The diet of the present generation has changed dramatically over the past few decades. Home-made meals are replaced by easily available fast-foods, junk food, and packaged foods. Grabbing a quick snack on the way to work is the latest breakfast trend. There have been shifts from fresh, nutritious, and minimally processed foods towards ultra-processed, unhealthy, calorific, fatty foods. Major health impairments of modern times are being caused by society’s reliance on junk and fast foods.
In this blog, we’ll discuss how unhealthy diet intake can be a prime driver of non-communicable diseases like stress, gut dysbiosis, and weight gain.
JUNK FOODS & FAST FOODS
Junk foods are discretionary food and drink that are quick and easy to eat and have extremely-low nutritional value. Junk foods can be easily accessed, do not need preparation, can be eaten rapidly, are calorie dense, and contain added sugar, salt, saturated fat, but are low in vital nutrients.
Fast food is a category of food that includes quick and processed meals easily prepared and served in restaurants.
Junk foods and fast foods are anything made with poor- quality ingredients and stuffed with unnecessary additives. They are often ultra-processed and are produced to be hyper-palatable.
Junk food is always low in nutritional value, fast foods can be both nutritious and of low nutritious value.
Chips, soda, salty snacks, ice cream, soft drinks, bakery goods, French fries, pizza, cookies, sugary drinks, alcoholic drinks, cakes, biscuits, and sweets are all junk foods.
Onion rings, sandwiches, pizza, fried chicken, tacos, hamburgers, chicken nuggets, wraps and rolls, cold drinks, pasta, biscuits, muffins, donuts, pancakes, noodles, are some examples of fast foods.
The nutrients that we consume through foods give our cells the ability to perform the necessary functions. The importance of nutrients to the body can be related this way, if you want to grow healthy tomatoes, you need to plant the tomato seed in well-drained soil and full sun. If you plant the seeds in the cheapest dirt, and don’t give them enough sunlight, you may still get a tomato, but the tomato may not be of good quality.
JUNK FOODS CAN CONTRIBUTE TO STRESS, ANXIETY & POOR COGNITION
As per research studies, nutritional factors are intervened with human mental health (cognition, behaviour, and emotions). The link between diet and emotions stems from the close relationship between our brain and gastrointestinal tract. Our GI tract is the home to billions of bacteria that influence the production of neurotransmitters that carry messages from the gut to the brain. The food that we eat influences the gastrointestinal microbial composition.
When people are stressed or depressed, they tend to reach for processed foods as a quick pick-me-up. A pint of ice cream or a bag of salted chips is what people reach for when they feel low or stressed. Junk foods and fast foods are high in sugar and fat and their taste is appealing. When you eat such foods, the reward circuit in our brain is switched on and the brain releases happy hormone, dopamine. The brain can become overwhelmed by the pleasure from the rewarding foods and in response will create more receptors for dopamine and will make you crave for more such foods, rather than nutrient-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables. If you don’t provide your body the nutrients that are needed for healthy energy levels, and keep craving for nutrient deprived foods, the poor diet can eventually aggravate stress.
High glycemic foods like bread, cakes, ice creams, desserts, soda release glucose quickly to the bloodstream leading to burst of energy. The high amount of glucose in the bloodstream will trigger your body to produce more insulin in an attempt to keep the glucose levels consistent. This causes the blood glucose to decrease rapidly which results in sudden drop in the energy levels, also called sugar crash. With the sugar crash, the body can experience undesired symptoms like irritability, headache, anxiety, fatigue, confusion, poor cognition.
JUNK FOODS CAN CONTRIBUTE TO OBESITY
High glycemic junk foods flood the bloodstream with glucose without nutrients, phytochemicals, fiber. The rapid absorption of glucose will lead to rapid insulin spikes that will remain for hours. The insulin will force glucose to enter cells, lead to metabolic changes that promote excessive food intake.
Junk foods and fast foods are largely empty calories that cause rise in blood sugar. Frequent insulin spikes caused by empty calories from fast foods can increase the risk of insulin resistance. When the cells stop responding to insulin, the blood sugar levels in the bloodstream stays high, the excess glucose will get stored as body fat.
The high glycemic baked goods are packed with acrylamides and advanced glycation end-products, which will cause increased food cravings, excessive food consumption and weight gain. If you take for example, beans and white bread. The carbs from beans will take more time to be digested and as a result, the sugar enter the bloodstream slowly. This doesn’t require much of an insulin response to deal with. However, the carbs from white bread would be metabolized into simple sugars in 5 to 10 minutes and causes blood sugar to rise sharply and trigger insulin spikes which ultimately will lead to fat storage.
JUNK FOODS CONTRIBUTE TO POOR GUT HEALTH
The diet you eat can either cultivate healthy gut bacteria or kill the gut bacteria. Healthy gut bacteria imparts specific function in host nutrient metabolism, and immunomodulation. Junk food has loads of empty calories (zero fiber content, relatively high in fat, salt, refined sugars) and low in nutrients. When you consume foods devoid of fiber, and protein, it will lead to gut dysbiosis, loss of useful microbes.
Intake of sugary foods will reduce microbial diversity, will lead to inappropriate inflammatory responses and negative consequences for health. Complex carbs, onions, celery, garlic, whole grains, fruits, raw vegetables, fermented foods, legumes feed the good gut bacteria. Junk foods and fast foods are typically high in calories, fat (saturated and transfat), sugar, simple carbs, sodium which lead to microbiota dysbiosis.
MEASURES TO BE TAKEN FOR HEALTHY EATING
When ordering food in a restaurant, pay more attention to the nutritional value of the food.
Employ and promote food preparation methods that minimize the use of fat, salt, sugar.
Choose processed foods carefully.
Eat diverse and balanced diet that are rich in fiber, protein, vegetables, nuts, and wholegrains.
Limit marketing and promotion of unhealthy, junk foods.
Check the nutrition fact label of food products.
Promoting awareness of healthy diet through mass media campaigns.
Drink more water, don’t skip meals (as this can contribute to snacking on unhealthy foods when hungry), be mindful of caffeine and alcohol intake.
Always have healthy snacks like nuts, protein bars, energy balls, fruits handy.
Plan your meals and snacks ahead of time to ensure each meal includes an appropriate balance of carbs, protein, and fat.
Reduce the intake of outside food, bakery items, processed foods and beverages.
Follow steaming or boiling instead of frying when cooking.
Changing what’s on your plate might be the simplest solution and your first step toward a healthier lifestyle.