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Fast Failure: Examining the Impact of Fast Food on Kidney Health

Kidney disease continues to strike the Black community at startling rates, as many across the District face a health crisis brought on by their daily eating habits. Currently, Washington, D.C., reports the most prevalent rate of chronic kidney disease in the nation – 44 times the national average — that in most cases, developed from a bevy of underlying illnesses directly linked to dietary and lifestyle choices.

“The vast majority of people who have chronic kidney disease and kidney failure have some general medical condition that affects the kidneys, as well as the rest of the body,” said Dr. Raymond Bass, M.D. with Montgomery Renal Associates, in Maryland. “The very two at the top of that list are diabetes and high blood pressure.”

In addition to fast-paced lifestyles that rely on eating quick, pre-packaged meals teens and young adults have made fast food eateries like McDonald’s, Popeyes, and Taco Bell a regular option for nourishment. The results of the high intake of saturated fats, sodium, and fillers in most menu items, kidney function becomes compromised.

“Dietitians push fresh food and home cooking, but in reality, patients are going to eat fast food. It is important for registered dietitians to help steer patients to better choices that will allow patients to feel less restricted in eating while keeping their phosphorus and potassium in control,” registered dietician Christina Arquette notes in The Journal of Renal Nutrition. “Looking at Burger King, McDonald’s, and Wendy’s, the regular plain hamburger looks like the best choice with the lowest phosphorus and potassium.”

Arquette said that Taco Bell and KFC had few ideal options for optimal kidney health as items like tacos, drumsticks and wings were rarely eaten at the recommended proportion size of 1 taco or 1 wing. This results easily in exceeding maximum healthy numbers.

Avoiding foods with heavy sodium content often proves difficult for those living in food deserts or with food insecurities. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines a food desert as an area where people have limited access to a variety of healthful foods. This may be due to having a limited income or living more than a mile from a major grocery chain. The USDA also found that more than 35 million Americans were either unable to acquire enough food to meet their needs, or uncertain of where their next meal might come from in 2019.

“The issue is less obesity and chronic conditions than the quality of the foods being consumed. When we consider that a large portion of Americans who are classified as overweight are also malnourished, it speaks to the consumption of cheap, processed foods with no nutritional value,” dietician Taylor Andreas told The Informer. “The food fills you up but also poisons your system, throwing kidneys, liver, and digestive tracts out of whack. In order to address kidney issues, we have to also address our over-reliance on ‘fake foods.’”

Wholistic practitioner Dr. Kokayi Patterson has spent years facilitating local food donations, and health consultations to those most vulnerable demographics. Patterson speaks to the importance of diet as it pertains to preventative habits to combat potential kidney disorders, and additional health maladies.

“The food choices necessary for the Black community to address, should be sustainable foods. It should be foods that will nourish their bodies, that have in it healing capabilities, and are supplemented with herbs and other nutritional elements. The diet is key,” said Patterson. “When you are eating from God’s health food basket — fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, and whole grains, as well as good spring water, plenty of sunlight, meditation, and exercise – your kidneys function properly. These are the dietary things needed for the spirit, mind, and body.”

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