient in fast food items. Fruits
and vegetables are a concentrated source of vitamins and minerals.
HOW CAN FAST FOOD BE MODIFIED TO MAKE IT SAFE?
A salad bowl as a starter or an appetizer before the
fast food and a fruit yogurt (low fat) or fresh fruit as a substitute
for a sweet dish, with a glass of fruit/vegetable juice instead of a
soft drink, can make a major difference in balancing the daily
requirement of nutrients. Some soft drinks are a rich source of
caffeine. One cup of coffee or tea produces 137 mg or 46 mg of caffeine
respectively, while one glass of a carbonated drink produces 36 mg of
caffeine which apart from other drawbacks also lowers the body's ability
to absorb calcium and is a contributory factor in heart diseases.
Although it imparts alertness to athletes it should not be consumed in
excess. Pizzas, burgers and sandwiches are complete foods, as they
provide fats, carbohydrates and proteins, the three energy providing
macro-nutrients or three-in-one, as they are known, however, the intake
proportion should be balanced by the suppliers and the consumers both by
decreasing the fats and by adding vegetables and fruits either in the
product itself or in the meal. However, such changes in food habits and
fast food supplies are only possible if the food processors/consumers
are well aware of the basic concepts of a balanced diet. A good
knowledge of nutrition is the first step towards leading a healthy life.
Knowledge about good nutrition should be imparted at
an early age. It was with this in mind that United Registrar of Systems
(URS) and a leading biscuit manufacturer English Biscuit Manufacturers,
makers of the popular Peek Freans brand of biscuits, have joined hands
in a noble initiative to create awareness among leading schools and
canteen contractors about food standards and the importance of serving
wholesome and safe food to children; the project is known as "Safe
Food at School". A pilot project is shortly to be launched at a
leading school in Karachi.