Junk food refers to a series of foods, typically industrial, characterized mainly by high caloric intake, high in salt, sugar, fat, and reduced nutritional value. The so-called junk food is all that processed foods with the negligible nutrient value that is poor in vitamins, antioxidants, essential fatty acids, and other important nutritional elements: on the contrary, it is rich in cholesterol, refined carbohydrates, cooking salt, saturated fats. Therefore, a food that is highly caloric but does not provide the essential nutrients for a balanced diet.
Junk food is entirely inappropriate for the growth of children. Even for adults, it can represent the root cause of various problems and pathologies: it is no coincidence that it is the first suspected factor for the spread of obesity in today’s society.
Among the known effects of junk food consumption is promoting diabetes, various cardiovascular diseases, and some types of cancers. As some recent studies have shown, it is addictive and can lead to states of depression.
Not only that, certain substances contained in junk food do not make the brain grow as well as they could. In other words, the size of the gray matter would be related to the type of food that is consumed.
The claim comes from a study conducted in the United States and published in the journal Neurology: junk food, i.e., fried foods, cakes, and all substances that contain fats identified as trans, i.e., hydrogenated, interact negatively on our body. The low levels of vitamins and omega 3s mean that the brain also suffers from health and size over the long term.
The worst junk foods and their effects
Frequent consumption of junk food increases the intake of excess fat, simple carbohydrates, and processed sugar, leading to a higher risk of obesity and cardiovascular diseases, among other chronic health problems. The resulting obesity may begin clogging up the arteries and lay the basis of an impending heart attack. It has also been suggested that eating junk food affects the brain in the same way as consuming addictive drugs. An addiction to junk food may even result in the rejection of healthier food options like fruits, vegetables, salads, etc., leading to a further lack of nourishment. Let’s see the worst types of junk food frequently consumed to orient ourselves in consumption consciously.
Carbonated drinks, dietetic and not
A real sugar bomb (or aspartame, in the case of diet soft drinks) has virtually no nutritional value. To think that a can of fizzy drink contains up to 150 calories and a sugar content of about ten teaspoons! It is easy to think about how this type of product is on the dock when it comes to obesity, diabetes, and a significant number of pathologies to the cardiovascular system. Not only that, fizzy drinks make excessive use of food colors. They are incredibly acidic, ending up aggravating many potential diseases of the digestive system, kidneys, and heart disease.
Frankfurters, sausage, hot dogs
Of course, not all hot dogs are the same: the various frankfurters on the market differ significantly in terms of types, ingredients, and food additives contained. Always read the labels carefully. In particular, chicken frankfurters have the characteristics of junk food.
Not everyone knows that 85-90% of a chicken frankfurter is obtained from mechanically separated meats, which are nothing more than a by-product obtained from the slaughter of carcasses, often containing parts without any nutritional value such as cartilage, which is then transferred in presses and juices.
This pulp is then sieved to remove bone residues and subsequently treated with additives, such as thickeners, nitrites, and sometimes even polyphosphates.
Another junk food par excellence: rich in saturated fat and salt, but lacking in nutrients, often prepared in oils of dubious quality. It is another commonly consumed food, but it is good not to overdo it.
Bakery products, snacks, and packaged brioches
Bakery products, snacks, and packaged brioches snacks were rich in hydrogenated fats, sugars, and other food additives. Like the foods seen above, they can contribute to the onset of various diseases of the cardio-circulatory system, promote obesity, and do not provide essential nutrients for a balanced diet and children’s growth.
Thin slices and slices of cheese for sandwiches and sandwiches
Another food consumed often and unconsciously. It is a product that has little to do with real cheese: rich in preservatives and thickeners, it provides almost nothing in terms of nutrients and is not healthy. Among the effects of junk food is inducing us to consume more, in a vicious circle that is harmful to health.
Why is junk food addictive?
The most exciting research on the subject was done in America in 2010 at the Scripps Institute (“ Dopamine D2 receptors in addiction-like reward dysfunction and compulsive eating in obese rats ”). This study has shown that junk food acts as a real drug on the body, inducing in those who habitually consume it an addiction comparable to that of a narcotic substance. Studies such as the American one have found that this type of food, enriched in the laboratory with salts, sugars, and fats to make them more palatable to our palate, act on dopamine receptors in a very similar way drugs do. In other words, they trigger the mechanism that then leads to physical addiction.
It may seem a paradox, but reality, we know, often exceeds the imagination, and the research, carried out on rats, starting from the assumption that all mammals have the same mechanisms related to food, to push them to diversify food to find the right sense of satiety, he tried to find the explanation. The experimentation started by making all the guinea pigs associate two different types of sounds for two different sugary drinks: one with cherry and the other with grapes. Later the guinea pigs were divided into two groups: one followed a healthy diet and the other a diet rich in fat, with 150% more calories also given by sweets. The behavior of the rats fed with healthy foods was to refuse the drink already drunk, thus ignoring the reference sound; this way of acting is due to an instinct that protects all mammals from overeating.
Another story is that of rats fed with foods rich in fats and sugars; in these animals, in addition to noticing a weight gain of more than 10%, a total indifference towards food choices has developed, which led them to respond to the sound of the drink already drunk several times with a reduction in the sense of satiety that it then led them to eat the same foods in larger quantities, exposing them to the risk of obesity. After returning them to a healthy diet, this “behavioral defect” was maintained for some time before the animals found their innate preservation mechanisms.
This research traced back to humans explains some truths that we too often try to ignore: A diet rich in junk food, increasing the desire for equally fatty and sugary foods, and putting those who follow it at risk of obesity. People who are obese or overweight are more strongly attracted to the advertising of snacks and sweets, and for this reason, they tend to make impulsive purchases while not really actual need.
Junk food and children
Junk food has become a food often present in many family’s diets. However, in some extreme cases, these delicious and tempting but not very nutritious foods can be abused healthily.
This is demonstrated by the three families followed in the fascinating BBC documentary entitled ‘Fast Food Baby. ‘One can observe the seriousness of an eating style linked to junk food, especially if it concerns how they feed their children from the very beginning. Eating high-protein and high-sugar foods, from french fries to frankfurters, from kebabs to chicken, washed down with abundant quantities of fizzy and hyper-sugary drinks, risks causing severe damage to health. Introducing excessive doses of saturated fats and sugars can lead to the early onset of serious diseases such as diabetes, obesity, and cancer.
In this video, thanks to real experts’ help, 3 families are guided in taking back the reins of feeding the little ones, which up to that moment, for one reason or another, were entrusted to children. So the families are desperate, and they live with children who seem to bully in the kitchen. In reality, cooking healthily by introducing fruit and vegetables into one’s diet removes health dangers for the little ones. It allows the family to restore a peaceful atmosphere at the table.
The issue of junk food in schools
This is a typically American story, but it demonstrates how not even regulatory prohibitions can solve the scourge of junk food served up to the youngest through the various channels: in another way, junk food, coming out the door, is capable of re-entering through the window of the school buildings.
In 2013, the US Department of Agriculture imposed a ban on the sale of school distributors of chocolate, high-fat bars, French fries, and excessively sweetened beverages, replaced by nuts, crackers, and wholemeal bars. A measure that had first lady Michelle Obama as an exceptional testimonial, demonstrating how much the problem of obesity is now felt, which the American Medical Association has officially recognized as a disease.
In the last thirty years, the number of obese or overweight American children has doubled, while that of adolescents has even tripled, so much so that one in 3 children or boys can be considered oversized! However, obesity does not concern only the younger generations because adults struggling with the same discomfort have risen to a record figure of 80 million, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey’s latest data.
Beyond the measures in schools, at the end of 2013, the Food and Drug Administration, the government body responsible for the regulation of food and pharmaceutical products, also took to the field, which proposed a series of measures aimed at reducing fat to zero lures contained in popcorn, cookies, french fries, and pizzas. This set of rules, aimed at excluding partially hydrogenated oils – the cause of trans fatty acids – from foods generally recognized as healthy, promise to avoid up to 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths a year.
Anti- junk food regulations in schools initially proved effective, as demonstrated by numerous surveys. Nutritionists at the University of Chicago, for example, revealed in their study that the measures imposed by some American states or adopted spontaneously by schools have managed not only to introduce healthier foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and skimmed milk to the place of snacks, crisps, and fizzy drinks, but also to place precise limits on contracts with food companies as regards both supplies and sponsorships.
Although the foods cooked in American school canteens have had to adapt to more stringent regulations for three years, the issue of advertising has not yet been adequately addressed. It must be said that nutritionists themselves do not believe that measures aimed at banning or limiting the presence of junk food companies in schools can have positive effects in the fight against obesity. If anything, the real challenge is represented by the involvement in sponsorships of companies not belonging to the food sector.
Be that as it may, despite some improvements in limiting the advertising bombardment of food products in US schools of all grades, the matter is far from resolved.
Hazardous is the so-called “halo effect,” i.e., the perception by students that the foods distributed in their schools are in themselves better or advisable, with harmful consequences for children’s eating habits outside school hours.
Research conducted by the University of Michigan, published in JAMA Pediatrics, showed that 24.5% of middle school students and 51.4 % of high school students attend a school where there is a sale of food with some form of advertising, albeit often limited to the label on the packaging. Furthermore, in 2012, the typical fast-food lunch was offered to at least 10% of primary school children, 18% of middle school pupils, and 30% of high school students.
Where states or schools have banned forms of direct advertising, junk food companies have found the remedy, insinuating themselves in more hidden ways to promote their products, for example, through the distribution of coupons, always welcome by students without big cash or even heavily in debt to continue their studies, or through sponsorships of sporting events, real pillars in college life, or various awards and ceremonies.
In short, the moral is that getting rid of junk food is not easy once it has gained its centrality in the lives of consumers, especially younger ones.