How is junk food impacting our health?

A day in our life is like a daily sprint. With the ticking of the clock, it just becomes faster paced and busier. Nowadays with lack of time, busy parents, tempting varieties of foods, easy access to a fast-food hub, the struggle between work and life balance, or lucrative marketing boards and advertisements, we tend to reach out to fast and junk foods more often. The reason can be a convenience of time and speed or a strong indulgence of habituated taste. It is important to learn how the intake of such foods affects our health. It is all the more important to make them your occasional foods and not part of your main diet.

What are fast and junk foods?

There are usually processed, canned, frozen foods high in fat, sodium, sugar. They have low nutritional value and low satiation levels tending to be overeating. Examples: Pizza, Burger, Nuggets, Chips and crisps, bakery foods, Carbonated beverages, French fries, etc. It is tempting due to the presence of dramatic ingredients like artificial flavouring agents, cheese, high levels of sugar, sodium, etc. 

Andre F. Smith, in his book ‘Encyclopaedia of Junk and fast food defines junk food as “those commercial products, including candy, bakery goods, ice cream, salty snacks, and soft drinks, which have little or no nutritional value but do have plenty of calories, salt, and fats. While not all fast foods are junk foods, most are. Fast foods are ready-to-eat foods served promptly after ordering.”

Let us look at some health impact of junk foods:

  • Nutrient deficiency and low immunity: Due to lack of vitamins, minerals, proteins, in the long run, it affects the body by weakening it to nutrition deficiency. These are not great foods in strengthening immunity
  • Obesity: Junk foods give way to overeating as it alters the appetite, uncontrolled cravings for food, and metabolism, eventually contributing to an increase in the Body mass index (weight). This can lead the way to joint pain, heart diseases, diabetes. 
  • Anxiety and Depression: With an overload with high sugar and fats, junk foods cause some chemical reactions in the brain which affects its healthy functioning and eventually leading to the brain’s inability to deal with stress and anxiety 
  • High sugar and Blood pressure: Type 2 Diabetes, anxiety, blood pressure have become very common in young adults and adults alike. Junk food has its contribution part in these ailments.
  • Lack of concentration and reduced cognitive abilities: Due to its very limited nutrition capabilities, in the long run, it affects the cognitive abilities of the brain and also memory function. The healthy brain needs its doses of essential fatty acids like omega-6 and omega-3, and the deficiency increases the risk of dementia, deficit disorder, and other brain-related problems.
  • Dental problems: Junk food is a cause of food accumulation within teeth resulting in plague, cavities, mouth odor, tooth enamel decay. This is quite prevalent in children.
  • Fatigue, lethargy – Due to lack of nutrition, the body feels tired and fatigued most of the time. This in turn starts affecting the day to day functions as well
  • Chronic ailments such as cancer, kidney ailments, vital organ ailments too are attributed on a long term intake of junk foods

An American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study in 2011 stated that people who ate junk food performed poorly on cognitive tests that measured attention, speed, and mood. A junk food-based diet causes chemical reactions in the brain that leads to inflammation in the hippocampus area which is associated with special recognition and memory functions.

Do not panic. We understand the world and lifestyle we all live on. You cannot avoid junk food if you are stuck at your workplace and all you have is a vending machine that can provide you lunch with junk food. You can have your occasional junk food bytes with the knowledge of its impact on your health.

Below are the permissible levels of empty calories for a day (only if you have no other choice). These do not suggest a daily intake. Junk foods should only be occasional. We are using the term ’empty calories’ to reiterate the implications.

  • Child – 120-150 empty calories
  • Teenager (13 to 18) – 260 junk calories
  • Adult Male (18 to 30) – 330 empty calories; (31to 50) – 265 empty calories
  • Adult Female (18 to 30) – 260 empty calories; (31 to 50) – 190 empty calories
  • Adults (above 50) – 120 calories
  • People with health and dietary special needs – always consult a certified medical counsellor 
  • Ensure the daily amount of exercise (at least 30 min) 

The governments of the countries have acknowledged the impact of junk foods on the citizens and have published information on health and diets. Refer to https://www.nhp.gov.in/healthlyliving/healthy-diet

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  1. Ankita

    Great article!

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