This is what fast food actually does to your immune system

Don't get enough sleep? Drink too much booze? Stressing out? These everyday habits could all be ruining your immune system, but the worst culprit may be your fast food habit.

A recent study out of the University of Bonn suggests that a typical "Western diet" (a lot of red meat, sugar, and saturated fat and not much fiber—basically synonymous with fast food) can kick the immune system into overdrive, causing inflammation. The study, published in the journal, Cell, goes on to connect that inflammatory response to serious conditions like cardiovascular diseases (read: stroke or heart attack) and type 2 diabetes, which itself can lead to cardiovascular diseases, as reported by Science Daily.

Researchers, led by Eicke Latz, MD, PhD, director of the Institute for Innate Immunity of the University of Bonn in Germany, placed mice on a Western diet and observed that after only one month, the mice had an inflammatory response akin to that triggered by a serious bacterial infection. "Fast food thus causes the body to quickly recruit a huge and powerful army," noted the University of Bonn's press release, as that process notably increases the immune cells in the mice's blood.

RELATED: Secrets fast food employees will never reveal

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What your fast food worker won't tell you
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What your fast food worker won't tell you

After we cook something, we put it in a holding cabinet and set a timer.

When the timer goes off, we’re supposed to throw it out. But often, we just reheat the food. So for the freshest meal, come between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. or between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. More people are in the restaurant then, so we’re cooking and serving new food constantly. (These are the worst meals you could order at a restaurant, by the way.)

That plain chicken breast may have been a healthy choice out of the package...

But sometimes we have to slather it with butter just to make sure it doesn’t stick to the grill. On the other hand, these healthy fast foods can satisfy unhealthy cravings.

There’s usually a way to get expensive menu items for less

If you’re craving a Big Mac, for example, order a $1 McDouble with no mustard or ketchup and then add shredded lettuce and Mac sauce for a small charge. It’s basically a mini Big Mac, and you can get two for less than the cost of one Big Mac. Check out more trivia facts you probably didn't know about McDonald's.

Most fast-food joints clean everything with super-concentrated chemicals at the end of the day

That includes the grills and the drink machine nozzles. If you’re one of the first customers in the morning, you may be getting some of that chemical residue on the food or in the drink you order—or, worse. You won't believe what was found on the ice in some fast food restaurants. 

Those grill marks on your burger?

Not real. They were put there by the factory. If you want REAL grill marks, it's probably best to make your own at home with one of these burger recipes.

Most of us will cook something fresh for you if you ask

But if you want to make sure your french fries come right out of the fryer, order them without salt; that forces us to cook you a new batch. Then you can add your own salt, and they'll still taste the same. That's because of the secret ingredient that makes McDonald's fries so addictive.

Avoid asking for “extra” of something, like cheese or sauce

As soon as you say “extra,” we have to enter it at the register and charge you for it. Instead, just tell us you want us to “put a good amount on there” or “not to be skimpy with it,” and we’ll load you up.

Yes, our chili is made from what you think:

Meat from old burgers.

It makes me laugh when someone comes in and says she’s trying to be healthy—and then orders a salad with crispy chicken

At McDonald’s, some of those salads have about as many calories as a Big Mac. In fact, a small order of french fries contains four fewer grams of fat than a packet of our ranch dressing. Also, be wary of these "healthy" fast food choices that definitely aren't.

We’re timed on how fast we get customers through the drive-through...

...so we always prioritize those in line outside over anyone at the front counter. And after you leave the drive-through, use this trick to keep your fries crispy the whole way home.

One of my coworkers once got so mad that he spit in someone’s food

He was suspended for three days. Most of us would never do something like that.

Here’s a good way to know how clean a fast-food establishment really is:

When you get your drink, bend down and look up into the ice chute. If you see mold and other stuff growing in there—which is more common than you might expect—they’re not cleaning the machine as often as they’re supposed to.

Those gorgeous pictures of our food in our advertisements?

They’re airbrushed and touched up with fiberglass and paint. It probably takes two hours to make that picture. Obviously, we’re not going to be able to replicate that.

Please, please, get off your cell phone

I’ve had people pull up to the window, pay, and drive away without their food because they’re talking on the phone and not paying attention. Then they’re mad at me. Here are some more crazy stories from drive-through workers.

At most fast-food restaurants, it’s tough to give away free food

Especially things like burgers, because they’re inventoried. We can sometimes give away French fries, ice cream or drinks because we get those ourselves, but it depends on which manager is on duty.

We hate it when you order an ice cream

Most of the time, we’ve got to make it, and it’s already melting by the time we hand it to you. If you order four or five cones at a time, it’s almost impossible to get them to you before they melt everywhere, and then you want new ones.

Here’s something that surprised me when I started working at McDonald's:

Our clam grills are set at 750 degrees, and they can fully cook a regular beef hamburger in just 38 seconds, a quarter pounder in 70 seconds. The first time I ever saw that, I was like, 'Ewww.'

We’re happy to replace something if we mess up, but...

We can usually tell when you’re making up a story to get free food. There was one guy who found a pebble in our parking lot, put it in his food after he ate most of it, and then asked for a replacement. Another lady took 10 tacos home. The next day, she brought just a few of them back, showing us that their lettuce was brown. She wanted another 10 tacos. But of course, if you leave tacos out for 24 hours, the lettuce will turn. Love tacos? Here are some fun taco recipes to try.

Some fast-food workers definitely follow the 10-second rule

I have seen people drop food and then pick it back up and put it on the grill.

No, most of us do not donate our leftovers

I can’t believe how much food we throw out every day, especially at the end of the night. You, however, can do your part. Here's how you can cut back on food waste at home.

All fast-food restaurants are not created equal

Even restaurants within the same chain can vary widely depending on the owner and manager and what kind of standards they set.

When you take three handfuls of napkins or fill your purse with ketchup packets...

I don’t know what you call it, but I call it stealing. You’re just making things more expensive for everyone.

Please don’t ask what ingredients are in our fried chicken coating or in our special sauce

All of our recipes are proprietary, so they don’t even tell us what’s in them. But we can tell you why McDonald's Coke tastes better than anywhere else.

At some restaurants, managers get a bonus if they hold onto their employees and keep their turnover rate down

That gives us an incentive to keep people who aren’t very good, even if they don’t know the difference between a French fry and a screwdriver. And I’m not exaggerating; I’ve had employees who were that bad.

Most of us, even the managers, aren’t making much more than minimum wage

You wouldn’t believe the stuff we put up with for that kind of money. People constantly talk to me like I’m a two-year-old. I’ve had customers throw drinks at me and cuss at me. I’ve been held up at gunpoint.

At Taco Bell, most of our food does carry over, so we reheat it and serve it the next day

That’s why I never take my lunch break early. Plus, fast food can have some weird effects on your brain.

For the best deal at McDonald's, order off the dollar menu

You can get a lot of food for the same price as a meal and it will fill you up more.

We were supposed to wear gloves when we made food

But a lot of times my co-workers didn’t do it, and that really skeeved me out. Here are more dirty restaurant secrets the kitchen crew won't tell you.

Most of us don’t wash our hands as much as we should

Even though there are signs everywhere reminding us it's the law.

Look around to see how much trash is in the parking lot

And whether the bathrooms are dirty and if the dining room is picked up. When things that are so publicly visible are neglected, you can bet that even more is being neglected in the back and in the kitchen where no one can see them. That's just one of the things restaurant health inspectors wish you knew.

Once your order is in at the drive-through...

We have two minutes to get your food before the screen turns red, and the manager asks what’s going on.

We do laugh at you behind your back

Like when you mispronounce our menu items or when you think we can’t hear you through the drive-through speaker, yelling at your husband or kids.

When it was slow, sometimes we would all take the garbage out...

And smoke marijuana in the back. Really, it's true. Want more crazy food service stories? Here's everything your waiter isn't telling you.

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Even worse? The immune response isn't reversible, the scientists discovered. When they fed the mice a healthier diet for another month, the acute inflammation subsided, but genetic testing revealed permanent changes to the immune system. This is because "the innate immune system has a form of memory," Dr. Latz explains. "After an infection [or in the case of the mice, exposure to fast food], the body's defenses remain in a kind of alarm state, so that they can respond more quickly to a new attack."

Although the precise mechanism behind this process remains to be determined, Dr. Latz sees the research results as a warning, especially for parents of young kids, and suggests nutrition play a more prominent role in early childhood education. "Children have a choice of what they eat every day," he says. "We should enable them to make conscious decisions regarding their dietary habits."

Make sure you avoid these other seemingly innocent habits that could be damaging your immune system.

The post This Is What Fast Food Actually Does to Your Immune System appeared first on Reader's Digest.

RELATED: Healthiest options you can find

15 PHOTOS
15 of the healthiest fast-food menu items
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15 of the healthiest fast-food menu items

Chipotle — Chicken Burrito Bowl with brown rice & pinto beans, no cheese or sour cream: 500 calories

Chipotle has lots of fresh, healthier options. In general, nix the cheese and sour cream (an occasional dollop of guac is fine, since it's packed with healthy fats), and go for deconstructed alternatives to their burritos, like this one, which has:

500 calories — not too low, not too high 

42 g of protein — a hefty amount to strengthen muscles and fill you up

13.5 g of fat — a little on the high side

57 g of carbs — roughly one-third of your recommended daily allowance

805 mg of sodium — a little less than half your recommended daily allowance

Starbucks — Spinach and Feta Wrap: 290 calories

While the yummy pastries at Starbucks are sure to catch your eye mid-afternoon, sugary muffins and scones can leave you hangry. Their hot breakfast items, like this wrap, are likely a healthier, more filling meal, with:

290 calories — pretty low as far as lunch goes; pair with a high-protein side like plain Greek yogurt

19 g of protein — a pretty good amount to strengthen muscles and fill you up

10 g of fat — not too low, not too high

33 g of carbs — pretty high; replace sugary or carb-heavy snacks with protein-rich ones

830 mg of sodium — just under half your daily allowance

In-N-Out — Cheeseburger with onion, ketchup, and mustard, no spread: 480 calories

You don't have to turn to the secret menu (we're lookin' at you, Protein-Style fans) to get a lighter option at In-N-Out. Swap the special sauce for some ketchup and mustard to slash some fat and calories, and opt for a regular burger instead of a Double-Double.

480 calories — not too high, not too low

22 g of protein — a good amount to strengthen muscles and fill you up

27 g of fat — on the high side (a little less than half your daily allowance)

41 g of carbs — roughly 14% of your recommended daily allowance

1080 mg of sodium — close to half your recommended daily allowance

Chick-fil-A — Grilled Chicken Cool Wrap: 340 calories

The "home of the original chicken sandwich" spiced up its menu last year, adding a smattering of healthy fare like this option, which has: 

350 calories — pretty low as far as lunch items go; you might want to pair this with a yogurt, a small salad, or some fresh fruit

37 g of protein — a hefty amount to strengthen muscles and fill you up

14 g of fat — not too low, not too high

29 g of carbs — on the low side

960 mg of sodium — about half your recommended daily allowance

Wendy's — Power Mediterranean Chicken Salad, full size: 480 calories

Not all of Wendy's salads are healthy (the Spicy Caesar Chicken Salad, for example, packs 790 calories and 43 grams of fat), but a couple are winners in most areas, including this "Mediterranean" chicken salad. The drawback to this salad, however, is that it's very high in sodium.

480 calories — on the low side

43 g of protein — a hefty amount to strengthen muscles and fill you up

16 g of fat — on the higher side, but not a deal-breaker

42 g of carbs — pretty high and about a third comes from sugar

1200 mg of sodium — more than half your daily allowance

Shake Shack — Single Hamburger or Chicken Dog: 360 or 300 calories

While they're known for their towering Shack Stacks and crispy fries, this chain has lighter options too. Notably, their vegetarian 'Shroom Burger isn't one of them. The hamburger (without cheese) has:

360 calories — pretty low as far as lunch items go; you might want to pair this with a yogurt, a small salad, or some fresh fruit

26 g of protein — a good amount to strengthen muscles and fill you up

17 g of fat — on the higher side, but not a deal-breaker

25 g of carbs — pretty low

460 mg of sodium — pretty low

The Chicken Dog has:

300 calories — pretty low as far as lunch items go

26 g of protein — a good amount to strengthen muscles and fill you up

11 g of fat —not too high, not too low

32 g of carbs — not too high, not too low

970 mg of sodium — a little under half your daily allowance

McDonald's — Artisan Grilled Chicken Sandwich: 380 calories

While I wasn't very impressed by the taste of the Artisan Grilled Chicken, it's definitely one of the healthier choices at McDonald's, since the meat is grilled rather than fried. Here's how the sandwich stacks up:

380 calories — pretty low for a lunch items go; you might want to pair this with a yogurt, a small salad, or some fresh fruit

37 g of protein — a hefty amount to strengthen muscles and fill you up

7 g of fat — not too low, not too high

44 g of carbs — roughly 14% of your daily allowance

1100 mg of sodium — about half your daily allowance

Taco Bell — Chicken Burrito Supreme, "Fresco Style": 340 calories

No longer solely the land of Chalupas and Crunchwrap Supremes, Taco Bell has expanded its healthier offerings with the "Fresco" menu, which essentially swaps the sour cream and cheese in popular items for salsa. Here's how the Fresco Burrito with chicken shapes up: 

340 calories — pretty low as far as lunch items go; you might want to pair this with a yogurt, a small salad, or some fresh fruit

19 g of protein — a pretty good amount to strengthen muscles and fill you up

8 g of fat — not too low, not too high

49 g of carbs — roughly 16% of your recommended daily allowance

1060 mg of sodium — close to half your recommended daily allowance 

Panera — Strawberry Poppyseed Salad with Chicken: 340 calories

Panera has plenty of yummy nutritious items, at least for lunch. The only bone we have to pick with this salad is that, because of the dressing and fruit, it contains a hefty amount of sugar at 20 grams. Otherwise, here's how it stacks up:

430 calories — not too high, not too low

25 g of protein — a hefty amount to strengthen muscles and fill you up

13 g of fat — a moderate amount

31 g of carbs — a moderate amount

280 mg of sodium — low, especially compared to the other items on this list

McDonald's — Egg McMuffin: 300 calories

The fruit and yogurt parfait isn't the only healthy morning item that McDonald's offers. Avoiding the meat is an easy way to lighten up their traditional all-day breakfast fare. An Egg McMuffin has:

300 calories — on the lower side if you're eating it for lunch

18 g of protein — a hefty amount to strengthen muscles and fill you up

12 g of fat — on the higher side, but not a deal-breaker

30 g of carbs — fairly low

730 mg of sodium — about a third of your recommended daily allowanc

Dunkin' Donuts — Egg White Flatbread: 280 calories

For a chain that specializes in deep-fried dough, Dunkin' Donuts has quite a few healthy breakfast options, like their Egg White Flatbread, which has:

330 calories — pretty low as far as lunch goes; pair with a side salad, some fruit, or a yogurt

18 g of protein — a good amount to strengthen muscles and fill you up

14 g of fat — not too high, not too low

33 g of carbs — roughly 11% of your recommended daily allowance

570 mg of sodium — about a quarter of your daily allowance

Papa John's — Garden Fresh Pizza, two medium slices: 400 calories

One of the least healthy things about most pizza-chain fare is the high sodium content, which some research suggests may be bad for your heart. If you're a pizza fan, keep an eye your salt intake the rest of the day after you've indulged in a few slices. The Garden Fresh pie has:

400 calories — on the lower side

16 g of protein — a pretty good amount to strengthen muscles and fill you up

14 g of fat — not too low, not too high

54 g of carbs — pretty high; replace sugary or carb-heavy snacks with protein-rich ones in your other meals

960 mg of sodium — just under half your daily allowance

Pizza Hut — Garden Party Thin Crust Pizza, two medium slices: 460 calories

As part of its recent attempt to overhaul its brand, Pizza Hut began offering several options with more fresh veggies and popular toppings like Sriracha. But like other pizza chains, most offerings are high in sodium and carbs. The Garden Party pizza has:

460 calories — not too high, not too low

18 g of protein — a pretty good amount to strengthen muscles and fill you up

18 g of fat — on the higher side, but not a deal-breaker

60 g of carbs — pretty high; watch your other snacks

900 mg of sodium — a little under half your daily allowance

Burger King — BK Veggie Burger, no mayo: 310 calories

Many vegetarians were excited when Burger King announced its veggie option. Overall at this restaurant, you should follow same rules we highlighted for ordering at McDonald's: Avoid mayo and fried options and go for sandwiches instead of meal packages. Here's the BK Veggie lowdown:

310 calories — pretty low as far as lunch items go; you might want to pair this with a yogurt, a small salad, or some fresh fruit

22 g of protein — a hefty amount to strengthen muscles and fill you up

7 g of fat — not too low, not too high

42 g of carbs — roughly 14% of your daily allowance

990 mg of sodium — close to half your daily allowance

Subway — 6-inch Turkey Breast Sub, no cheese, add avocado: 340 calories

"Eating fresh" is pretty easy at this chain, where you can get lean meats or just fresh veggies on whole-wheat bread with a variety of low-calorie, low-fat dressings. Turkey and avocado, my personal favorite, has:

340 calories — pretty low as far as lunch items go; you might want to pair this with a yogurt, a small salad, or some fresh fruit

18 g of protein — a pretty good amount to strengthen muscles and fill you up

9 g of fat — not too low, not too high

49 g of carbs — roughly 16% of your daily allowance

670 mg of sodium — not bad; much lower than competing items at Chipotle or Taco Bel

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