Another day, another dramatic infographic. This time, we’ve moved away from shocking suggestions of what sugar- and stimulant-laden drinks apparently do to your body within 60 minutes, to the unappetizing after-effects of eating a Big Mac.
Created by Fast Food Menu Price, this supposedly gives you a breakdown of the effects of Big Mac ingredients over a period of one hour, nicely segregated into 10-minute time periods. It goes as follows:
Credit: Fast Food Menu Price
So how much of this has any truth to it? Well, for starters their list of sources does not include scientific journals, but does feature Fox News (twice) and the Daily Mail. Moving swiftly on.
It’s a bit confusing at the start because it mentions the high Calorie content (540) in the same sentence as raising blood sugar to “abnormal” levels. Calories themselves are not responsible for raising blood sugar – it’s the carbohydrates within food. And how much they raise blood sugar levels depends on the type of carbohydrate eaten, or more specifically its glycemic index (GI).
Those with a high GI, such as white bread, are quickly absorbed and thus can cause blood sugar to spike. At the other end of the spectrum tends to be more complex carbs that get broken down gradually and do not affect blood sugar levels as quickly.
A Big Mac has three slices of white bread in it, which in the U.S. are laced with high-fructose corn syrup, another simple carbohydrate. It therefore seems reasonable to suggest it may drive up blood sugar levels, but things are not that simple. The amount of fat in the food also affects how quickly carbohydrates are absorbed by the body. Furthermore, each body is different, so we can’t generalize like that. It seems extremely unlikely that eating one Big Mac would raise blood glucose levels to “abnormal” levels and they give no evidence for this.
This leads me on to the next point: Big Mac recipes differ across the world, so once again we can’t generalize the supposed effects. In the U.K, for example, no high-fructose corn syrup is used, it has 42 fewer Calories, and a lower fat content. In Sweden, on the other hand, the amount of fat is higher.
The point about dopamine – the brain’s reward and pleasure chemical – does have truth to it. Junk food has been shown to prompt the release of dopamine, and it has been shown to be addictive. But it isn’t only junk food that causes the release of dopamine: eating in general can trigger its release. However, one study has suggested that excessive eating may ultimately lead to changes in brain chemistry, fueling addiction.
Overall, Big Macs probably aren’t that different to other burgers; 550 Calories is not completely astonishing, although the added sugar in the U.S. is far from desirable. Probably the most worrying aspect is the high amount of salt it contains, which again seems to vary depending on which country they are sourced from. Yes, lots of salt can make you dehydrated, and thirst can be mistaken for hunger. But whether you will suffer from dehydration after eating a Big Mac again depends on the person and what they have been up to. Exercise and the amount of water they have drunk throughout the day would all affect this.
So in sum: Big Macs, like all junk food, are not good for you, so don’t eat them every day. But once in a while, don’t worry yourself.