Hold the fries: Fast food increases type 2 diabetes risk

Think twice before you hit the fast-food drive thru.

Western-style fast food increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, according to a study published in the journal Circulation.

The study also found that the likelihood of death by coronary heart disease increases with intake of Western fast food items like hamburgers, French fries, pizza, fried chicken and hot dogs.

Singapore study

Researchers analyzed data from the Singapore Chinese Health Study from 1993 to 1998. Of the 43,000 participants age 45 to 74 years included in the type 2 diabetes study, more than 2,200 developed type 2 diabetes during the follow-up period.

Chinese Singaporeans who ate Western fast food items two or more times a week had a 27 percent increased chance of developing type 2 diabetes than those who ate little or no Western-style fast food.

Those who ate fast food two or more times a week had a 56 percent increased risk of dying from coronary heart disease compared to those who ate little or no fast food. More than 52,000 people were included in the heart disease/mortality study.

The group of participants who ate fast food four or more times a week had a nearly 80 percent greater risk of dying from coronary heart disease.

Fast food's super-sized problems

According to researchers, the typical fast food diet features meat and processed meat and highly refined carbohydrates. It's typically high in sodium and cholesterol and has a poor dietary fatty acid profile.

Another hallmark of Western-style fast food is its high caloric load exacerbated by large portion sizes.

Excess intake of fat and calories causes a rise in blood glucose. The body has to release more insulin to help use or store that blood glucose. In type 2 diabetes, the body does not respond well to the insulin produced, leading to serious problems.

Poor nutritional profile

The study found that participants who ate fast food more frequently ate less vegetables (excluding white potatoes), dairy products, and dietary fiber.

The decreased dietary fiber intake may be a contributing factor to cardio-metabolic risk, according to the authors of the study.

In addition, researchers found that the glycemic properties of fried potatoes and processed grains frequently found in Western-style fast food may also increase diabetes and heart disease risk.

Glycemic index and blood glucose

The glycemic index measures how a carbohydrate-containing food raises blood glucose. A food with a high glycemic index raises blood sugar more than a food with a low glycemic index.

According to the American Diabetes Association, carbohydrate-containing foods with a low glycemic index include dried beans and legumes, non-starchy vegetables and some starchy vegetables, most fruit, and many whole grain breads and cereals.

Meats and fats don't have a glycemic index because they do not contain carbohydrates.

Fat and fiber tend to lower the glycemic index of a food, according to the American Diabetes Association. Generally speaking, the more cooked or processed a food, the higher the glycemic index.

Sources: Circulation, American Diabetes Association, Mayo Clinic

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