A healthy diet plays a vital role in supporting our immune system, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. A healthy diet meets the requirements for our body’s functions used for growth and development. To fulfill our caloric and nutritional requirements, the quantity and quality of food we consume should be considered.
But despite this common knowledge, many of us still indulge in junk food even if we know that it is unhealthy.
What is Junk Food?
The term “junk food” was invented by Michael Jacobson, former director of the American Center for Science in the Public Interest in 1972. He described junk food as high in calories but low in nutritional value.
According to Gabriel Labrador, a nutrition officer at the National Nutrition Council, junk food is classified under HFSS or “high in fats, salt and sugar.” Like what Jacobson mentioned, he mentioned that junk food contains a lot of “empty calories” with insignificant nutritive value. He added that sugar and salt act as junk food preservatives and add flavor, but an excess of these is bad for the health. “That’s basically the reason why we call it junk food as opposed to healthy food, which provides you balanced nutrients,” said Labrador. “You have the carbohydrates, the fats but most especially, the protein and fiber in your food. Junk food has no nutritive value.”
According to countriesnow.com, the top 5 fast food-consuming countries in the world are America, France, Canada, United Kingdom and South Korea. In the Philippines, Kantar World Panel revealed that from 2015 to 2017, Filipinos’ consumption of in-home snack foods increased by 13%. The figures are cause for alarm because of the link between junk food and obesity, which may begin occurring among children and adolescents.
Photo by Tim Samuel from Pexels
The Prevalence of Junk Food
Labrador warns that junk food is even more prevalent and accessible now because of the internet. Because of social media, junk food marketers can easily target consumers, especially children and adolescents.
Junk food advertisements also often convey messages of happiness and family bonding to entice the impressionable youth. “Examples of these marketing strategies are colorful logos, including toys and characters in the packaging to really entice the children. This can have an effect on children’s diet, eating habits and food choices,” states Labrador. “As parents, it is very important that we limit the screen time of our children for television and even online to prevent them from being enticed to buy food that is highly marketed.”
Technology also makes it easier for us to order fast food through the mere tap of a finger. Another hurdle is that junk food businesses have grown smart, disguising their products as packed with nutrients. “There are a lot of unhealthy foods that are marketed to be healthy. They are disguised to be healthy food… like energy bars, fruit drinks and even breakfast cereals. If you look at the nutrition facts of those foods, you see that they are actually high in sugar and fat.”
Labrador enumerates the negative effects of consuming too much junk food:
- It can make you gain weight. Because of their high caloric content, junk food, taken on top of meals, may lead to unwanted weight gain and may lead to obesity.
- It can make you at risk for diseases. Aside from obesity, excessive junk food intake can lead to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension and even cancer.
- It can make you feel bloated. Because it is highly processed, junk food contains a lot of chemicals, which may affect our digestive health.
Maintaining a Healthy Diet
According to Labrador, lessening our junk food intake is important in developing a healthy relationship with food. However, total abstinence from junk food may not be sustainable. “Because junk food is easily available and cheap, it’s often used for socializing and bonding.” That is why moderation is key. By prioritizing healthy and natural foods over junk, we are able to get the nutrients our bodies need. Labrador offers these tips to maintain a healthy diet:
- Eat in moderation, and a balanced meal full of varied foods.
- Make sure your diet consists of 80-90% whole or unprocessed foods such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Only 10-20% should be allotted for processed foods.
- Labrador recommends following the “Pinggang Pinoy” for reference. Half of the plate should contain fruits and vegetables (glow food) which are rich in nutrients. One-sixth of the plate is dedicated to protein (grow food) such as meat, milk and egg products. The rest of the plate may be filled with carbohydrates (go food) such as rice.
(photo from DOH)
It is never too late to start good food habits, but these are better developed when we are young. This is why it’s vital for parents to introduce their kids to healthy foods that help them develop positive eating habits early on. Parents are also responsible for being good role models, while preparing healthy dishes for the family. Junk food may be here to stay, but by developing a taste for whole foods, we can stay healthy and fit for life.