Fast Food Facts That Will Ruin Your Appetite

By Jake SchroederLast Updated Apr 18, 2020 9:38:03 PM ET
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Photo Courtesy: Moose Photos/Pexels

Need some extra motivation to stick to healthy food when you're craving a burger? Some fast food hidden secrets could ruin your appetite for quite a while. From strange ingredients to the 59 different chemicals found in a strawberry milkshake (seriously), some foods contain astonishing ingredients that should never go in your body.

Let’s take a look at some behind-the-scenes facts all your favorite fast food restaurants don’t want you to know. McDonald's, Wendy's, Taco Bell — they’re all guilty of hiding the truth.

Meat That Won’t Rot

Have you ever noticed that leaving your McDonald’s burger out does nothing to it? Even flies don’t go near it! Dr. Keith Warriner, the program director at the University of Guelph's Department of Food Science and Quality Assurance, explained that McD’s burgers don’t rot because they’re full of chemicals.

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Photo Courtesy: Christian Wiediger/Unsplash

The microbes that cause meat to rot require water, nutrients, warmth and time. If those requirements aren’t met, the microbes won’t affect the food. A McD’s burger loses water during the cooking process, which is why it won’t show signs of mold.

Secret Egg Ingredients

No matter how healthy they might look in your sandwich, burger or salad, fast food egg items aren’t great because they’re not actually eggs. A Forbes writer looked into different egg sandwiches in fast food restaurants and ended up discovering a pretty gross fact.

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Photo Courtesy: Anton Porsche/Unsplash

The egg mixture is actually made of egg and something called a "premium egg blend." The blend contains questionable ingredients, including glycerin, a silicone also found in Silly Putty, and calcium silicate, which is used to seal roofs and concrete. Yeah, you heard that right.

Dirrrty Drinks

If you’ve ever worked in a fast food chain, you know how hard it is to clean filthy drink fountains and ice machines. This gross truth was actually revealed by a 12-year-old as part of a science project.

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Photo Courtesy: Sarah Wardlaw/Unsplash

Jasmine Roberts discovered that ice from fast food restaurants actually contained far more bacteria than toilet water — 70%, in fact. Ice even tested positive for the human waste bacteria E. coli, which is pretty scary considering the dangers of the bacteria and how often people order iced drinks.

Pink Sludge McNuggets

You’ve probably seen this one before — the viral picture showing pink slime before it’s turned into yummy nuggets has circled the internet several times during the past few years. That sludge is actually ammonia-treated lean beef trimmings, and it’s used to plump up burgers and chicken products.

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Photo Courtesy: Evan-Amos/Wikimedia Commons

The purpose is to create a beefier meat item at a lower cost. While McDonald’s came forward to say that it stopped using this slime in Chicken McNuggets, it’s unclear whether this is true for the rest of the fast food industry.

Taco Bell’s “Beef”

A few years ago, the fast food chain revealed what’s actually in its meat, claiming that it contains 88% beef. An Alabama law firm sued the company, claiming that statement was untrue. Instead, the firm claimed the beef content in most of Taco Bell’s products is probably closer to 35%.

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Photo Courtesy: Taco Bell

After Taco Bell produced a behind-the-scenes beef production video as proof, the firm withdrew the lawsuit, claiming they were satisfied. However, Taco Bell’s meat contains plenty of other questionable ingredients discussed in this article, including natural smoke flavors.

About Those Healthy Fast Food Salads…

If you opt to order a salad instead of greasy, salty foods because you think it has to be a healthier option, this might change your mind. Business Insider highlighted several fast food salads that are actually unhealthier than hamburgers. Some even have more calories than a standard Big Mac.

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Photo Courtesy: McDonald’s

For example, a crispy chicken Caesar salad can have anywhere from 800 to 1,000 or more calories, depending on the exact ingredients and the fast food chain. Salad dressings can also be menacing, with high levels of sodium and fat. Together, a "healthy" salad could add up to the calories of two Big Macs!

Disturbing Tomato-Based Sauces

Let’s talk about tomatoes, particularly tomato sauces. This one’s pretty disturbing because it reveals that the FDA — the organization tasked with protecting us from food-related hazards — is okay with a certain level of "gross." To clarify, the FDA standard for fly eggs in tomato sauce is no more than "30 or more fly eggs per 100 grams."

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Photo Courtesy: Pixabay/Pexels

But that’s not all. The FDA also doesn’t have a problem with "1 or more maggots per 100 grams." Yes, maggots. Apparently, they are barely noticeable and don’t cause any harmful health effects. Just think about that the next time you order something with tomato sauce.

The Truth About Papa John’s Pizza

Remember the huge controversy surrounding Chuck E. Cheese after Shane Dawson made a YouTube documentary questioning the quality of its pizza? Papa John’s reportedly doesn’t want to reveal the actual ingredients in its pizza at all.

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Photo Courtesy: Papa John’s

This was revealed by Melanie Warner, who tried to question the pizza place about its ingredient list, only to be completely ignored by customer service as well as the employees. Warner claims that "by not disclosing what's in its food, Papa John's is revealing that it doesn't think too much of its customers."

Wendy’s Chili Secret Ingredient

Fast food contains a bunch of weird ingredients that make no sense when you first read the words. You might shrug it off and think it’s just ingredients that are necessary to make the food taste so delicious, but the truth behind some of the ingredients is pretty gross.

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Photo Courtesy: Wendy’s

One of the components in Wendy’s chili is actually sand, also known as silicon dioxide. It is naturally found in plenty of plants, but it shouldn’t be in fast food. In the chili, it serves as an anti-caking agent to ensure the chili looks fresh and doesn’t clump.

Natural Flavors That Aren’t Natural

Franziska Spritzler revealed that an ingredient list containing "natural flavors" can be very misleading in terms of what it really means. The natural flavors are extracted from various plant and animal sources, but it’s important to note that they all contain chemicals, often in the form of preservatives.

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Unfortunately, food manufacturers aren’t required to tell you what the term "natural flavors" means in their food, so you could end up eating natural or synthetic sources of flavoring. Just because something has natural flavors on its list, that doesn’t mean it’s actually healthy.

Inaccurate Calorie Counts

A TIME article revealed that if you’re calorie counting while eating fast food, you might be in for a surprise. If you’re attempting to choose menu items with lower calories, you could actually end up eating a lot more calories than you think.

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Susan Roberts, Director of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory of the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center at Tufts University, revealed that there’s often no real answer to how many calories you consume per serving. What you can rely on is that the lowest real number is at least 100 calories over the number listed in the description!

Sweet Tea Sugar Levels

Sweet tea is one of the most perfect summer drinks, especially when it’s served ice cold. Truth be told, the amount of sugar you get in sweet tea is far higher than any recommended percentage intake.

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Photo Courtesy: McDonald’s

Take Chick-fil-A, for example. Its medium sweet tea has 32 grams of sugar. That’s more than 100% of your recommended daily intake, which varies between 25 and 36 grams, depending on the person. And that’s just the sugar in a single drink, not the complete amount of sugar consumed in a full meal.

59 Ingredients and Chemicals

You would think that a strawberry shake couldn’t be all that bad. It’s made with milk, ice cream and strawberries, right? Well, it works differently in the fast food world. In truth, you probably find very few actual strawberries in a typical fast food strawberry shake.

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Photo Courtesy: McDonald’s

The Guardian reports that alongside ingredients like glucose syrup and guar gum, something called "artificial strawberry flavor" takes center stage and is made with more than 20 different chemicals! It’s basically a processed syrup that tastes like strawberry, without a trace of actual strawberries.

With a Cherry on Top

If the ingredients in a strawberry shake don’t scare you, you should also consider the hazards of that very tempting cherry that goes on top. The truth is there’s far more to that cherry than meets the eye.

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Photo Courtesy: McDonald’s

A McDonald’s maraschino cherry contains corn syrup, artificial flavors, preservatives and lots of sugar. So, no, it’s not just a cherry. Still not scary enough? Here’s another shake fact for you. A medium McDonald’s shake contains more than 600 calories, which is more than a Big Mac (540 calories)!

The Truth About Thickeners

Nutrition Insight reports that thickeners are used in fast food to solidify runny foods like sauces and soups. Some of these thickeners include cellulose, which comes from wood pulp. Ingredients like guar gum are used to thicken your ice cream, bread and pastries.

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According to Nutrition Insight, scientists are looking into the use of thickeners in fast foods and their potential connection to leaky gut syndrome. Some of the studies found connections to inflammatory bowel disease, obesity and diabetes, and more results are expected to provide enlightenment in the coming years.

Petroleum-Based Food Items

If you’re not grossed out yet by all the weird ingredients you can find in fast food, this one should get your attention. McDonald’s fries were deconstructed and found to contain an astounding 15 ingredients. So, no, they’re not just fried potatoes.

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Photo Courtesy: Amazon Product Page

The truth is that one of the most popular fast food fries out there contains petroleum-based chemicals that are used in Silly Putty and plenty of preservatives. Additionally, they aren’t just fried in restaurants. The fries are pre-cooked during the production process in order to establish the famous crisp texture.

Chicken-Less Nuggets

Sorry to all the nuggets lovers and the share boxes you keep to yourself. A chicken nugget study revealed that chicken isn’t actually the main ingredient in most nuggets. It’s not just McDonald’s — the same is true for all your favorite fast food nuggets.

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Photo Courtesy: Evan-Amos/Wikimedia Commons

Fast food restaurant nuggets often contain more fat than they do chicken. On top of that, other ingredients found in nuggets include epithelium, bone, nerve and connective tissues. The study argues that the product name is a misnomer, as it’s not accurate based on the real description of ingredients.

Fake but Tempting Ad Pictures

Ever been persuaded to get an item based on the photo, only to find the real-life version looks — and tastes — pretty darn pathetic? The food items you see in ads require a lot of extra help to look as fabulous as they do.

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Photo Courtesy: McDonald’s

Insiders revealed that the fast food industry uses plenty of tricks to convince you the food looks and tastes amazing. To make sure the meat looks juicy, it gets soaked in oil. Some burritos have even been super-glued! Guess that means you definitely can’t eat sample food after you’re done with a fast food photoshoot.

The Truth About the Packaging

A 2017 study revealed that even the packaging on fast food contributes to the problem. Paper wrappings and cardboard boxes typically used for fast food are full of chemicals designed to prevent grease from soaking through and leaking out. Some of these chemicals are actually connected to cancer and other terminal illnesses.

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Photo Courtesy: Amin/Wikimedia Commons

What affects the release of these chemicals is the food’s temperature as well as the length of time it’s left in the packaging. Sandwich and burger wrappers can contain up to 38% fluorine, which can cause plenty of health problems if it’s consumed frequently.

Beetle Juice Dye

Eating insects might be a way of life in plenty of places around the world, but most people here in the good old USA are put off by the thought of consuming a bug. If you’re eating fast food that is colored red in any way, you just might be consuming beetles without knowing it.

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If a product label states that your red-colored item contains "natural and artificial coloring," it most likely contains carmine, which translates into beetle juice. Beetles are dried and crushed to produce a dye that is frequently used in food products to give them a bright red color.

Fake Natural Smoke Flavor

We all know that most fast food burgers are frozen and then fried, right? So, how do so many of them have that smoky flavor that implies they just came off the grill? "Natural smoke flavor" is actually a keyword for something entirely different.

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The smoke flavor represents the smoke of burned wood, and it’s produced by an outside company that bottles and sells the flavor to various fast food chains. The company can even replicate the characteristics of caramelized and fried foods, giving the impression that they were freshly made on the spot.

Wrong Sizes

Duke University researchers found that some fast food chains use sneaky ways to make you buy more for less. They discovered that by decreasing the number of ounces in their soda sizes, customers were encouraged to purchase a larger size.

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Photo Courtesy: Nehrams2020/Wikimedia Commons

That means that when people want what should equate to a medium portion of soda, they are selecting a large — and paying more for it — to get the amount they want. Sodas have a bad enough reputation already. Do fast food restaurants really need to make it worse by playing around with the sizes of the drinks?

Styrofoam Coffee Cups with a Depressing Link

Although many eco-conscious businesses have stopped using Styrofoam coffee cups, you can still find them in some fast food chains. Although they are cheaper to purchase, they may present a health risk if you are overly exposed to them. These coffee cups contain styrene, a chemical that can be harmful to humans if absorbed too frequently.

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Styrene is one of the neurotoxins that causes depression, and it can seriously alter neurobehavioral and neurophysiological symptoms. Severe exposure to styrene can cause headaches, nausea, dizziness and plenty of other harmful effects on the human body.

Sugar, Sugar and More Sugar

It’s no secret that fast food contains far more sugar than is recommended for your daily — and even your weekly — intake. Excessive sugar is even found in some of the "healthiest" items on the menu. McDonald's fruit and maple oatmeal might seem healthy, for example, but the nutritional numbers tell a different story.

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An average McD’s oatmeal contains 32 grams of sugar, topping out your daily recommended intake just for your morning meal. You’d be starting your day full of energy, but that energy would come from sugar, leaving you to crash in the middle of the day.

Fast Food and Sadness

Not only are Styrofoam coffee cups linked to depression, but fast food can also make you feel really, really sad. According to a Public Health Nutrition study, the more people consume fast food, the greater the risk of depression.

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The study also stated that those affected most tend to be people with less active habits and poor general diets. What’s even more surprising is that almost 9,000 participants in this study were never diagnosed with depression before their voluntary participation. The project recorded an astounding 657 new cases of diagnosed depression.

It… Melts?

An ex McDonald’s worker who goes by the username dfunkatron on Reddit claimed that there’s one menu item at McDonald’s he would never let people eat — the Chicken McNuggets. According to the Redditor, he left a bag of about 100 nuggets out in the open for too long.

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What happened? The nuggets melted into a pool of liquid! The post was written in 2012. Since then, McDonald’s stated that it doesn’t use the same mechanically separated meat ingredients that many Redditors suspected would cause this kind of reaction.

Fizzy and Tempting

Fizzy drinks don’t satisfy your thirst, even though they’re incredibly tasty and tempting. There’s a simple and very unhealthy reason behind that. The sweet taste in fizzy fast food drinks comes from the added high fructose corn syrup, which is used as a sugar substitute.

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Although it sounds innocent, those high levels of syrup eat away the enamel on your teeth and attack your organs. This puts you at risk when you consume overly sweet fizzy drinks, which are loaded with high fructose corn syrup. Combined with your actual fast food meal, it’s a recipe for prime unhealthiness.

So. Many. Cows.

Obviously, fast food meats come from animals — you hope! — but did you know that one fast food burger could include meat from about 100 different cows? These items are cheap because only the inferior parts of the cow get processed and shipped.

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That means that to have the capacity to ship such high amounts of meat, slaughterhouses chop up hundreds of cows and sort the cheaper pieces out from the more expensive ones. Expensive meats are reserved for premium restaurants, while the cheap parts land in chains such as McDonald's, Burger King and Wendy’s.

Beaver Glands in Shakes

Still drinking that shake? We’re not done yet! You might want to put down your cup right now. It has been revealed that shakes contain an added sweetener that contains an ingredient that could put you off fast food shakes forever.

Photo Courtesy: Minette Layne/Flickr/Wikimedia Commons

The bizarre ingredient is castoreum, a yellowish food additive that actually comes from beaver glands. Yep, you read that correctly. If it makes you feel any better, it apparently smells like vanilla. The ingredient can be found in shakes as well as some of your favorite candies, particularly those that are raspberry flavored.

Apple Pie with Duck Feathers

Last but not least, the incredibly popular fast food apple pie might seem like the perfect balance of hot, crunchy and sweet, but it contains something pretty gross. To process the pies more quickly, they are infused with a bunch of chemicals, including L-cysteine.

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Photo Courtesy: Evan Amos/Wikimedia Commons

L-cysteine is a non-essential amino acid that is often used in the food industry as an additive. An amino acid sounds like a good thing, so what’s the problem? It’s actually derived from duck feathers and human hair! (Adds a whole new meaning to finding hair in your food, doesn’t it?) It’s also used in processed breads, including bagels, to make them last longer.