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Junk-Food Facts

Are you a junk-food junkie? Here's what you need to know.
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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.

Junk Food and TV

As we all know, many of the food commercials aimed at children are for foods high in fat, sugar, and/or salt, and low in nutritional value. And some research suggests that watching ads for processed foods encourages children to eat more.

Researchers from the University of Liverpool in the United Kingdom exposed 60 children, ages 9 to 11, to both food advertisements and toy advertisements, followed by a cartoon and free food.

The children ate more after the food advertisements than after the commercials for toys, the study found. The obese children in the study increased their consumption of food the most (134%) after watching the food ads, compared to overweight children (101%) and normal-weight children (84%).

Taking the 'Junk' out of Junk Food

Now that you've got the facts about junk food, how can you try to eat more healthfully in our junk- food-filled world? Here are three tips:

  • Choose fast-food restaurants that offer healthier choices. And no matter where you are, opt for food and beverages that are made up mostly of ingredients that offer nutrients along with calories. Enjoy freshly squeezed orange juice or a whole-wheat bagel instead of soda or donuts. Buy a bean burrito, pizza topped with vegetables, or a grilled chicken sandwich on a whole-grain bun instead of tortilla chips with processed cheese sauce; frozen pizza rolls; or fried chicken pieces and French fries. Avoid sweetened beverages.
  • Look for products low in sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, milled grains, and partially hydrogenated oils. Choose a 100% whole-wheat cracker made with canola oil, for example, or snack on a cheese and fruit plate instead of a bowl of cheese puffs.
  • Limit TV viewing, for yourself and your kids. Certain TV shows seem to attract more junk food commercials more than others, so parents might want to discourage kids from watching these shows. Or try TIVO (where you can fast-forward through commercials) or watch DVDs.

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