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Expert Guide to the Health Risks of Junk Food

Expert Guide to the Health Risks of Junk Food

The word junk food has become viral in recent times. Being ubiquitous, we can see this everywhere; in small departmental stores, malls, restaurants, and grocery stores. We have an instinct to gorge on this food, especially after watching those tempting ads on tv and in newspapers.

But are these junk food good for our health the same as for our taste buds? Let us try to understand this in detail. 

What is junk food?

Often known as fast foods, junk food refers to foods full of calories but with minimal nutritional value. In other words, they lack essential nutrients, minerals, and vitamins that keep our body healthy. Junk food is high in fats, salts, and sugars. They are discretionary or optional food with no role in healthy eating. Some common examples of junk food are:

  • Bakery products like biscuits and cakes
  • Fast foods, including hot chips, pizzas, and burgers
  • Chocolates 
  • Sweets
  • Processed meat 
  • Sugary and carbonated drinks 
  • Alcohols

Is junk food replacing the actual nutrient food?

Not so long ago, we used to have only home-cooked food. Today when eating out has become a new normal, this is difficult to digest that our parents used to allow us to have food from outside only on rare occasions. Junk food has become a new substitute for healthy eating.

Some statistics have pointed out how our eating habits have changed over the past few years. (Source:https://www.financialexpress.com/lifestyle/junk-food-becoming-menace-in-india-data-points-to-dangerous-increase-in-consumption/1679596/)

  • 93% of children consume packaged food more than once a week
  • 56% of children eat ice creams and chocolates more than once a week
  • 59% of children (14 years to 17 years) eat packaged beverages or food once a day
  • 40% of children consume packaged food in schools almost daily.

Even many people in their mid-20s,30s and 40s rely on junk food to satisfy their hunger due to lack of time or insufficient cooking skills. 

One major problem with these food items is the low satisfaction value. Every time we have junk food, there is an internal urge to eat more. Even after eating a lot of junk food, we still feel hungry, leading to overeating. This overeating almost replaces the nutrient food in your diet. Consuming too many carbonated drinks can substitute the dairy items like milk and curd from your daily eating. Munching chips and cookies throughout the day leaves no space for fruits and vegetables. According to various studies, even smaller quantities of fast food can provide more than the daily-requisite value of calories. Thus overindulging in fast foods increases our susceptibility to being overweight and attracting other medical conditions.

Why do we tend to gorge when we see junk food?

There are some intrinsic factors associated with junk food that encourage overeating:

  • Low fiber content: Less fiber means less feeling of satiety or fullness. 
  • Palatable: Fast food makes our taste buds happy. 
  • Calorie rich: Even smaller portions offer high calories
  • High sugar: Higher the sugar, the more feel good for our taste buds. 

Is there a link between consuming junk food and watching ads about them?

Most of the food commercials are about food high in calories, sugar, and fats and low in nutrition. These commercials encourage people of all age groups to eat more. 

According to a study conducted in the US, children ate more after watching enticing food commercials than after watching toy advertisements. 

The impact of these commercials is more on overweight children. The increase in food consumption was significantly more in overweight children when compared with normal weight children. 

Why is junk food bad for me?

Excessive consumption of junk food can adversely affect your health. These foods are associated with high sugar, salt, trans, and saturated fats and lack essential nutrients like fiber, vitamins, and minerals, leading to various health complications. 

Eating an excessive amount of junk food can hurt your general health and well-being and can also reduce your ability to be active.

Some of the short terms effects of eating this food include:

  • Decrease in activity level
  • Increase stress
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty in sleeping
  • Reduced energy levels 
  • Lack of concentration
  • Feeling down and isolated

The long-term effects of junk food are more concerning. Consumption of junk food over the years may lead to medical conditions like:

  • Cardiovascular or heart ailments
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Fatty Liver
  • MASLD - Metabolic dysfunction associated steatotic liver disease
  • Osteoporosis
  • High Blood pressure 
  • Cancer
  • High cholesterol
  • Eating disorders 

Effects of junk food are significantly higher in children. Some of the adverse effects are:

  • Atopy: Junk food intake more than three times a week can increase the chances of atopic disorders like asthma (40 % in teenagers and 26% in younger children), rhinitis, and eczema.
  • Constipation: Junk food replaces a fiber-rich diet, which is necessary for healthy bowel movements. It may cause constipation in your child.
  • Addiction: Excessive consumption of fast food in childhood can make it almost impossible for your child to adopt healthy eating habits later.
  • Less energy: Junk food has low nutritional value; thus, your child may get tired even after a small activity. 
  • Poor academics: Junk food is most commonly associated with a cycle of high sugar and sugar crashes, leading to poor concentration and lower learning.
  • Nutritional deficiencies- replacing healthy meals/ snacks with junk food can lead to deficiency of essential micro and macronutrient like iron, calcium, protein deficiency.

Is it difficult to take this junk out of my life?

Our life may revolve around junk food. Even a single day without junk food may be difficult to imagine. But a few simple tips can free our lives from it. All these tips start with making the right choices.

  • Go for the restaurants known for their healthier food choices. 
  • Even while ordering food, choose food and beverages that have good nutrition values along with calories. 
  • Replace soda with freshly prepared fruit juices without added sugar.
  •  Replace unhealthy snacks with healthy options like fruits, nuts, roasted chana etc.
  • Do not stack your refrigerator/ kitchen with unhealthy and readily available snacks like biscuits, cookies, puddings, sugar-sweetened beverages, chips or packaged snacks etc. 
  • Avoid packaged food items at any cost as they are detrimental to health.
  • Limit watching TV: People tend to engulf more while binge-watching. Furthermore, fast food advertisements are enticing enough to persuade us to change our minds about not eating them.


A healthy body and sound mind are the reflections of what we consume. A fast food-heavy diet can rust our bodies and brain. It can herald problems like excessive body weight, heart ailments, and depression. 

The antidotes are relatively simple. A bit of self-control can do the trick. Additionally, many healthy alternatives to junk food are available in the market that tastes equally good. Still, if you find it difficult to switch from fast food diet to healthier food choices, go for a dietician's help. 

Ms. Sandhya Pandey
Dietetics and Nutrition
Meet The Doctor
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