Are you a junk-food junkie? Here's what you need to know.
It's the 21st century and "junk food" has gone global. For better or
for worse (mostly worse), junk food is now available all over the world. We see
it most everywhere we go -- in grocery and convenience stores, fast-food
restaurants, on television -- usually looking very appealing. But just what are
the facts about junk food?
"Junk food" generally refers to foods that contribute lots of
calories but little nutritional value. Of course, what's considered "junk
food" depends on whom you ask. Some might say pizza is junk food, for
example. But I personally don't think so, since it contributes real food with
nutrients, like cheese and tomato sauce. Add whole-wheat or part whole-wheat
crust, plus veggies as a topping, and I'd say pizza completely exits the junk
One problem with junk foods is that they're low in satiation value -- that
is, people don't tend to feel as full when they eat them -- which can lead to
overeating. Another problem is that junk food tends to replace other, more
nutritious foods. When people drink lots of soda, for example, they are usually
not getting plenty of low-fat dairy or other healthful beverages like green tea
or orange juice. When they're snacking on chips and cookies, they're usually
not loading up on fruits and vegetables.
Most "junk food" falls into the categories of either "snack
food" or "fast food." And then there are things like breakfast
cereals. They seem innocent enough, but some of them could definitely be
considered "junk food," as they mostly contain sugar or high-fructose
corn syrup and white flour or milled corn.
Calories From Snack Foods
Popular snack foods are usually commercially prepared and packaged, like
chips, cheese puffs, candy bars, snack cakes, and cookies.
The contribution of snack food to the calories we eat should not be
underestimated. Between 1977 and 1996, the contribution of snack calories to
total calories for American children between 2 and 5 years old increased by
30%, according to an article published in the Chilean medical journal,
Revista Medica de Chile.
Fast Food and Overeating
Of course, junk food is also readily available at restaurant chains across
the country in the form of French fries, chicken nuggets, shakes, soda, etc.
Not only are most fast foods not terribly healthy, one study indicates that
there may be something about fast food that actually encourages gorging.
In the study, from the Children's Hospital in Boston, teens age 13-17 were
given three types of fast-food meals (all including chicken nuggets, French
fries, and cola). In one meal, the teens were served a lot of food at once. In
another, a lot of food was served at the same time, but in smaller portions.
And in the third test meal, a lot of food was served, but in smaller portions
over 15-minute intervals.
The researchers found that it didn't seem to matter how much food was served
-- the teens still took in about half of their daily calorie needs in that one
meal. The researchers suggested that certain factors inherent to fast food
might promote overeating:
- It's low in fiber.
- It's high in palatability (that is, it tastes good).
- It offers a high number of calories in a small volume.
- It's high in fat.
- It's high in sugar in liquid form.