Junk Food: Tips to Avoid it

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Whether you choose fresh fruit as a healthy snack from a natural impulse, or are making a conscious health decision, perhaps the craving for some crunchy or gooshy junk food is still there. Even a FruitGuy knows it’s hard to resist the temptation of junk food. It’s full of yummy fat and starch and sugar, what’s not to like? Plenty. Here are a few reminders why making a healthier food choice really is better for you. Junk food is understood to be food that tastes good but is “high in calories and low in nutritional value.”

Food author Michael Pollan poked his fork tines into purely manufactured foods in his 2007 New York Times Magazine article, You are What you Grow. “Compared with a bunch of carrots, a package of Twinkies, to take one iconic processed foodlike substance as an example, is a highly complicated, high-tech piece of manufacture, involving no fewer than 39 ingredients, many themselves elaborately manufactured, as well as the packaging and a hefty marketing budget. So how can the supermarket possibly sell a pair of these synthetic cream-filled pseudocakes for less than a bunch of roots?" He goes on to explain how the U.S. Farm Bill supports the commercial corn, soybean and wheat industries in such a way that makes it cheaper to make and sell a Twinkie than carrots. He tells the story of an obesity researcher who went shopping to see how many calories he could buy with a dollar - good, nutritious calories and junk calories. He found he could buy 1,200 calories worth of potato chips but only 250 calories of carrots. So besides tasting good, junk food is also cheap, which also makes it desirable. But just as there’s no such thing as a free lunch, junk food comes with a price.

We don't like to think about the chemicals in junk food—artificial colors and flavors, fake sweeteners and preservatives—but they may have side effects besides extra calories. Artificial sweeteners have been government approved going back to the days of Teddy Roosevelt, yet HEALTHBeat, a Harvard Medical School publication notes that “although artificial sweeteners are considered generally safe, some experts remain wary” because of some studies showing links to cancer and other side effects. Artificial colors and flavors are often in serious contention, being linked to hyperactivity in children. The FDA keeps updating the desisted color additives on their website. Common preservatives in many of our junk foods like nitrites and nitrates have been banned in Germany and other European countries.

Besides side effects, the high fat, salt, and sugar content can really add up. A few handfuls of potato chips, or one ounce, has 150 calories and 10 grams of fat (three grams saturated). If you eat just three ounces a week, in one year you'll have consumed 23,400 calories. Whereas an apple has 95 calories, no fat, and 4.4g fiber. Your average apple Danish pastry has 575 calories and 7g fat.

So how to stay away from the junk? First off, don’t buy it. Keep it out of sight. If you are craving something sweet, try grapes, white peaches, carrots, or berries. For salt cravings choose salted nuts, popcorn, sliced cucumber with salt and lime juice, or rice cakes. Instead of soft drinks, substitute with flavored seltzer water or herbal teas. Drink plenty of water or green or herbal teas to stave off impulse choices. Practice makes perfect!

- Heidi Lewis


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