Too Much Junk!

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.

Score High Points for Health
Studies of nutrient-poor food consumption highlight several important messages:
  • Between-meal snacks and drinks may be the best place to substitute healthy choices and cut back on excess calories.
  • People who are overweight can still be undernourished. Eating more healthful foods is a good way to improve your health and lower your calorie intake at the same time.
  • Junk food is not okay when it displaces healthy food, even if you maintain an appropriate weight. Eating substantial amounts of high-calorie, low-nutrient foods tends to be part of an eating pattern that ignores nutrient-rich vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans. Even if you don’t gain weight by eating lots of junk food, you could increase your health risks, like the risk of cancer, by depriving yourself of protective nutrients and phytochemicals.