It can prevent a heart attack or perhaps a stroke or even the development of certain cancers. The lifestyle choices you make today can largely determine your health in the long term.
It’s a well-known fact that fast food is generally high in sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats. The body reacts to these in negative ways, namely the development of illnesses, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.
So, what can happen when you indulge in such foods?
A Spike in Blood Sugar
As fast food breaks down quickly because of the refined carbohydrates and added sugar content, it causes a rapid spike in your blood sugar levels. This then results in a surge in insulin, rapidly lowering your blood sugar levels. A healthy diet on the other hand results in a slow and sustained release of sugar into your bloodstream which allows for maintained energy levels. Ever felt tired after a heavy fast-food meal? Now you understand why.
A Spike in Blood Pressure
High levels of salt in the body’s bloodstream contribute to the development of hypertension (high blood pressure). If untreated, over time, high blood pressure can result in the development of more serious conditions such as heart disease and stroke.
Increased Ongoing Inflammation
Examples of foods that increase inflammation levels in the body include processed meats, fried foods such as French fries, and refined carbohydrates such as white bread. That’s because of the saturated fat content. Sodas and sugar-sweetened beverages can cause increased inflammation as well.
Depleted Nutrient Intake
At least 5 servings of fruit and vegetables every day is the recommended “dose” for healthier body function. For example, eating leafy vegetables and fruits that are rich in vitamin C and beta carotene contain primary sources of antioxidants that can prevent cancer.
Fast food typically lacks such nutrients, along with enough fibre, vitamins, or minerals. It’s also laden with kilojoules. For example, when eating one piece of fried chicken, you’re consuming 500 or more calories, 34 grams of fat and 1,200-plus milligrams of sodium.
A lack of nutrients negatively impacts physical and mental function. Eventually, this can result in serious health problems. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Cleveland Clinic, long-term impacts of regular poor eating can include:
- Problems with weight–higherweight and obesity.
- Increased risk for heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.
- Digestive problems, such as constipation or diverticular disease. Foods with processed carbohydrates that lack fibre can cause digestive problems.
- Inflammatory–related health conditions and reduced immunity against infectious illnesses.
On the flip slide: following a healthy diet in a research study called Fruit and Vegetable Intake and Mortality published in March 2021 in the Circulation Journal, the intake of five servings compared to two servings offers stronger health benefits. Interestingly, the study found that people who ate five servings per day had a 13% lower risk of mortality; from any cause; a 12% lower risk of death from heart disease or stroke; a 10% lower risk of death from cancer; a 35% lower risk of death from respiratory disease.
Good nutrition is one crucial means for optimal health, so too is a health check-up
You can do yourself any favours by being proactive about checking on your physical health condition, this health awareness month. Knowing the results from just a few important Health Checks can help in the early detection of chronic illnesses, including heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and even some cancers. This act of preventive screening can prompt you in the direction of appropriate treatment and health management, which can successfully improve overall health outcomes, and even save your life.
A Health Check is a structured set of tests to assess your risk of non-communicable diseases. The aim is to achieve metrics within a healthy range. If not, your measurements will be identified as either in an intermediate risk range or high risk. In each instance, tailored interventions will be recommended to address your specific risk going forward. These are the simple and convenient set of essential health screening and preventive tests you should do:
Blood pressure metric should be below 140/90mmHg. Anything above the healthy range can increase your risk of hypertension, heart disease, heart attack, stroke or kidney failure.
A healthy range for blood glucose should be < 7.8 mmol/L or HbA1c <6%. Should your metric be above the healthy range, some health risks that could occur include vision loss, heart attack, diabetes, kidney failure and nerve damage.
A Healthy range for total cholesterol should be < 5 mmol/L or LDL cholesterol < 3 mmol/L. Heart attack, heart disease, and stroke are potential risks should your level be above the normal range.
Weight-Adjusted Body Mass Index (BMI)
For this check, the healthy range should be BMI < 25 or waist circumference: < 80 cm for women < 94 cm for men. Diabetes and cardiovascular problems are some of the health challenges that can develop because of an unhealthy weight range.
Non-smoker’s declaration (optional) for at least the past 12 months. Health risks associated with smoking Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
3 great reasons to book your health screening tests soon
- You may be living with a chronic illness without knowing it
Dr Noluthando Nematswerani, Chief Clinical Officer at Discovery Health, gives us this example: “The International Diabetes Federation tells us that there are almost 550 million people living with diabetes worldwide. However, almost half the adults living with diabetes (240 million) are undiagnosed! For most people, this disease –in the form of type 2 diabetes–is linked to unhealthy lifestyle behaviours and starts off slowly. If it’s not diagnosed or managed, it can lead to strokes, blindness, amputations, and other serious complications. Fortunately, these are mostly avoidable. Screening tests are key to detecting diabetes early on and doing something about it.”
- We can’t always rely on how we feel as a way of measuring our health
Dr Nematswerani explains: “Several preventable chronic illnesses have so-called ‘silent’ symptoms. This means these illnesses don’t show any identifiable signs until they are quite advanced. In these cases, screening checks are the only way to pick up the start of chronic conditions early and take steps to prevent their progress.”
- A head-in-the-sand approach can have serious consequences
“Unmanaged chronic conditions put us at risk of developing deadly complications. For example, diabetes and hypertension can lead to chronic kidney disease – a very serious condition which is often silent until about 50% of kidney function is lost. A person in this condition will eventually end up on dialysis and need a kidney transplant,” Dr Nematswerani explains. “Serious down-the-line complications that significantly affect our quality of life – and our healthcare costs – are a reality we all face, if we don’t know our health status. To prevent ill health, health checks are well worth making the time for every year or as guided by a registered healthcare professional,” she concludes.