The Effects of Junk Food on the Body
You’ve likely been told countless times that junk food is bad for you and that you should be eating wholesome, healthful foods. While the occasional donut won’t cause you to keel over or undo all your fitness efforts at the gym, there is a reason it’s called ‘junk food’.
Unfortunately though, junk food prices make them more affordable than healthful ones.
As petitions circulated in an attempt to make good, healthy foods accessible for everyone, there are still many who can’t resist the allure of the drive-thru lane. Fast, convenient, and sometimes downright comforting. Americans are obsessed with junk food and it shows.
With more and more obese people tipping the scales and a massive surge in type 2 diabetes, this epidemic needs to be brought under control. If you’re obese or at risk for type 2 diabetes, you’ve got to make a change and fast or you’ll be cutting your lifespan short.
What is Junk Food?
Before we jump right in, let’s define exactly what constitutes ‘junk food’. This term was coined to include all the types of foods that have a low nutritional content and high waste. Essentially, it’s food of low quality with high calories. Fast food tends to make up the vast majority of junk food.
While it’s true that you can coast through the drive-thru and grab a salad, few people do that. And when they do, they only negate the positive by choosing a fatty salad dressing, or requesting fried chicken instead of grilled chicken to go on top. Mostly, people are popping through for burgers and fries. And they’re guzzling down record numbers of sodas along with it.
Other junk food items can be found in the supermarket, usually in the interior aisles. Packaged cookies, convenience cakes, donuts, chips, candies, and other sweet and salty snacks are also junk food. How can you tell if something is junk food? Start reading the labels on the food you shop for. If it has more than 5 ingredients, especially if those ingredients don’t have names you can pronounce, keep walking.
Key components of junk food include high sugar, fat, and sodium contents. Let’s explore those so you know what to watch out for.
The AHA (American Heart Association) recommends that you shouldn’t exceed an added sugar content (meaning sugars that don’t come naturally in your foods, like as in fruit) of 100 to 150 calories, or 6 to 9 teaspoons daily. If you’re trying to lose weight and get in shape, you should do your best to eliminate it altogether, though if you cut down your intake gradually, that will help significantly. If you’re a soda drinker, you should kick the habit fast. This is one of the biggest sources of added sugar you’re gulping down daily.
It should be noted that your body needs fats, but it needs GOOD fats. These types of fats (monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fat) are found in things like avocados, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish. But in junk food, you get the bad kind that increase your LDL cholesterol (the bad one) while lowering your HDL cholesterol (the good one). Bad fats are ever-present in pastries, cookies, and other junk food items. They put you at greater risk for cardiovascular issues and type 2 diabetes, which millions of Americans are at risk for and may not know it.
And then, there’s sodium, which causes you to retain water while decreasing your hydration. So you get that bloated, puffy feeling. It raises your blood pressure and adds more stress to your heart, not to mention your whole cardiovascular system. It’s not just fast food that has an outrageous sodium content though. Again, read those labels at the supermarket. That canned soup you think is a healthy choice can pack as much sodium as a fast-food burger! Most foods you’re eating have more sodium than you need in a day, and not reading labels can make it a deadly mistake.
Yes, junk food certainly smells and tastes good, but do you know what effects it has on your body, aside from filling you up with empty calories that don’t leave you feeling full? Read on and you might be surprised to learn some of these 5 lesser-known facts about the effects of junk food can exert on your body.
1. Digestive and cardiovascular systems
While your body certainly needs carbs, the kind found in most fast foods and processed items feature little to no fiber in them. Without fiber, once they break down, you have too much glucose going into your blood. When that blood sugar rises, your pancreas tries to compensate by pumping out more insulin than usual. So if you frequent fast food places or eat lots of junk food every day, you’re pushing yourself closer to type 2 diabetes and adding to your weight gain woes.
2. Respiratory system
Overconsumption of junk food can eventually cause problems for your respiratory system too. With a poor diet comes weight gain, and with that added weight, you’re straining your respiratory system. It becomes harder and harder for your body to support that added weight. You’re making your heart work too hard by adding mass to it which affects the lungs and reveals itself in more labored breathing. In children, it can lead to asthma as well.
Do you find it more difficult to breathe doing simple activities like walking or going up a flight of stairs? If so, it’s time to steer clear of the drive-thru and get your health back on track.
3. Central nervous system
With fast food being so quick and accessible, it seems like a good idea at the time. Especially when the kids are hungry and you don’t feel like cooking. But if the majority of your diet comes from processed foods, you’re more likely (50% more as a matter of fact) to be diagnosed with depression. The hormones that are released affect children even more deeply and have dire consequences for performance in both athletics and academics, not to mention future impacts on career.
4. Reproductive system
Studies have found that for both men and women, too much junk food can cause problems with fertility. Processed foods tend to contain phthalates. Yes, that’s the same toxic chemical that has been banned from skincare and other products you use. Phthalates interfere with your natural hormone processes and can even lead to birth defects.
5. Integumentary system
Want to have beautiful and youthful skin? You can kiss it goodbye the more you choose junk food over whole foods. That saying about being what you eat really holds its merit. Nutritious foods nourish your body from head to toe, including your largest organ, your skin. Processed carbohydrates are terrible for skin, causing it to break out. And sugar? That’s just as bad, leading to early signs of aging! And we don’t want that.
Other Side Effects from Eating Too Much Junk Food
We touched on depression just above, but it deserves a bit more attention. Often, a vicious cycle is created when we turn to junk food for comfort, especially sugary options. That cake tastes so good, but then the sugar high wanes and we’re left with excess chemicals in our brains, further disturbing the nervous system and the neurons in the brain.
In other words, that sugar high crashes down and we wind up feeling worse and more negative than before. Again, a slice of cake every now and then, especially on your birthday, isn’t major cause for upset. But if you look at what you eat on a daily basis, cake (or any other sugary treat) tends to be present, that sugar is contributing to your depression.
Like a drug, withdrawal symptoms also emerge from frequent junk food consumption. Again, it’s a nasty cycle, one that needs to be broken. When you use food to treat your feelings rather than simply enjoy a special treat as a one-off, it can be a hard habit to break.
Junk food doesn’t have the kinds of vitamins and minerals you find in whole foods. By depriving your body of key nutrients like fatty acids, you keep it in a state of imbalance. It’s no wonder you feel so depressed! Your body is trying to tell you it needs real nutrition.
Even if you don’t think you’re depressed, you might notice you have a hard time concentrating or recalling important information. That, too, is the cost of eating too much junk food. Non-nutritious foods cause inflammation in the body, especially in the part of your brain known as the hippocampus. The chemical reactions caused by improper nutrition cloud your brain, distracting you from your tasks and impeding your concentration.
So, is Junk Food Worth It?
Junk food is quick, easy, and can be comforting. But when it’s a regular staple in your diet whether for convenience, low cost, or because you crave it all the time, it has serious ramifications for your health. It causes destruction in all your bodily systems the more you consume it. If you want to live a longer, fuller, and healthier life, swap out that junk for whole foods and see how much better you look and feel!