Fast food is delicious and convenient but should be eaten in moderation due to potential health risks.
With busy lifestyles, you may turn to quick drive-thru meals more often than you’d like.
This article provides practical guidelines on how much fast food intake is reasonable per week for maintaining well-being without overdoing it.
You’ll learn recommended limits based on research, health implications of overconsumption, and tips to keep fast food in check despite on-the-go schedules.
How Much Fast Food Should You Eat a Week?
For optimal health, limit fast food to once a week or less. If losing weight, cut back to twice a week at most. To lower disease risks, experts advise keeping weekly fast food intake to no more than 1-3 times.
What Counts as Fast Food?
Fast food refers to food that can be prepared and served quickly. It is usually higher in calories, fat, sugar, and salt than homemade meals. Common types of fast food include:
- Burgers and fries from chain restaurants like McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, etc.
- Pizza from chains like Domino’s, Pizza Hut, Papa John’s, etc.
- Fried chicken from KFC, Popeyes, Chick-fil-A etc.
- Tacos, burritos, quesadillas from Taco Bell, Chipotle, etc.
- Sandwiches, wraps, baked goods from Subway, Quiznos, Panera Bread, etc.
- Chinese food takeout or buffet-style
- Hot dogs, chicken fingers, etc., from places like Sonic Drive-In, Checkers, Five Guys Burgers & Fries, etc.
If the food is from a quick service restaurant and tends to be higher in unhealthy fats, sodium, and calories, it falls under the umbrella of fast food.
Health Risks of Too Much Fast Food
Eating fast food regularly and in large portions is associated with numerous health issues. The more often you eat it, the higher your risk factors become over time.
People who frequently eat fast food are at a higher risk of obesity. Fast food often contains high amounts of fat, sugar, and calories in large serving sizes.
Overeating can easily cause your calorie intake to exceed your body’s needs, leading to weight gain over time. According to studies, obesity rates are twice as high for people who visit fast-food restaurants more than twice a week.
The high sodium content of most fast food can cause high blood pressure, putting strain on your heart.
Fast food also tends to be high in saturated and trans fats, which raise LDL “bad” cholesterol levels and lower HDL “good” cholesterol. This increases your risk of artery hardening and heart disease.
One study found that eating fast food more than twice a week increases your risk of death from heart disease by 80%.
Type 2 Diabetes
Frequently eating fast food leads to weight gain and can increase insulin resistance. This makes your body less efficient at managing blood sugar levels, increasing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes over time.
One study showed that people who eat fast food more than twice a week are twice as likely to develop insulin resistance.
Several studies have linked high fast food consumption to a heightened risk of certain cancers. Overeating processed meat (common in fast food burgers and pepperoni pizzas) could potentially increase the risk of colorectal and stomach cancer.
The high-calorie counts can also cause weight gain, which is a risk factor for cancers like breast, uterine, and prostate cancer.
So, in short – the more fast food you eat, the more likely you are to deal with chronic diseases down the road. Moderation is vital for protecting long-term well-being.
Recommended Limits for Fast Food Intake
To avoid the array of health issues tied to overconsumption, experts recommend the following limits for weekly fast food intake:
Once a Week or Less
For optimal health, fast food intake should be limited to once a week at most. This threshold has been suggested based on research linking higher information to increased disease risk.
Eating fast food just once a week is unlikely to impact health in generally healthy people negatively. It allows for the occasional convenient meal without substantially raising risks for weight gain and related issues.
3 Times a Week at Most
If weekly fast food intake stays at 3 times a week or less, risks still appear moderate for healthy individuals. However, exceeding 3 times per week, poses heightened threats even in younger populations.
One study found that heart disease risk significantly jumped when fast food intake exceeded this level. So sticking to no more than 3 fast food meals weekly is recommended if you engage in other healthy habits.
Twice a Week or Less
If Trying to Lose Weight If you are attempting to lose weight or sustain weight loss, fast food intake should be kept to 2 times per week or less. The high-calorie counts of fast food can quickly sabotage weight control efforts.
Limiting it to around 1-2 times weekly provides room for these high-calorie choices while still creating the calorie deficit needed to shed excess pounds.
Tips to Limit Fast Food Intake
Limiting fast food consumption takes some extra planning and discipline. Here are some helpful tips:
Dedicate time to meal prep a few home-cooked meals each week, packing them for grab-and-go convenience. Planning takes the temptation out of fast food since you’ll have quick backups available.
Choose Healthier Menu Items
If you do opt for fast food in a given week, make the healthiest choices possible from the menu by checking calorie counts and ingredients. Salads, grilled chicken sandwiches, and veggie flatbread pizzas are some better options at many chains.
Allow a “Cheat Day.”
Scheduling one designated fast food cheat day per week allows you to indulge occasionally without overdoing it. This approach helps you stick to limits since you know you have one guilt-free pass coming up.
Track Your Intake
Download a food tracking app and log your weekly fast food consumption. Seeing the numbers will keep you aware of patterns so you don’t slip into too much. Experts say logging intake alone makes people choose better more often.
The Bottom Line
Aim to limit weekly fast good meals to 1-3 times at most for maintaining well-being long-term. Planning, making better menu picks and tracking intake can all help minimize fast food cravings and overconsumption despite busy schedules.
Using these simple precautions ensures you can still enjoy the occasional drive-thru run without sacrificing your health.