Updated: Apr 1, 2018
“Better keep yourself clean and bright; you are the window through which you must see the world.” George Bernard Shaw
Anything equivalent to rubbish is referred as ‘junk.’ Junk food, for that reason is self-explanatory as food of low value. They are poor in nutrients and also cause many harmful effects in the body. Just like a vehicle filled with bad quality fuel is bound to breakdown, our body fueled with junk will inevitably malfunction with serious consequences.
Junk foods exist in so many different forms. These range from packaged or semi-prepared foods like chips, cookies, biscuits, chocolates, candies, instant noodles, white bread, jams and spreads; pastries like doughnuts, cakes, muffins; and unhealthy fast foods like burgers, pizza and various deep fried foods. And there are junk drinks too – all sugary, coloured and carbonated drinks. It is very important to be aware of them and strictly limit them, if unable to avoid altogether.
Junk food manufacturers mainly use an interplay of refined grains, sugar, salt and saturated or trans fats in various unhealthy combinations. Such foods are either extensively processed resulting in loss of nutrients or are prepared with ingredients already stripped off many valuable nutrients. Then they are often topped with artificial colours, additives and preservatives. The final product is a deadly concoction and certainly not how real foods are supposed to be.
This is all done to make the food last longer, give a false sense of taste palatability, trigger cravings (even addictions) to get consumers to eat more and more. Furthermore, people are often eating not just one but various kinds of junk foods throughout the day. Just imagine the cocktail of unhealthy and unnatural ingredients constantly going inside the body!
“Our body is not a waste bin to throw junk!”
It is equally important to recognise junk foods that ‘pretend’ to be healthier. Sometimes, they take out one unhealthy ingredient and highlight that to give a better connotation. However, those foods remain high in other unhealthy ingredients. For instance: ‘sugar free’ biscuits are loaded with harmful fats and ‘fat free’ are high in sugars and both are often made from nutritionally poor refined grains.
Similarly there are many junk drinks that disguise themselves as ‘juice’ with names like ‘fruit delight’ or ‘fruit nectar’ and with claims such as ‘contains real fruit juice’, etc. In reality, these drinks contain very little real fruit juice and is basically a blend of sugar, water, colours and preservatives. It is often the same with the so called ‘sports drinks’ or ‘energy drinks.’ Calorie less sugar substitutes used in ‘diet foods or drinks’ are indeed too good to be true and are associated with many health hazards.
Various commercial breakfast cereals might claim health benefits but their sugar content tend to be higher than desserts. Similarly, there are products that give a pretext of being ‘multigrain’ while most part would be refined grains. Then there are ‘brown breads’ with added brown colours and not always whole wheat as implied. Such deceptive examples go on …
The bottom line is that junk foods are produced and marketed with pure commercial motives. There is certainly no health consideration. The evidence is mounting on their linkages with many deadly diseases in childhood and adulthood (overweight/obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart diseases, stroke, cancers, depression, nutrient deficiencies, etc.) Poor diet is now concluded as being worse than cigarettes and directl y related to seven out of every 10 deaths in the world. Thus junk foods can be likened to weapons of mass destruction! They may not kill instantly but are deadlier over time … leading to health care costs, poor quality of life, misery and death.
Despite that, a huge market exists and will continue to grow - as long as people unquestionably keep consuming such foods. Mankind has made tremendous progress against communicable diseases, but now is increasingly caught in a vicious cycle of proliferating junk foods and the diseases they invite. Such a tragic paradox and it is high time to wake up!
"How we eat is how we live."
These problems do have solutions. It takes conscious and smart consumers to outwit junk food manufacturers in their shady games. Armed with the knowledge about the dangers, both demand and supply can be curbed:
- It is utmost important to protect our children from these harms and ensure their basic right to good nutrition. Home is where everything begins. All parents must constantly ‘brain wash’ their children on the dangers of junk food – and also about the goodness of nutritious foods. Other family members and guests also ought to act more responsibly and help reinforce the healthy habits.
- Preschools and schools have the ethical and moral responsibility to prohibit junk foods and provide nutritious foods. Good nutrition has to be a part of the curriculum at each level. These principles ought to be continued by colleges and universities.
- Policies need to be stepped up to raise an alarm on junk foods in all fronts. Health care providers must continuously communicate about the harm for all ages and critical times such as pregnancy. Aggressive marketing and promotion, especially to children, has to be curtailed. Junk foods should not be allowed to undermine traditional wisdom and replace local healthy food cultures.
- Fast food as such do not have to be junk. There are plenty of healthy alternatives (fresh and dry fruits, baked or grilled options, wholegrain varieties, traditional foods, etc.) Those who make and serve junk foods must realize the gravity of their impact. They need to be a part of the solution by opting for nutritious varieties.
Clean environment, both outside and inside the body, are precursors for good health and happiness. Wholesome, fresh and simple foods are the clean foods. Disease feeding junk foods should have no place in our diets, culture and societies. Don’t they deserve a red alert?