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Nutrition Articles  ›  Healthy Habits

Too Much Junk!

Does Junk Food Have A Place in a Healthy Diet??

-- By The American Institute of Cancer Research (AICR)
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Studies of American eating habits reveal that almost a quarter of the calories we consume come from nutrient-poor selections – better known as "junk food." If one-fourth of what we eat is junk food, a plan for weight reduction should emphasize eating differently, not just eating less as many nutrition experts advise for weight loss. And if you have a healthy weight, you should still eat less junk food to prevent weight gain and chronic diseases, like cancer.

Too Many Calories from Sodas, Sweets and Desserts
In a recent study that surveyed 4,700 people, soft drinks were the number one source of calories. They accounted for 7.1 percent of the calories the people in this study consumed. Altogether, the categories of soft drinks, sweets and desserts, and alcoholic beverages made up 23.8 percent of total calorie intake. Salty snacks and fruit-flavored drinks added another five percent of calories. Since all of these foods are relatively concentrated in calories, you don’t have to eat a lot of them to increase your daily calorie total.

Another study revealed that people who eat a lot of junk food suffer nutritionally. This study looked at the impact of salty snack foods like potato chips, corn chips, crackers, pretzels and cheese curls. Those who ate the most of these high-fat salty snack foods had diets high in total and saturated fat and low in fruits and vegetables. These people scored poorly for dietary healthfulness.
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About The Author

The American Institute for Cancer Research The American Institute for Cancer Research
The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is a charity that has contributed more than $70 million for research on diet and cancer. AICR educates Americans how to make dietary changes to lower their cancer risk.

Member Comments

  • Thank you everyone for your comments. I know I crave sugar and often skip a meal and have some xxx bar. This I'm working on and I think it is work in progress as it comes in waves and is not going away. So one tip was to have fruit instead of sweets in the house - tick - and to have only 70% dark chocolate instead of caramel bars etc. - tick. - 2/4/2014 4:16:18 PM
  • I used to be a junk food junkie, but as I got older I started becoming more concerned about my health due to the long line of hereditary health problems. I decreased and eventually completely eliminated junk food (especially fast food) from my diet. Just recently, though, I was crunched for time and was hungry so I stopped and got a small burger and split it with my son. After eating just that small, half-portion sized burger I felt like crap! My stomach and intestines were cramping up so bad it felt like a wet rag being wrung out. This happens every time I occasionally eat something very greasy or sickeningly sweet. Even though every once in a while I still crave the taste of a greasy burger or a piece of cheesecake, the repercussions are just not worth it! - 8/16/2011 4:32:59 PM
  • CIA311
    It wasn't until I began tracking my food on SP that I realized the ONLY time I want junk is when I have fallen back into my lifelong pattern of under eating. That is so-o-o-o easy for me to do because I don't have an appetite and most days I have to force myself to eat the minimum number of calories. I realize now that the pattern of extended under eating with intermittent "catch up" binges added to my problems. The real problem is not eating junk, though. It is not having an appetite, not liking to eat, being allergic to so many foods, and not being able to digest what I eat. - 8/16/2011 12:16:14 PM
  • SASSAFRASS3483
    Just out of curiosity, why post an article talking about how we eat too much junk food and include a picture of delicious looking cupcakes. Now I really want cake... - 8/16/2011 11:48:06 AM
  • I have to disagree with ALISA1122. If portion control, moderation and physical activity were realistically doable for most people we wouldn't all be here. Junk food is more than simply empty calories. It sets up a vicious cycle of hunger and cravings that undermines our efforts to control it. This has nothing to do with character or willpower, it's your body reacting badly to something it really doesn't need in the first place. If you crave certain foods there is only one thing you can do to keep from overdoing it - don't even keep them in the house. - 8/16/2011 9:37:36 AM
  • ELLSJO
    Maybe we should do the opposite of what we have been told. Butter, whole eggs, whole fat yogert etc in moderation but absolutely no cake, biscuits or soda drinks. These high suger foods give you energy spikes which leave you craving more on an endless nutrient empty cycle that is really hard to break. Butter on toast once a week is surely less bad for you,ellsjo - 8/16/2011 2:12:20 AM
  • LVNMYLF
    I was having a diet coke or diet mountain dew daily before I started using SP and tracking what I was having. I haven't had a diet soda in 8 weeks now and I am seeing the difference. I drink more water and iced tea when I want a change. Chips have always been my downfall - all my life - but I pretty much stopped buying them. Now if I want chips I just buy what can be considered the "healthiest" of them and just buy a 99 cent bag and then the craving is done. In 6 weeks - I have bought a bag twice instead of a big bag every week. All in moderation but you have to figure out what works for you and what your priorities are. - 7/24/2011 8:13:12 PM
  • RUNESHADOW
    I agree with Jealousbaker. I believe in moderation, and refuse to contemplate a deprivation diet. Alissa1122 mentioned moderation. Different strokes for different folks. Some may be content to replace ALL junk foods, but others may want to reserve junk foods for certain occasions or even as a small part of their overall healthy diet. If folks want to ban junk food from their lives, I wish them well. I won't do it. I think we need to be realistic and find what works best for us as individuals. - 7/6/2011 5:03:04 PM
  • ALISA1122
    All food and beverages can, and should, be consumed in moderation. What matters most is portion size because whether you eat too much fat, protein, or carbohydrate, when too many calories are going in without enough calories being burned then weight gain occurs. As a registered dietitian and consultant to the food and beverage industry, I emphasize the importance of portion control, moderation and physical activity to my clients. The truth is, no single food or beverage causes obesity or chronic diseases - it's the culmination of large portions, too many calories consumed and not enough exercise. - 3/11/2011 5:36:40 PM
  • I recently stopped buying the pretzels, chips and Pirate's Booty (oh man, I would eat a bag of that in one sitting without even realizing it) because I wanted to stop snacking. If I have a craving, I eat a granola bar or peanuts/almonds (and I ALWAYS measure out a serving now, I don't just eat from the jar). I still have a desire for Cheese-Its every now and then, but if I don't buy them, I can't have them. I refuse to give up my Homestyle Popcorn though. That, at least, is not horrific for you. - 3/11/2011 2:00:09 PM
  • I'm amazed at all the people who say they can just stop eating junk food altogether because it's unhealthy. From the dieting I have done in the past, I already know that when I try to avoid certain foods, no matter how much I know these are not healthy things to eat, I end up craving them even more and eventually binging. So I have stopped myself from doing that by allowing myself to have my little snacks so long as I am eating healthy the rest of the day and I stay in my ranges for calories, carbs, fats, and protein. I also try to let myself have the "junk food" that actually has some nutritional value. Like Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. I love them, and even though they are not really healthy, they do give me some protein. Some days I don't feel like eating any junk food at all and some days I can't wait for that little treat. - 1/21/2011 8:04:20 PM
  • BICHONMAMA03
    mine too, I seem to eat it when I am stressed - 9/27/2010 9:21:42 PM
  • Other then just for looks it's important to eat healthy & be active to reduce the risk of disease. I don't often think this way but it's true and this article reminds me so. Enjoyed it. - 9/17/2010 12:22:04 PM
  • Junk food is my problem, exercise is fine, it's just junk....I'm not sure what it is .....laziness to prepare healthy foods or whether I genuinely like the junk. I have to admit that I usually feel physically sick after stuffing myself with junk food. - 8/16/2010 9:08:26 PM
  • Coke has always been my main downfall in junk eating. I love, chips, chocolate etc but have mostly given them up except for rare occasions but the Coke habit is hard to break. I have gone from 3-4 cans a day when I was working to one can a day now that I am retired because I don't burn off as many calories. I just consider it my snack for the day. otherwise we mostly eat fruil for snacks.
    I would much rather have junk food but since I h ave extremely high blood pressure and my husband has extremely high blood sugar we have had to make changes in diet as well as the medications. - 8/16/2010 5:11:51 PM