Burgers, Fries and Type 2 Diabetes: Rethinking My Fast Food Rebellion

Written by Julian Hills

I never thought I’d say this, but honestly, I’m rethinking fast food, particularly certain ubiquitous joints known for their cartoonish, royal, or down-home spokespeople; 99-cent menus and multisized combo meals.

The marketing over the years has worked: I love those places and their menu choices. They are truly guilty pleasures. But it’s a relationship that’s quickly coming to a crossroads.

I realized it the other day when I was really hungry, and decided to keep driving past some of my favorite restaurants, in spite of how desperate I was to eat. The news I've been reading the past few weeks about fast food links to type 2 diabetes keeps popping in my head.

It’s not that I ever thought fast food was the healthiest choice out there. In fact, I knew it wasn't. As a child, I was rarely allowed to eat it, and was often reminded by my mother why it was a “treat” to be rationed, and eaten in moderation.

As I get older, the choices I make are really starting to stick in my head. I used to only worry about my weight and if I fit in my clothes. Now I am starting to question the diet choices I make.

I am getting close to the age that my father was when he developed diabetes, even though it was believed to be accelerated by medication used during a major medical procedure. It's still a part of my genetic family history, which is a fact I can’t erase.

My sweet tooth, love of French fries, and cravings for a burger are not doing me any favors in that department.

New Study Links Meat, Animal Products to Type 2 Diabetes

I could ignore my mother’s warnings and my father’s diagnosis, but it’s getting impossible to tune out some alarming new studies.  Data just released from researchers in France suggests there is a possible link between certain acidic foods and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

The study shows animal products like meat, eggs and dairy can cause an “acid load,” which can have negative side effects, including reduced insulin sensitivity — which precedes the development of type 2 diabetes.

The research was published in the journal Diabetologia, and conducted by the Center for Research in Epidemiology and Population Health at INSERM in Paris — the equivalent to the National Institutes of Health in the U.S.

It followed 66,000 women over 14 years. In that span, 1,400 individuals developed type 2 diabetes. The study found that women with diets high in acidic foods were almost 60 percent more likely to develop diabetes.

I spoke to a researcher who said the study left her with a lot of questions. Conventional thought is still that high glycemic foods, like sugar and starchy carbs, are the main culprits.

But if there is a correlation in the French study, it definitely gives me pause and flashbacks to all of the late night drive-thru snacking I’ve done in my adult life.

Fast Food Diet Became Act of Convenience, Rebellion

As an adult, I rebelled against what I was taught, and indulged in fast food. I use fast food as an ultimate comfort food, relying on it for a quick lunch, in times of stress or after a night of too much fun as a way to unwind.

My habit became a ritual: Ordering my burgers with no cheese, a large order of fries and a soda. When I wanted to be healthier, I traded the burger for an order of chicken nuggets. After all, white meat is a better choice.

I tricked myself into deserving these meals because they were denied in my childhood, but I never really realized the act of rebellion could be shaving years from my adulthood.

While I have not brought myself to swear it off for good, I’m realizing there may have been nothing good about my attachment to fast food. Mounting evidence is beginning to leave me absolutely no wiggle room to rationalize it.

Ingredients Make Me Think Twice

My act of adult defiance could have undone years of good that my mother was wise enough do for me.
As the main cook in my house, she was responsible for feeding my father, brother and me.

I remember being told to limit my red meat. When I questioned her, she always told me there was a lot of "stuff in them" that wasn’t good. Remember, this was back in the late 80s and early 90s before "organic", "grass-fed", "antibiotic free" and "farm-to-table" became trendy buzzwords.

I would cheat from time to time, especially when I started earning my own money. I made sure I ate the very things I was told not to — like hamburgers.

An article I recently read on Huffington Post forced me to take my head out of the sand. That article didn’t single out any establishment, but it showed that plenty of mass-produced hamburgers contain the lowest quality meat.

The report shows much of this meat is washed in ammonium hydroxide to make it edible for humans. I had to look up the meaning of ammonium hydroxide because it's not a word I toss around in everyday conversation. It's used as an antimicrobial by regulating acid levels in meat. It's also used as a flavor enhancer in tobacco products, and one of the ingredients in most window cleaning products.

Fast Food’s Link to Type 2 Diabetes

The last part of my evolution on eating fast food probably came after I read research from the Netherlands published in the European Journal of Nutrition.

Researchers at the University Medical Centre in Utrecht found that regularly eating fast food can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes by 70 percent. Those who ate fast food and lived sedentary lives had a risk factor that was 114 percent higher than those who didn't eat fast food at all.

The study also lists the reasons why the fried chicken parts, ground meat, fries and soft drinks are so bad:

None of this information is exactly surprising, but it’s easy to forget when you're hungry, and even easier to tell yourself in the heat of the moment that one burger or order of nuggets won’t hurt.

Rebel with a Newfound Cause

Managing the effects of type 2 diabetes requires life-long maintenance of diet, exercise and often medications that may have their own dangers, and can potentially cause deadly side effects of their own.

For example, incretin mimetics and dipeptidyl peptidase IV inhibitors like Januvia, Janumet, Byetta and Bydureon stimulate the pancreas to produce insulin when eating. However, these two classes of drugs are linked to thyroid problems, pancreatic cancer and pancreatitis.

Actos, a drug that lowers blood sugar, carries a risk of bladder cancer. Avandia, another drug that lowers blood sugar, is linked to heart problems.  

If eating ammonia-washed beef and connective chicken tissue sounded unappetizing before, knowing they are linked to increased diabetes risk, heart disease and other health issues doesn’t seem worth eating them at all.

While the fast food marketing using fun and colorful characters continues to fool some, I'm less susceptible to its seductive powers.

When I rebelled, I was really protesting good health. Now this rebel knows better, and has a cause for a healthier lifestyle that includes less fast food.