The definition of junk food found in the oxford dictionary is "food that is not very good for you but that is ready to eat or quick to prepare". Nutritionists define junk food as that which adds only calories from sugar and fat with no other nutrients. Our lives today are full of junk food options that are easy to procure and tasty to consume, you get all the favorite brands across the globe. Problems with this junk is that it is low in satiety , so one tends to binge eat and hence it has started replacing healthy food made with nutritious fresh ingredients. There are numerous studies and research which have linked intake of junk food to the early onset of Non communicable diseases like Diabetes, BP, cardiovascular diseases and cancers.
The reason for this link is the ingredients found commonly in these foods. Lets take them up one by one and see how they effect the probability of increasing the risk of diabetes.
1. Sugars: In the 60's , manufactures started replacing fat calories with sugar to improve the taste of their products. 70's saw a boom in the intake of sugary food including cookies, sweetened beverages and candies. With the population becoming:" health conscious " the manufactures resorted to hiding the added sugars by using products like corn syrup, sucrose, artificial sweeteners, malts etc. End of the day most of these products continue to be high in sugars. Sugar intake is directly linked to our brains center for rewards, so when we consume high sugar foods we feel happy and repeated use makes us somewhat dependent on them. This is more important for children; studies have highlighted that early childhood exposure to high sugar foods resets the brain to crave for these and makes it difficult to wean off junk food. Intake of foods high in sugars is directly linked to obesity - both frank obesity and an increased deposition of fat in the abdomen. Obesity is the number one modifiable risk factor for diabetes.
2. Insulin resistance: Obesity and central body fat deposition are linked to insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone produced by pancreas and is used by the body to push the sugar into the cells for energy. When the body does not use insulin properly, the pancreas assumes that there is a need for more. This daily pressure to increase production wears out the pancreatic cells, and eventually leads to diabetes. Junk foods being high in sugar content and Calories promotes spikes in blood sugar, increasing insulin output constantly. Another problem is that while the sugars are cleared soon the insulin remains high for a while causing a hunger craving and increased calorific consumption. This is a vicious cycle and needs to be controlled.
3. Fats: Junk foods are usually high in saturated fats and may contain trans fats. Both these types of fats increase the levels of triglycerides in the blood. High levels of triglycerides are directly linked to the risk of developing Diabetes. The bad fats present in junk foods also increase the risk of CVD's.
JUNK FOOD TO HEALTHY FOOD:
Variety is the spice of life, and food is one place where we crave for variety. Here are some simple tips to improve the nutrition quotient of your favorites:
- Snack on whole legumes , think mattar chaat, Sundal instead of a mayo laden white bread sandwich.
- Try nut butters as a dip with fruits instead of tortilla chips and high fat dips
- Choose a grilled chicken breast with fresh salad instead of fried chicken wings
- Look for products that do not have partially hydrogenated fats, high fructose corn syrup and milled grains.
- A homemade atta ladoo or besan pinni is more nutritious than a lot of "energy bars " out there. Limit the serving size and portions taken.
- For children, don't buy what you don't want them to eat. Make burgers and pizzas with whole grain buns and bases at home. Top them with loads of vegetables and fresh unprocessed meat or paneer and fresh cheeses.
All in all, shortcuts don't work for health. Eating the right food at the right time in the right quantity is the only way to health.
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About Rupali DattaRupali Datta is a Clinical Nutritionist and has worked in leading corporate hospitals. She has created and lead teams of professionals to deliver clinical solutions for patients across all medical specialties including critical care. She is a member of the Indian Dietetic Association and Indian Association of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition.