By Kristin Kirkpatrick, R.D. for

It's pretty doubtful that a person would sit in the drive-thru line of a fast-food chain and order a well-balanced meal, full of fiber and nutrients. People in the drive-thru line are there because they are willing to compromise healthfulness for convenience and taste, which at the time seems worth the trade.

For a long time, it appeared that the price that you pay for eating fast food occurred not at the cash register, but down the road, when the health ramifications associated with meals high in saturated fat and sodium took effect. But what if I told you that the consequences of eating your combo meal begin almost immediately after you crumble the wrapper of your burger? What if every time you enter a fast food restaurant, you exit a little unhealthier and a little less attractive? Would the juicy double bacon cheeseburger be worth it?

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Researchers and health professionals have long been aware of the consequences associated with eating fast food, but until now, no one realized how quickly the damage begins. A new study, published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology, indicates that damage to the arteries occurs almost immediately after just one -- that’s right, one -- junk food-type meal. Based on the science, moderation with junk food doesn’t really exist.

The study compared the effects of a junk food meal and a Mediterranean based meal on the inner lining of the blood vessels. They tested this impact on 28 healthy, non-smoking men between 18 and 50 years old. The men were fed a Mediterranean-based meal -- with eight grams of saturated fat and two grams of omega-3 fatty acids -- which consisted of salmon, almonds and vegetables baked in olive oil. One week later, the subjects consumed 15 grams of saturated fat and zero grams of omega-3s from a fast food sausage, egg and cheese muffin sandwich and three hash browns.

The researchers collected their data by measuring the men’s endothelial function -- the ability of the blood vessels to dilate -- after a 12-hour fast and again two and four hours after finishing each meal. The results were not pretty! Almost immediately after eating one fast food sausage, egg and cheese sandwich, the men’s arteries dilated 24 percent less than when the subjects were in a fasted state. Poor endothelial function is a significant precursor of atherosclerosis, a hardening of the arteries that can block blood flow.

This study provides evidence that endothelial function declines after consuming only one junk food meal. With that in mind, can you imagine the arterial damage from consistently consuming one fast food egg muffin every day? Isn’t it time we assess the true “value” of that value meal?

Not only is it important for you to eat pretty, but the same also holds true for children. A new study published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine found that children and adolescents both consume more calories and fewer nutrients the rest of the day after eating at fast food or full-service restaurants. On days that kids ate fast food, compared to days that they ate at home, adolescents and young children consumed an additional 309 and 126 calories, respectively. The study also found that eating at full-service restaurants increased children’s average intake of sugar, total fat, saturated fat and sodium. Based on the current evidence, there is a strong correlation that exists between eating out, consuming more calories and fewer nutrients and an increased risk of childhood obesity and chronic disease.

Want to improve your health and beauty and the wellbeing of your family? Steer clear of fast food restaurants and start redefining your family’s idea of fast food. Make your own version of “fast food” by preparing quick snacks and meals that you can grab on the go. Give your food pantry a beauty makeover by simply making healthy foods -- such as fruits, vegetable, nuts and whole grain snacks -- more convenient and readily accessible. Enhancing the convenience of healthy food reduces your desire to reach for the bad stuff, while allowing your family to continue living vivaciously and of course, beautifully.

Brigid Titgemeier, B.A., contributed to this article.

For more on nutrition, click here.

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  • Chocolatey Cereal

    We've written before about a big problem with cereal: Many brands, particularly those marketed to kids, are <a href="" target="_hplink">packed with added sugars</a>. But many also have lengthy ingredients lists, like <a href="" target="_hplink">Reese's Puffs Cereal</a>, with up to 27 ingredients, <a href="" target="_hplink">according to Wegmans</a>: <blockquote>Whole grain corn, sugar, Reese's Peanut Butter (peanuts, sugar, monoglycerides, peanut oil, salt, molasses, corn starch), dextrose, corn meal, corn starch, corn syrup, rice bran and/or canola oil, salt, Hershey's cocoa, tricalcium phosphate, red 40, yellows 5 & 6, blue 1 and other color added, trisodium phosphate, artificial flavor, TBHQ and BHT added to preserve freshness</blockquote> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="" target="_hplink">yaybiscuits123</a></em>

  • Cheez Whiz

    We're always a little skeptical of food products that change the spelling of <em>real</em> foods. It can be, like <a href="" target="_hplink">in the case of Wyngz</a>, a convenient way to bypass laws as to what can and cannot be called a certain food. This "cheezy," dip-like spread <a href="" target="_hplink">lists 27 ingredients</a>: <blockquote>Whey, milk, milkfat, dried corn syrup, water, sodium phosphate, contains less than 2 percent of: Food starch-modified, salt, maltodextrin, lactic acid, mustard flour, Worcestershire sauce (vinegar, molasses, corn syrup, water, salt, caramel color, garlic powder, sugar, spices, tamarind, natural flavor), sorbic acid as a preservative, oleoresin paprika (color), cheese culture, annatto (color), enzymes</blockquote> <em>Photo from <a href="" target="_hplink"></a></em>

  • Oreo Cakesters

    Many curious cooks have taken to their own kitchens to try to replicate the taste of the <a href="" target="_hplink">Oreo's mysterious creamy filling</a>, and the cookie has even been the subject of a <a href="" target="_hplink">lawsuit over trans fats</a>. The original Oreo contains <a href="" target="_hplink">20 ingredients</a>, and cocoa is only 13th on the list. But Nabisco has gone even further with the <a href="" target="_hplink">Cakester</a>, a doughy cousin of the Oreo cookie, which has up to 28 ingredients: <blockquote>Sugar, canola and/or palm and/or palm kernel oil, bleached enriched flour (wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate {vitamin B1}, riboflavin {vitamin B2}, folic acid), high fructose corn syrup, fructose, skim milk, cocoa (processed with alkali), cornstarch, leavening (baking soda and/or sodium acid pyrophosphate and/or calcium phosphate), egg whites, salt, chocolate, corn syrup, natural and artificial flavor, soy lecithin, eggs, corn flour, sodium alginate</blockquote> <em>Photo from <a href="" target="_hplink"></a></em>

  • Frozen Waffles

    A whole-grain waffle with fruit can make a great breakfast, but the processed and frozen varieties are a far-cry from whipping up a homemade batch. <a href="" target="_hplink">Blueberry Eggos</a> have up to 29 ingredients, according to Kellogg's: <blockquote>Enriched flour (wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, vitamin B1 [thiamin mononitrate], vitamin B2 [riboflavin], folic acid), water, vegetable oil (soybean, palm, and/or canola oil), eggs, sugar, dextrose, contains 2 percent or less of leavening (baking soda, sodium aluminum phosphate, monocalcium phosphate), modified corn starch, salt, dried blueberries, apple fiber, natural and artificial flavors, maltodextrin, cellulose gum, citric acid, whey, soy lecithin, blue 2 lake, red 40 lake</blockquote> However, they do have one redeeming ingredient: dried blueberries. Many processed and packaged foods that <a href="" target="_hplink">claim they contain fruit</a> really just <a href="" target="_hplink">dress up sugar with artificial colors</a>, according to a 2011 report. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="" target="_hplink">paulswansen</a></em>

  • Snickers Peanut Butter

    <a href="" target="_hplink">Peanuts</a> and even <a href="" target="_hplink">chocolate can be good for you</a> -- when prepared properly and eaten in the right amounts. We know you wouldn't go looking for nutrition behind a Snicker's wrapper, but the <a href="" target="_hplink">Peanut Butter version</a> has 30 ingredients: <blockquote>Milk chocolate (sugar, cocoa butter, chocolate, skim milk, lactose, milkfat, soy lecithin, artificial flavor), peanut butter (peanuts, partially hydrogenated soybean oil), peanuts, sugar, corn syrup, lactose, invert sugar, corn syrup solids, vegetable oil (hydrogenated palm kernel oil, palm oil, rapeseed oil and cottonseed oil and/or partially hydrogenated palm kernel oil), less than 2 percent - dextrose, glycerin, skim milk, salt, calcium carbonate, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, egg whites, artificial flavor, TBHQ to maintain freshness</blockquote> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="" target="_hplink">Like_the_Grand_Canyon</a></em>

  • Big Mac Sauce

    It's probably not surprising that a Big Mac is <a href="" target="_hplink">not made from a handful of simple ingredients</a>. But what is surprising is that there are 33 ingredients in Big Mac <em>sauce</em> alone: <blockquote>Soybean oil, pickle relish [diced pickles, high fructose corn syrup, sugar, vinegar, corn syrup, salt, calcium chloride, xanthan gum, potassium sorbate (preservative), spice extractives, polysorbate 80], distilled vinegar, water, egg yolks, high fructose corn syrup, onion powder, mustard seed, salt, spices, propylene glycol alginate, sodium benzoate (preservative), mustard bran, sugar, garlic powder, vegetable protein (hydrolyzed corn, soy and wheat), caramel color, extractives of paprika, soy lecithin, turmeric (color), calcium disodium EDTA</blockquote> And don't forget -- there's up to another 33 in the bun and 14 in the cheese, for a total well over the 70 or so ingredients in the <a href="" target="_hplink">famously-processed McRib</a>. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="" target="_hplink">bee-side(s)</a></em>

  • Combos

    There are a couple of tip-offs to these cheesy, crunchy snacks' lengthy ingredient lists on the front of the packaging, like how the Cheddar Cheese Pretzel flavor qualifies in small print that it is, in fact, a cheddar cheese "flavored filling." While all the flavors have around 30 ingredients, the <a href="" target="_hplink">Pepperoni Pizza Cracker flavor</a> upsets us the most, with up to 38 ingredients, one of which is beef fat: <blockquote>Wheat flour, vegetable oil (palm kernel oil, palm oil, corn oil and/or hydrogenated palm oil), whey, maltodextrin, food starch-modified, salt, less than 1.5 percent - tomato, cream, leavening (baking soda, sodium acid pyrophosphate), dextrose, bakers & cheddar cheese (milk, cultures, salt, enzymes), natural and artificial flavors, soy lecithin, spices, coloring (yellow 6 lake, red 40 lake), paprika, onion, yeast extract, garlic, parsley, beef fat, citric acid, malic acid, yeast, sugar, disodium guanylate, disodium inosinate, vinegar, paprika extract</blockquote> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="" target="_hplink">MRBECK</a></em>

  • Pringles

    While <a href="" target="_hplink">potato chips</a> certainly aren't the benchmark of good health, it <em>is</em> possible to make them with simple ingredients. Part of the problem boils down to those outlandish flavors. Original Pringles have 11 ingredients -- but the <a href="" target="_hplink">Loaded Baked Potato</a> flavor has up to 43: <blockquote>Dried potatoes, vegetable oil (contains one or more of the following: corn oil, cottonseed oil, soybean oil and/or sunflower oil), corn flour, wheat starch and maltodextrin. Contains 2 percent or less of: rice flour, whey powder, salt, partially hydrogenated sunflower oil, cream powder, dextrose, monosodium glutamate, buttermilk powder, gum arabic, natural and artificial flavor, garlic powder, nonfat dry milk, onion powder, spice, sodium caseinate, yellow 6 lake, smoke flavoring, medium chain triglycerides, disodium guanylate, disodium inosinate, yellow 5 lake, mono and diglycerides, autolyzed yeast extract, safflower oil, torula yeast, butterfat, cheddar cheese (milk, cultures, salt, enzymes), dehydrated butter (cream, salt), and onion juice concentrate</blockquote> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="" target="_hplink">TheDeliciousLife</a></em>

  • Breakfast Bars

    Fruit, yogurt, whole grains and fiber sounds like a complete breakfast, but Nutri-Grain bars are rounded out with a few dozen extra ingredients. The <a href="" target="_hplink">Strawberry Yogurt flavor</a> clocks in at 56: <blockquote>Crust: Whole grain oats, enriched flour (wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, vitamin B1 [thiamin mononitrate], vitamin B2 [riboflavin], folic acid), whole wheat flour, high fructose corn syrup, soybean oil, soluble corn fiber, sugar, calcium carbonate, whey, wheat bran, salt, cellulose, potassium bicarbonate, mono- and diglycerides, soy lecithin, natural and artificial flavor, wheat gluten, niacinamide, vitamin A palmitate, carrageenan, zinc oxide, reduced iron, guar gum, vitamin B6, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, folic acid. Filling: High fructose corn syrup, glycerin, fructose, modified corn starch, partially hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oil, nonfat yogurt powder (cultured nonfat milk; heat-treated after culturing), cellulose, strawberry puree concentrate, modified tapioca starch, sugar, malic acid, natural and artificial flavor, salt, color added, datem, mono- and diglycerides, soy lecithin, caramel color, red 40</blockquote> <em>Photo from <a href="" target="_hplink"></a></em>

  • Meatless Nuggets

    "We still eat way more meat than is good for us or the environment, not to mention the animals," Mark Bittman wrote in the <em>New York Times</em> in January, but <a href="" target="_hplink">we're eating less than we used to</a>. Cutting back -- especially on red meat -- can help you <a href="" target="_hplink">avoid cancer, heart disease and live longer</a>, according to a March study. However, it's important to turn to another source of protein wisely. Some soy products were found to contain a <a href="" target="_hplink">potentially-harmful neurotoxin</a>, and imitation meat is often highly-processed to give it that "tastes like chicken" texture. <a href="" target="_hplink">MorningStar Farms Chik'n Nuggets</a>, for example, contain an eye-popping 59 ingredients: <blockquote>Textured vegetable protein (soy protein concentrate, soy protein isolate, wheat gluten, water for hydration), water, enriched wheat flour (flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), bleached wheat flour, corn oil, cornstarch, contains 2 percent or less of wheat starch, salt, methylcellulose, modified corn starch, dextrose, autolyzed yeast extract, potassium chloride, natural and artificial flavors from non-meat sources, sugar, maltodextrin, disodium inosinate, soybean oil, hydrolyzed soy protein, onion, paprika, dried yeast, inulin from chicory root, caramel color, tapioca dextrin, xanthan gum, sodium alginate, spices, yellow corn flour, paprika extract for color, annatto extract for color, baking soda, garlic, tomato powder, celery extract, wheat fiber, lactic acid, safflower oil, barley extract, citric acid, niacinamide, egg whites, nonfat dry milk, succinc acid, disodium guanylate, iron, thiamin mononitrate, pyridoxine hydrochloridae, riboflavin, vitamin B12</blockquote> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="" target="_hplink">Ed Kwon</a></em>

  • Lunchables

    Lunchables seem like a fun and convenient midday meal for kids, but, as well as having <a href="" target="_hplink">sky-high sodium and fat counts</a>, some varieties, especially those with juice and dessert, have more than 50 ingredients. The <a href="" target="_hplink">Ham + American Cracker Stackers</a> box has up to 61, according to Kraft Brands: <blockquote>Cherry Flavored Water Beverage With Other Natural Flavor: Water, high fructose corn syrup, citric acid, sucralose (Splenda brand sweetener), natural flavor. Cooked Ham--Water Added--Chopped And Formed--Smoke Flavor Added: Ham, water, contains less than 2 percent of sodium lactate, potassium chloride, modified cornstarch, sodium phosphates, sugar, salt, sodium diacetate, sodium ascorbate, flavor, sodium nitrite, smoke flavor. Pasteurized Prepared American Cheese Product: Milk, water, milkfat, milk protein concentrate, whey, whey protein concentrate, contains less than 2 percent of sodium citrate, salt, lactic acid, sorbic acid as a preservative, cheese culture, enzymes, oleoresin paprika (color), annatto (color), with starch added for slice separation. Artificially Flavored Candy: Sugar, invert sugar, corn syrup, modified corn starch, tartaric acid, citric acid, natural and artificial flavoring, yellow 6, red 40, yellow 5 and blue 1. Crackers: Unbleached enriched flour (wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate [vitamin B1], riboflavin [Vitamin B2], folic acid), whole grain wheat flour, soybean oil, sugar, partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil, salt, leavening (baking soda and/or calcium phosphate), whey (from milk), soy lecithin, natural flavor</blockquote> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="" target="_hplink">Like_the_Grand_Canyon</a></em>

  • KFC's Chicken Pot Pie

    There are <a href="" target="_hplink">more than 100 ingredients</a> in what has been unofficially dubbed <a href="" target="_hplink">the longest ingredient list in the world</a>. According to the <a href="" target="_hplink">KFC website</a>, they include: <blockquote>Chicken stock, potatoes (with sodium acid pyrophosphate to protect color), carrots, peas, heavy cream, modified food starch, contains 2 percent or less of wheat flour, salt, chicken fat, dried dairy blend (whey, calcium caseinate), butter (cream, salt), natural chicken flavor with other natural flavors (salt, natural flavoring, maltodextrin, whey powder, nonfat dry milk, chicken fat, ascorbic acid, sesame oil, chicken broth powder), monosodium glutamate, liquid margarine (vegetable oil blend [liquid soybean, hydrogenated cottonseed, hydrogenated soybean], water, vegetable mono and diglycerides, beta carotene), roasted garlic juice flavor (garlic juice, salt, natural flavors), gelatin, chicken pot pie flavor (hydrolyzed corn, soy and wheat gluten protein, salt, vegetable stock [carrot, onion, celery], maltodextrin, flavors, dextrose, chicken broth), sugar, mono and diglycerides, spice, seasoning (soybean oil, oleoresin turmeric, spice extractives), parsley, citric acid, caramel color, yellow 5, enriched flour bleached (wheat flour, niacin, ferrous sulfate, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), hydrogenated palm kernel oil, water, nonfat milk, maltodextrin, salt, dextrose, sugar, whey, natural flavor, butter, citric acid, dough conditioner, l-cysteine hydrochloride, potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate (preservatives), colored with yellow 5 & red 40. Fresh chicken marinated with: salt, sodium phosphate and monosodium glutamate. Breaded with: Wheat flour, salt, spices, monosodium glutamate, leavening (sodium bicarbonate), garlic powder, natural flavorings, citric acid, maltodextrin, sugar, corn syrup solids, with not more than 2 percent calcium silicate added as an anti caking agent OR Fresh chicken marinated with: Salt, sodium phosphate and monosodium glutamate. Breaded with: Wheat flour, salt, spices, monosodium glutamate, corn starch, leavening (sodium bicarbonate), garlic powder, modified corn starch, spice extractives, citric acid, and 2 percent calcium silicate added as anticaking agent OR Fresh chicken marinated with: Salt, sodium phosphate and monosodium glutamate. Breaded with: Wheat flour, sodium chloride and anticaking agent (tricalcium phosphate), nonfat milk, egg whites, Colonel's Secret Original Recipe Seasoning OR potato starch, sodium phosphate, salt, Breaded with: Wheat flour, sodium chloride and anti-caking agent (tricalcium phosphate), nonfat milk, egg whites, Colonel's Secret Original Recipe Seasoning OR potato starch, sodium phosphate, salt Breaded with: Wheat flour, salt, spices, monosodium glutamate, leavening (sodium bicarbonate), garlic powder, natural flavorings, citric acid, maltodextrin, sugar, corn syrup solids, with not more than 2 percent calcium silicate added as an anticaking agent OR potato starch, sodium phosphate, salt Breaded with: Wheat flour, salt, spices, monosodium glutamate, corn starch, leavening (sodium bicarbonate), garlic powder, modified corn starch, spice extractives, citric acid, and 2 percent calcium silicate added as anticaking agent OR seasoning (salt, monosodium glutamate, garlic powder, spice extractives, onion powder), soy protein concentrate, rice starch and sodium phosphates. Battered with: Water, wheat flour, leavening (sodium acid pyrophosphate, sodium bicarbonate, monocalcium phosphate), salt, dextrose, monosodium glutamate, spice and onion powder. Predusted with: Wheat flour, wheat gluten, salt, dried egg whites, leavening (sodium acid pyrophosphate, sodium bicarbonate), monosodium glutamate, spice and onion powder. Breaded with: Wheat flour, salt, soy flour, leavening (sodium acid pyrophosphate, sodium bicarbonate), monosodium glutamate, spice, nonfat dry milk, onion powder, dextrose, extractives of turmeric and extractives of annatto. Breading set in vegetable oil</blockquote> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="" target="_hplink">Alfonso Surroca</a></em>

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