Clearly, fast food is more complicated than it looks. Many menu items contain processed foods, which have been modified from their natural state for safety or convenience. Processed foods tend to have multiple additives to keep them fresher longer. Across an entire fast-food menu, there are thousands of ingredients, ranging from the commonplace (water) to the exotic (xanthan gum).
Considering that some of these ingredients have been implicated in serious health issues, it would be good to know which are the most common.
10. Citric Acid: The Most Common Preservative
9. High-fructose Corn Syrup: The Most Common Sweetener
8. Caramel Color: The Most Common Color Additive
7. Salt: The Most Common Flavor or Spice
Most health experts warn against eating too much salt, pointing to studies that show a link between sodium and high blood pressure. The government recommends a maximum of 6 grams of salt per day for adults, 5 grams a day for children between ages 7 and 10, and 3 grams for children between 4 and 6. Compare that recommendation to a typical family meal from KFC, which delivers a whopping 5.2 grams of salt per person [source: BBC News]!
6. Monosodium Glutamate: The Most Common Flavor Enhancer
5. Niacin: The Most Common Nutrient
4. Soybean Oil: The Most Common Oil or Fat
Soybean oil contains several unsaturated fatty acids, which means their component molecules have fewer hydrogen atoms. Unfortunately, unsaturated fats don't have long shelf lives. Hydrogenation, or forcing hydrogen gas into soybean oil under extremely high pressure, eliminates this undesirable characteristic. But it also leads to the creation of trans fatty acids, which have been linked to heart disease.
3. Mono- and Diglycerides: The Most Common Emulsifiers
Mono- and diglycerides allow smooth mixing of ingredients, prevent separation and generally stabilize food. You can find them in ice cream, margarine, baked goods, whipped topping and certain beverages. Luckily, glycerides pose no serious health threats, although they are a source of fat.
2. Xanthan Gum: The Most Common Stabilizer or Thickener
Xanthan gum also creates a smooth, pleasant texture in many foods. For this reason, it appears in ice cream, whipped topping, custard and pie filling. And the really good news: It's not associated with any known adverse effects.
1. Chicken: The Most Common Meat Product