What makes junk food junk food?
Ok, so we all know that junk food is to be avoided (aside from the occasional cheat meal here and there for sanity’s sake). But how did junk food earn its name? We’re going to take a look at a few of the key things that make junk food what it is so you can better understand how to avoid it in your diet.
High Fat Content
We know what you might be thinking, but just hear us out. While diets like Paleo and Keto encourage high fat intake, the important distinction is the type of fat.. Typically, you want to have a higher intake of unsaturated fats from foods like fish, nuts, and avocados. Unsaturated fats have proven to be key in reducing cholesterol levels and provide a plethora of other health benefits, including lowered blood pressure and protection against heart disease.
The type of fat that you’ll want to be more careful with is saturated fat, which naturally occurs in foods like cheese, meat, and butter - in junk foods, it’s often present in high quantities. This is because saturated fats are typically used for preservation, or to simply add flavor and texture. While some saturated fat is good, overconsumption can lead to weight gain, increased risk of heart disease, higher cholesterol levels and higher blood pressure.
The one type of fat that you should just avoid entirely is trans fat. While some are naturally occurring, most trans fats are artificially synthesized from vegetable oils for a variety of purposes, notably for adding texture or flavor to foods or for long-term use in deep-fryers where they can be re-used multiple times due to their long shelf life. That being sad, just because it tastes good doesn’t mean it’s good for you - and trans fats are the worst. We don’t even need to name all of the chronic diseases they are connected to.
High sodium content
As humans, we need salt to survive. Salt is a key component in hydration and maintaining electrolyte levels in our body - but as with all things, too much of a good thing can yield consequences. More often than not, junk foods are loaded with salt since it tastes good (and it helps make them last on the shelf longer.) If you want to get technical, too much salt in your body can lead to an increased level of water retention in your tissues, leading to a host of circulatory problems that can affect your heart and kidneys. In short, the FDA recommends to keep your salt intake to no more than 2300 milligrams a day and avoiding junk food is key.
High sugar or artificial sweetener content
Sugar content is one of the key indicators of whether or not the food you’re eating is junk or not. We are likely preaching to the choir here, but eating foods that are high in sugar is a surefire way to wreck your diet and your health, both for the long and short-term. There’s the obvious side effects, like weight gain and increased risk for heart disease and diabetes... but eating too much sugar can also cause acne, accelerate aging, and increase risk of cancer or gout.
Lack of fiber
One of the most telling ways that you can discern junk food from something with nutritional value is fiber content. Fiber is key to maintaining a healthy and regular digestive system by allowing food to move through your gut - and typically, most fast food or junk food options are low in fiber or completely void of any fiber at all!
If you find yourself checking out a label and you’re unsure where to start, check out this cheat sheet for a few quick tips on what to look for when you’re looking for something healthy.
Hopefully with this information you’ll be able to better understand how and why to avoid junk food. As with anything, moderation is key - there’s nothing wrong with a treat here and there but make sure you aren’t overindulging. If you’re looking for something that will satisfy your junk food cravings with junking your diet, go ahead and give our delicious Grain-Free Brownie Crunch a try - with only 7g of sugar per serving and no gluten, dairy, or soy, it’s an excellent choice for satisfying your sweet tooth without hijacking your diet.