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