You’re hungry. You don’t feel like cooking. Maybe you need to finish your meal quickly because you’ve got a tight schedule to keep. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults consume an average of 11.3% of their total daily calories with fast food. As a lifestyle becomes more hectic, fast food becomes a growing part of the diet.
In the United States, the top 10 quick service restaurant chains had 94,485 locations combined in 2011, according to information published by the Huffington Post. Virtually every community with more than 1,500 people has at least one fast food locations they can access. Gaarrison, MN even has a McDonalds and their total population in the 2010 census was just 210 people.
The advantage of fast food is that it provides people with affordable access to the number of calories they need for proper health. With meals priced at $2 or less in some locations, even low-income households can access food so they do not need to deal with hunger.
The disadvantage of fast food is the quality of calories that are being consumed. Many fast food products are high in fat content, high in sodium, and low in overall nutrition. Some fast food products contain more fat in one item than the average individual should consume in a day. Some have a salt content that is higher than what an individual should consume over an entire week.
Here are some more fast food pros and cons to consider.
What Are the Pros of Fast Food?
1. Healthy options are available.
Modern fast food isn’t just about burgers and fries. There are some healthy fast food meals that can be found in the various chains throughout the world. At Chick-fil-A, the grilled chicken wraps can be as low as 340 calories. Some salads that are offered by Wendy’s are under 400 calories. Some of the “fresco” items at Taco Bell are under 350 calories. Even if you want a burger, Shake Shack offers a single hamburger for 360 calories and just 460mg of sodium.
2. You can save time.
Most meals that are served at a fast food location are delivered in just minutes. These quick-service restaurants require little waiting to place an order as well. That means you can get in, grab a meal for the entire family, and get out in 30 minutes or less at many locations. Compared to a sit-down restaurant or the time it takes to prepare something at home, the time savings could be more than an hour.
3. The price is attractive if you limit your menu options.
According to AOL Finance, the average cost of a fast food meal is between $5-$7. If you stick to value menu options, you could purchase a sandwich and a drink for $2-$3. A Crispy Potato soft taco, paired with a water, could put the cost for a meal at $1.50 or less at some Taco Bell locations.
4. It offers consistency.
If you walk into a McDonalds in California, you expect a certain experience. The same is true if you walk into a McDonalds in Maine. No matter where you happen to be, you know that the food quality being received must meet certain standards. That can be an advantage if you are trying to find a place to eat in a place that’s unfamiliar to you.
5. Many fast food establishments are locally owned and operated.
Most fast food locations are franchises, which means they are owned and operated by someone locally. This gives local entrepreneurs an opportunity to establish a business that can provide good-paying local jobs while meeting hunger needs. Even if the jobs are paying wages at or near the minimum wage, the chance to gain service skills and work in a team environment can help individuals find better jobs in the future.
6. US consumers can make informed decisions about their eating choices.
Since the passing of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2010, popularly known as “Obamacare,” fast food locations have been required to post the actual calorie count of each menu item. This allows consumers to know exactly how many calories they are consuming for every product. There are exceptions, such as restaurants that have fewer than 20 locations, but when someone knows exactly what they are eating, they are less likely to overeat.
What Are the Cons of Fast Food?
1. The cost of fast food can be deceiving.
Although value meals seem like they provide a cost benefit, they really do not compare to the cost of a home-cooked meal. At the low-end of the average price estimate, a home-cooked meal will save the average household $2 per serving compared to a fast food meal. For a family of 4, just eating at home once per week more often than they previously do could result in an average savings of $416. For larger families, the average savings is even higher. That shows the savings of a fast food meal can sometimes be deceptive.
2. Food qualities tend to be lower at fast food locations.
Fast food goes through a bulk production process. This tends to lower the overall quality of the food that is being produced. Many quick service restaurants use frozen foods that can be quickly heated or cooked to provide faster speeds. Long-term storage is often required to keep prices low, which limits fresh meats and organic vegetables.
3. It requires discipline to order healthy items at a fast food restaurant.
The average menu item at a fast food restaurant is going to be a burger and fries, with a sweetened carbonated beverage on the side. Although healthy options do exist, they are not regularly promoted to the same extent a burger is promoted. You may need to ask the cashier or manager if a salad is possible or menu items could be modified to meet your health needs.
4. The healthy options at a fast food restaurant aren’t always that healthy.
ABC News compared salads that are served at McDonald’s with the burgers that are on their menu. If you ate a chicken salad with creamy Caesar dressing and croutons, you’d be consuming 390 calories and over 1,300mg of sodium with 26 grams of fat. A double hamburger at McDonald’s contains 65 more calories, but 3 fewer grams of fat.
5. Fast food is addictive.
The combination of fast foods being highly palatable and packaged in an attractive way can encourage dependence and addiction in some individuals. The American Psychiatric Association notes that most fast food meals are consumed with a soda, which contains a high sugar content and could contain caffeine, which further increases the chances of an addiction forming. Even high salt and high fat foods have the potential for addiction and obesity can have its own psychological dependence as well. It is a negative cycle that encourages consumption and leads to a higher risk of health issues.
6. Ingredients are not always published in an easily accessible way.
If you want to know what it is you’re eating, fast food restaurants are required to publish ingredient lists for each menu item. You can find this list on the fast food provider’s website in most circumstances. Some publish this information on posters and display it at every location. Did you know that McDonald’s fries have 19 ingredients for US locations? Anti-foaming agents and natural beef flavor are included and you’d likely need to ask for the ingredient book from the manager to know this if you don’t have access to their site.
7. It changes the structure of society.
Fast food might be cheap, but it also changes the family dynamic. Even if you stay at the quick service restaurant to eat, many have policies that do not allow families to linger and talk over their meals. You may have a 20- to 30-minute time limit enforced. Instead of catching up with each other, the focus is placed on eating as fast as possible to maximize potential daily revenues.
8. One meal from a fast food location could equal more calories than the person’s recommended daily intake level.
The recommended number of calories to be consumed daily is about 2,000. Some people may require more, while others may need less. If someone went to Dairy Queen and ordered an ultimate burger, a large onion rings, and a large chocolate shake, they’d consume the exact amount of their recommended daily intake level.
These fast food pros and cons follow the same rule as any other nutritional item: moderation is required. Any food can be eaten in an unhealthy amount to promote an unhealthy weight, especially when combined with a sedentary lifestyle. When fast food is thought of as a treat instead of a necessity, it can be a good thing. If it is relied upon for daily nutrition, then it could contribute to an unhealthy weight and a higher risk of future health concerns.