The Impact of Junk Food on Health

Junk food can also increase the risk of diseases such as hypertension and stroke
Representational Image
Representational Image Image source: Flickr

Food is made up of three major nutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. There are also vitamins and minerals in food that support good health, growth, and development.

Getting the proper nutrition is very important during our teenage years. However, when we eat junk foods, we are consuming high amounts of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, which are quickly absorbed by the body.

A burger typically contains carbohydrates from the bun, proteins and fats from the beef patty, and fats from the cheese and sauce. On average, a burger from a fast-food chain contains 36–40% of your daily energy needs and this does not account for any chips or drinks consumed with it.

This is a large amount of food for the body to digest—not good if you are about to hit the cricket pitch! The nutritional composition of a popular burger from a famous fast-food restaurant, detailing the average quantity per serving and per 100 g.                                     

The carbohydrates of a burger are mainly from the bun, while the protein comes from the beef patty. Large amounts of fat come from the cheese and sauce. Based on the Australian dietary guidelines, just one burger can be 36% of the recommended daily energy intake for teenage boys aged 12–15 years and 40% of the recommendations for teenage girls 12–15 years.

A few hours to a few days after eating rich, heavy foods such as a burger, unpleasant symptoms like tiredness, poor sleep, and even hunger can result. Rather than providing an energy boost, junk foods can lead to a lack of energy.

For a short time, sugar (a type of carbohydrate) makes people feel energized, happy, and upbeat as it is used by the body for energy. However, refined sugar (Sugar that has been processed from raw sources such as sugar cane, sugar beets or corn), which is the type of sugar commonly found in junk foods, leads to a quick drop in blood sugar levels because it is digested quickly by the body. This can lead tiredness and cravings. The short- and long-term impacts of junk food consumption:

In the short-term, junk foods can make you feel tired, bloated, and unable to concentrate. Long-term, junk foods can lead to tooth decay and poor bowel habits. Junk foods can also lead to obesity and associated diseases such as heart disease. When junk foods are regularly consumed over long periods of time, the damages and complications to health are increasingly costly.

Fiber is a good carbohydrate commonly found in vegetables, fruits, barley, legumes, nuts, and seeds—foods from the five food groups. Fiber not only keeps the digestive system healthy, but also slows the stomach’s emptying process, keeping us feeling full for longer. Junk foods tend to lack fiber, so when we eat them, we notice decreasing energy and increasing hunger sooner.

Foods such as walnuts, berries, tuna, and green veggies can boost concentration levels. This is particularly important for young minds who are doing lots of schoolwork. These foods are what most elite athletes are eating! A study performed in humans showed that eating an unhealthy breakfast high in fat and sugar for four days in a row caused disruptions to the learning and memory parts of the brain.

Long-Term Impacts of Junk Foods

If we eat mostly junk foods over many weeks, months, or years, there can be several long-term impacts on health. For example, high saturated fat (a type of fat commonly eaten from animal sources such as beef, chicken and pork, which typically promotes the production of “bad” cholesterol in the body), intake is strongly linked with high levels of bad cholesterol in the blood, which can be a sign of heart disease. Respected research studies found that young people who eat only small amounts of saturated fat have lower total cholesterol levels.

Frequent consumption of junk foods can also increase the risk of diseases such as hypertension and stroke. Junk foods can trigger Dopamine - the “happy hormone,” -  released in the brain, making us feel good when we eat these foods. This can lead us to wanting more junk food to get that same happy feeling again. Other long-term effects of eating too much junk food include tooth decay and constipation. 

According to a research, 35% of an average adult’s daily energy intake and 41% of children’s daily energy intake comes from junk food. While the occasional night of junk food won’t hurt much, eating Junk foods regular has been shown to lead to increased risks of obesity and chronic diseases. 

Effect on the digestive and cardiovascular systems

Most fast food, including drinks and sides, are loaded with carbohydrates with little to no fiber. When your digestive system breaks down these foods, the carbs are released as glucose (sugar) into your bloodstream. As a result, your blood sugar increases. Your pancreas responds to the surge in glucose by releasing insulin. Insulin transports sugar throughout your body to cells that need it for energy. As your body uses or stores the sugar, your blood sugar returns to normal. This blood sugar process is highly regulated by your body. As long as you’re healthy, your organs can usually handle these sugar spikes. But frequently eating high amounts of carbs can lead to repeated spikes in your blood sugar. Over time, these insulin spikes may cause your body’s normal insulin response to falter. This increases your risk of insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and weight gain.

Sugar and Fat

The American Heart Association, suggests only eating about 100 calories or 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day for women or 150 calories or 9 teaspoons for men.

Many fast food drinks alone contain more than the daily recommended amount of sugar. A 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola contains 9.75 teaspoons of sugar. That equals 140 calories, 39 grams of sugar, and no other nutrients.

Another common fast food ingredient, trans fat, is manufactured fat created during food processing. It’s commonly found in: fried pies, pastries, pizza dough, crackers, and cookies. No amount of trans fat is good or healthy. Eating foods that contain it can increase your LDL (bad cholesterol), lower your HDL (good cholesterol), and increase your risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Sodium (Salt)

A diet high in sodium is also dangerous for people with blood pressure conditions. Sodium can elevate blood pressure and put stress on your heart and cardiovascular system. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends adults eat no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day. More than 70% of sodium comes from processed foods and restaurant meals.

Effect on the respiratory system

Excess calories from fast food meals can cause weight gain. This may lead to obesity.

Obesity increases your risk of respiratory problems, including asthma and shortness of breath.

The extra pounds can put pressure on your heart and lungs, and symptoms may show up even with little exertion. You may notice difficulty breathing when you’re walking, climbing stairs, or exercising.

Effect on the central nervous system

A research study found that among college students, eating higher amounts of fast food (and, interestingly, salad) was linked to a lower short-term memory score.

Effect on the reproductive system

The ingredients in junk food and fast food may have an impact on your fertility. One study found that processed food contains phthalates (phthalates are chemicals that can interrupt how hormones act in your body). Exposure to high levels of these chemicals could lead to reproductive issues, including developmental issues for a fetus.

Effect on the integumentary system (skin, hair, and nails)

One research review found that dairy, chocolate, foods high in fat, and foods with a high glycemic index (carbohydrates and sugar) were associated with acne.

Effect on the skeletal system

Carbs and sugar in fast food and processed food can increase acids in your mouth. These acids can break down tooth enamel. As your tooth enamel disappears, bacteria can take hold, and cavities may develop.

Obesity can also lead to complications with your bone density and muscle mass. People with obesity may have lowered bone quality and a higher risk of breaking bones, especially among older adults.

Effect on mental health

Eating fast food may affect your mental health along with your physical health. A research study found that consuming fast foods with sugary drinks increased the chance of mental health issues in middle school students in China.

Takeaway

Many fast food establishments now list the number of calories each item contains. Fast food is typically poor in terms of nutrition. Fast food is typically high in sugar, salt, and saturated or trans fats. The body’s reaction to these nutrients results in a range of short-term impacts when a person eats fast food. Spike in blood sugar, High Blood pressure, increased inflammation, and affects nutrient intake. Fast food does not typically contain fresh fruit and vegetables. If an individual eats fast food frequently, they may find it challenging to reach their recommended daily intake of at least 5 servings of fruit and vegetables. They may also have difficulties reaching their ideal fiber intake, which according to the Food and Drug Administration is 28 grams per day.

Many fast food meals are extremely low in fiber. Doctors associate low-fiber diets with a higher risk of digestive conditions such as constipation and diverticular disease, as well as reductions in healthy gut bacteria.

A research suggests a link between unbalanced diets high in saturated fat and simple carbohydrates, typical of fast food, and a lower capacity for memory and learning. This sort of diet may also raise the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

The FDA notes that a diet high in trans fats raises the amount of low-density lipoprotein or “bad” cholesterol and lowers the amount of high-density lipoprotein or “good” cholesterol. This means that a person is more likely to develop heart disease.

The typical fast food contains a very high number of calories. If a person eats more calories than they burn each day, they gain weight, which may lead to obesity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), obesity increases a person’s risk of developing a range of serious health conditions.

Eating lots of fast food could also impact an individual’s mental health and make them more prone to depression and anxiety.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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