What’s your definition of junk food? The answer to this question is different for everyone. The base of your diet might determine the answer to this question.
Wikipedia defines junk food as “a food containing a large number of calories from sugar and or fat with little fiber, protein, vitamins or minerals. It can also be food high in saturated fat or highly processed foods from many hamburger joints, pizza places or fried chicken.”
The origin of the term junk food dates back to 1952 and became famous after it appeared in a headline in the Lima, Ohio, News, “Junk Foods Cause Serious Malnutrition.” This article was a reprint of a 1948 article from the Ogden, Utah, Standard-Examiner from a health column by Dr. Brady titled “More Junk Than Food.” In the article, Dr. Brady defined junk food as any food made with principally “white food” like white flour and white sugar. This included white bread, crackers, cake, candy, ice cream, chocolate malt, ice cream / sundaes, and sweetened carbonated beverages.
Concerns about negative health effects resulting from a heavy junk food diet, especially obesity, have resulted in public health awareness campaigns, and restrictions on advertising and sales in several countries – Think about the removal of soda machines in schools, or taxes on carbonated beverages in Chicago.
Junk food is readily available and cheap. Even “healthy” fast food like Chipotle is easy to find and affordable. Sadly, I have many patients that can’t or do not know how to cook. With the advent of delivery from anywhere (Grub Hub) and lack of focus on fresh foods, cooking, and communal eating, home cooking and nutritional knowledge is not being imparted on the youth of America.
The hard part for many is that junk food is appealing. Food science has done wonders in making food more addictive to your brain, similar to drugs. The chemical additives are not the sole culprit, and sugar itself has been shown to be as addicting as heroin. Addiction to junk food may result in rejection of healthier food options like fruits, vegetables, and salads due to changing of the palate and cravings, leading to further lack of nourishment. Many junk foods are sweet, fatty, and salty or even all three. Frequent consumption of junk food increases the intake of excess fat, simple carbohydrates, and processed sugar which may lead to a higher risk of obesity and cardiovascular diseases among other chronic health problems.
The best bet of course is to avoid junk foods all together. However, there are a few red flags to watch for as you limit your junk foods. These include trans-fats, refined grains, salt, sugar and high fructose corn syrup (fructose of HFCS-90 are the new names). Avoid foods that include corn sweetener, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, partially hydrogenated, fractionated, or hydrogenated on their label.
Quitting junk food is a gradual process. The first few days might be tough as you may experience some withdrawal symptoms: irritability, headaches, and dips in energy levels. An occasional treat never hurts – ‘occasional’ being the key word. Make sure you aren’t sneaking too many treats into your diet at the cost of healthy nutrition.
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