Fast Food Facts – What Goes into Your Burger and Fries?


Americans consume 5 billion burgers a year but few consumers know what goes into the fast food they eat. What should you know before you eat fast food?

If you are like most people, you don’t contemplate long and hard about nutritional aspects of your dinner when you only have a few dollars to spend. A quick burger, fries and soft drink at the drive-thru window when you are hungry and don’t have much time will do just fine. Maybe it is only when the dinner starts to settle in your stomach that you realize that the fast food you just ate isn’t agreeing with you. Have you ever wondered exactly what is in your fast food burger and fries?

What Ingredients are in Your Fast Food Burger?

You might assume that your fast food burger has only meat in it. Yet one study found that one fast food restaurant included only about 2% meat in their burgers. In fact, most of the restaurants served burgers with about 10-12% meat content. If only 10% of the ingredients in a typical fast food burger is meat, what else is in your burger?

When researchers have studied fast food meat ingredients, they have discovered some surprising “other” ingredients that have made their way into the burgers. According to a 2008 research study published in the Annals of Diagnostic Pathology, some of the most common additional ingredients found in fast food burgers were:

  • water;
  • skeletal tissue;
  • connective tissue;
  • blood vessels;
  • fat (adipose tissue);
  • peripheral nerves;
  • cartilage;
  • bones;
  • plant material; and
  • parasites.

In most of the fast food restaurants, the water content in the burgers comprised as much as 50% of the total ingredients. With all of those additional “non-meat” ingredients found in the fast food burgers, it is no wonder the meat content is as low as 10% in many restaurants.

The researchers also discovered that burger samples from two of the restaurants contained a parasite known as Sarcocystis.

What Makes Fries Taste So Good?

Many fast food chains are notorious for the taste of their french fries. But have you ever wondered what is in the fries that makes you want to eat a super portion fries order all by yourself?

According to author Eric Schlosser in his book, Fast Food Nation (2001), the famous taste of one of the largest fast food restaurant’s fries comes primarily from the oil used in cooking. For years this company has used cottonseed oil and 93% beef tallow in cooking its fries to give them their famously addictive taste that contained even more saturated fat than their burgers.

Mystery Ingredient in French Fries – Natural Flavoring

As a result of criticism about the high levels of cholesterol in its french fries, this fast food chain switched to vegetable oil in the 1990’s. While this sounds like a healthy change, there are still concerns over some of the “natural flavoring” used in the fries. Schlosser says that the mysterious ingredient in their fries [natural flavoring] “helps to explain not only why the fries taste so good but also why most fast food — indeed, most of the food Americans eat today — tastes the way it does.”

Nearly all processed foods today contain “natural” or “artificial” flavors. Schlosser states that the this fast food restaurant refuses to disclose the source of the natural flavoring added to its french fries, other than saying that it comes from an “animal source.” Schlosser believes that the likely source is beef however he notes that in France, french fries are sometimes cooked in duck fat or horse tallow.

Consumer Choices About Fast Food

The reality is that consumers have little control over what ingredients end up in their fast food. To make matters worse, fast food restaurants do not always disclose what ingredients are added to the food. On top of the issue of unhealthy ingredients in fast food burgers and fries is the clear problem of high levels of fat, sugar and calories in fast food contributing to obesity.

Perhaps the only control consumers have is to buy organic meats and produce from local farmers, prepare more meals at home and avoid eating anything in a fast food restaurant.


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