Junk Food: Facts and Health Effects

For years, junk food has been taking the world by storm, with their attractive colours, tickling the taste buds, irresistible to the young and old alike, with their wonderful array of varieties and flavour. However, these foods filled with empty calories and zero nutritional value offers next to nothing in terms of health benefits with absolutely no value for money.


What is Junk Food?
Junk Food

What is Junk Food? (Image source: morgueFile.com)

The director of the Centre for Science in the Public Interest, Michael Jacobson, in the year 1972, invented the term “junk food” along with words such as “Liquid candy” and “Empty calories”. He was accredited the “chief of the food police” by the food industry, for uncovering the harmful effects of junk food with its use of additives such as vibrant food colours, salt and trans fat. His intent was to boost awareness among people, regarding Junk food containing low nutritional value and high calories, sugar and fat, which often lead to many life-threatening ailments.


We are what we eat

Junk foods with high levels of calories from salt, sugar and saturated fats, contain insufficient vitamins, minerals, proteins and amino acids.  Food, which acts as a basic element for good health, plays a vital role for sustenance and overall well-being.  However, lack of nutrition, affects the smooth functioning of the body that is forced to create its own enzymes, in order to convert food into energy.  The enzymes that are utilised are otherwise reserved for the metabolic functioning.


How to recognise Junk foods

Snacks such as ice cream, Milk shakes, soda, fizzy carbonated beverages, soda, breakfast cereals, cookies, candies, chips, pizza, burgers, tacos, chicken submarine sandwiches and instant noodles, in addition to indian curries and kebabs fall under the category of junk foods.

As the old adage goes that too much of anything is good for nothing, likewise junk foods are processed with nitrates, for sustaining their flavour and freshness for longer duration besides enhancing their mouth-watering taste.


Understanding the Nutrition label

It is crucial to read the list of main ingredients on the label, to determine if the food is laden with fat, salt and sugar. To avoid any chances of an impending health hazard caused by junk foods, it would be wise to check the sodium, sugar, cholesterol and fibre content besides the amount of calories and fat contained in the product.


Fat content

The required consumption of fat per day is 25 to 30% of the total calories, to enable proper functioning of the fat-soluble vitamins that is responsible for creating a feeling of being full and satiated.  Nevertheless, excess amounts of saturated fats, consumed in the form of fried chicken, burgers and pizzas clog the arteries leading to cardiovascular diseases, stroke, premenstrual syndrome, arthritis, cancer and obesity.


Sodium content

Junk foods contain sodium in abundance, especially in foods such as breakfast cereals, cookies and pastries.  Since the daily requirement of sodium is 2300 milligrams per serving, excess intake is likely to lead to life-threatening diseases. Nonetheless, sodium in conjunction with potassium plays a major role in maintaining the water balance in the body. However, taking sodium in moderation is recommended, as excess amounts lead to fluid retention.


Sugar content

Creamilicious cakes, cookies, lollies, candies and soft drinks, a favourite among kids, acquire their delicious taste, due to their surplus sugar content.  Since the body converts sugar to fat, they cause more harm than good in the long run, resulting in orthodontic problems and obesity.


Fibre content

Listed in grams, the dietary fibre undergoes a change in quantity, depending upon the product.  A sufficient quantity of two grams dietary fibre per serving is recommended for good health.  However, high fibre foods are those with quantities of five plus grams.


Different Types of Junk Food

Eliminating Junk food completely from our lives is impossible, as most people irrespective of age, enjoy indulging in these irresistible delicacies once in a way.  Nevertheless, foods that produce harmful effects on the body that ought to be avoided at all costs is listed below.




Pizza (Image source: sxc.hu)

The pizza mania is fast catching up around the globe and undoubtedly, the pizza is here to stay.  Although there are contradictory views regarding the health aspect of pizzas, heavily laden with sodium and carbohydrates, flour and cheese they contain high calorie counts a harbinger of cardiovascular diseases.




Burger (Image source: sxc.hu)

With its deadly combination of mayonnaise, cheese, high levels of dairy fat, deep fried patties, topped with unhealthy sauces filled with sugar and sodium, they tend to increase cholesterol levels owing to saturated fats. Hence, Burgers occupy a primary position as being one of the worst junk foods, offering 1360 calories per serving.


Deep Fried stuff

Deep-fried snacks such as French fries, potato chips, fried chicken, kebabs and the most popular Indian samosas are the ultimate sources of transfat, elevating cholesterol levels, leading to clogging of arteries on the arterial walls of the heart. Since most of them are deep-fried in extreme heat, they also contain cancer causing carcinogenic substances. Besides being served with Acrylimide, with increased levels of carbohydrates, they are overloaded with sodium that increases the risk of obesity, hypertension and heart diseases.


Breakfast cereals

A healthy breakfast is essential to kick-start the day full of vigour and vitality. However, most people prefer breakfast cereals that claim to be extremely healthy.


The fact remains that cereals, like porridge, oats and cornflakes, covered with unhealthy sugars are nonetheless unhealthy. This is especially so in case of sugary fruit loops dense with synthetic sugars, which create sweet cravings throughout the day.




Candies (Image source: sxc.hu)

The easily available vibrant colourful array of desired candies, lollies, toffees, jellies and candy buttons packed with high doses of fructose and sucrose create an instant feel good factor increasing blood sugar levels. However, frequent consumption of these colourful delights, due to the presence of nitrites, may produce carcinogen substances detrimental for health.




Donuts (Image source: sxc.hu)

The epitome of Junk food and a universal favourite, Donuts drizzled with sinful mouth-watering chocolate, jam and tempting sugar toppings, increase the risk of developing cancer. They jeopardise health due to the blending of these ingredients along with hydrogenated oils, refined sugar and white flour deep-fried in extreme heat. When fried they release harmful cancer causing carcinogens properties causing harmful effects on the body.


Pastries and cakes

Rich creamy delicious wonders, cake happen to be one of the best options for desserts. However, a tempting wedge contains sugar in high magnitude combined with a highly raw processed variety of carbohydrates, that contain high glycemic index thereby increasing the. blood glucose levels in the body. Besides the cream prepared with rich sinful chocolate and eggs, dense with trans fat, is detrimental for health.


Ice Cream

Rich in sugar and fat, the enticing ice creams, generally cause an expanding waistline, due to metabolic imbalances caused by the elevated levels of fat in the dessert. Therefore, this sinful concoction leads to obesity and decreased appetite resulting in an unhealthy digestive tract.


Carbonated Beverages

Cold Drink

With high quantities of sugar, insignificant amounts of minerals and harmful chemicals, fizzy carbonated drinks, popularly known as soft drinks, are sweetened colas available in the market. Apart from this, they contain high levels of caffeine that are harmful for health. These cause acidity caused by the carbon dioxide released in the body. They affect development of bones due to the elimination of calcium that help counteract the balance of acid in the body. Other drinks available with a sugar free tag contain Aspartame, an artificial sweetener, which when taken for long periods cause dangerous health consequences.


Instant noodles

Due to the inclusion of certain sodium additives, instant noodles contain increased carbohydrates and sodium, lacking in essential proteins, vitamins, fibre and minerals. Another aspect is that the container of instant cup noodles, discharge certain substances and chemicals akin to hormones, along with dioxin, a chemical, which saturate the noodles when hot water is added. Covered with wax, substances like Propylene glycol and MSG (monosodium glutamate) they have negative effects on health often resulting in hypertension, stroke, organ damage, cancer and a weakened immune system.


Healthy Junk Foods

Although most foods that fall under the category of junk foods are unhealthy, however, there are quite a few that are considered amazingly healthy.




Contrary to popular belief popcorn, a whole grain snack, with low calorie and high fibre make an excellent and healthy snack option; provided they are without the accompaniment of oils and salt. Read the benefits of corn in detail


Frozen yoghurts

Frozen Yoghurts

Frozen yoghurts, offering innumerable health benefits, make excellent substitutes for ice creams.  Available in a wide variety of flavours, unlike ice creams, they do not come laden with huge quantities of sugar and fat. However, these are not as healthy as fruits and vegetables which make great alternatives for junk food.


Dark Chocolate

Dark Chocolate

Despite loads of fat and sugar, dark chocolate, similar to green tea and red wine is a rich source of flavonoids. This substance, with its antioxidant properties, is particularly heart friendly, as they enable proper blood flow; improving circulatory health and help stabilise blood pressure and cholesterol levels in the body.



Despite containing saturated fats in larger quantities than butter, Coconuts have a positive effect on cardiovascular health. Composed of medium chain fatty acids and lauric acid in equal proportions, they help stabilise cholesterol by lowering LDL and elevating HDL cholesterol levels. Although high in calories, they do not increase the blood sugar levels in the blood and impart a feeling of fullness for long duration. (read health benefits of coconut water)

Consuming a healthy balanced diet with low levels of sodium and fat, including fresh fruits and vegetables comprising of vital minerals, calcium, fibre and iron, would help meet the daily requirement of essential nutrition. This combined with consumption of eight glasses of water and a disciplined exercise regimen may result in a healthy body and mind, devoid of any illness.

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