Junk Food: More Harm and Lesser Well-Being

Sarah Gaur

January 16, 2022

According to FAO 182.2 million people in India suffer from a lack of nutrition. On the contrary, 132 million people suffer from obesity, excessive fat accumulation, and other health threats. So it also becomes a matter of equal concern. But what is responsible for increasing the obesity rate in India? Could the obvious answer be ‘ Junk Food’? 

In 1972, Michael Jacobson, director of the Center for Science, coined the term ‘Junk Food.’ His purpose was to raise awareness about certain kinds of food containing many calories but minimal nutritional value. Whether you watch it on television or see it widely available in restaurants, junk food is almost everywhere. People also know it as HFSS food because it is high in fat, salt and sugar.

Junk food is easy to consume and even easier to make. It has become so popular that it has become an uprising trend. Ingredients of fast food are such that they  make it delicious and addictive. However, they possess several health hazards. Some examples of junk food are chips, aerated beverages, sweet desserts and other fast food items like pizzas, burgers, hot dugs etc. These foods are fat-containing and low in nutritional value. They contain many harmful ingredients like refined sugar, trans fat etc. In addition, polyunsaturated salts, monosodium glutamate in junk foods make them unhealthy for you.

The most common unhealthy foods are highly-processed fast foods and snack foods. As per research, highly-processed foods are devoid of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Additionally, they are high on empty calories due to the excessive refined flours, sodium and sugar content.

What makes your food unhealthy?

It is simply the preparation method and the ingredients that make any food unhealthy. Added sodium, sugar and saturated fat, and trans-fat are hazardous contents you should monitor when choosing your food. Any harmful content makes your food unhealthy. However, a few reasons are:

  • Absence or minimum dietary fibre
  • Presence of taste enhancers
  • Highly palatable 
  • High calories
  • Excessive unhealthy trans-fat and saturated fat
  • Abundant sugar content

If consumed in high amounts or regularly, junk food can cause severe adverse health hazards. Excessively fast food consumption can lead to chronic diseases like type-2 diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver and cardiovascular diseases. It also increases the risk of obesity.

Types of Junk Food

There are various kinds of junk foods available in the market. Whether you think about chips, pizzas, fries or food supplied by various fast food chains they all have low nutritional values and are called junk food. On the other hand, we never consider some traditional foods junk, but they too have less nutrition and high calories. Pakora and gyro are some such conventional foods. These foods can deceive you in the garb of being ethnic, but the reality lies in their high-fat content resulting from frying. You may also consider several breakfast cereals healthy, but they contain high sugar and fat. Therefore, as per primary classification, there are three kinds of junk foods. It depends on the amount of salt, sugar or fat they contain.

1. High Fat Content Junk Food

Junk foods full of saturated fats like fried chicken, chips, doughnuts, croissants, muffins, pastries to scones that used whipped cream or fresh cream. All these have high amounts of saturated fats, pizza etc., come under this category. They directly affect your body weight. Being overweight, in turn, leads to a risk of heart diseases. The fat from these foods gets accumulated in arteries, making them clogged and damaged. As a result, the body requires more pressure to pump blood, building an excessive burden on the heart. It may lead to heart failure and other heart diseases. 

2. High Salt Content Junk Food

Some junk foods have high amounts of salt, like your packaged crisps. Such foods are called high salt content junk food. Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest that the daily sodium requirement for the body is 2300mg per day. You can get this amount of salt from one teaspoon of table salt. However, certain foods have more salt than required. 

Excessive salt intake causes the blood vessels to become narrow and stiff, leading to blood pressure. According to a study, high sodium intake causes hypertension. Hypertension, in turn, causes heart failures and even kidney malfunction as it exerts extra pressure on blood-filtering units.

3. High Sugar Content Junk Food

Some junk foods are high in their sugar content, such as lollies, biscuits, cake, aerated drinks, etc. Prolonged consumption of these sugar-loaded foods causes insulin resistance. The body produces enough insulin, but cells become incapable of responding to insulin. 

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas to regulate the sugar level in the blood. As a result of insulin resistance, cells cannot take glucose from the blood. As a result, it raises blood sugar levels and causes diabetes. Furthermore, studies show that increased blood sugar may further lead to cardiovascular diseases.

Harmful Effects of Junk Food

The emerging breakfast trend is grabbing a snack on your way to work. These days, the food from your favourite restaurants have replaced homemade food. With their current busy lives, people mostly resort to having junk food. While this food is tempting and satisfying for our taste buds, it causes severe damage to your body. The damages are not limited to just adding a few inches on the waist. But much more severe health outcomes listed below: 

1. Obesity

When your body weight is more than 20% of the ideal weight, it falls under the obesity category. It is rising as a global issue, and healthcare professionals now see it as a chronic disease. Junk food contains large amounts of fats, sugar, salt and carbohydrates, whereas fewer minerals and vitamins. As a result, they result in weight gain and obesity. In addition, you tend to eat more junk food because even large amounts can keep you unsatiated. It leads to binge eating and becomes another cause of abnormal weight gain. Obesity, in turn, causes significant health complications like diabetes, liver and kidney disorders. Research demonstrates the harmful effects of obesity on your body in detail.

2. Heart Diseases

Extra fat acquired by the body during the consumption of junk food leads to fat deposition in the arteries. As a result, the heart pumps blood with more pressure, putting more effort. If the heart exerts on a longer-term, it may result in myocardial infarction, heart attack and other cardiovascular diseases.

3. Diabetes Mellitus

Excessive sugar in junk food harshly affects the body. Some junk foods add sugar but in disguise. For example, all the aerated drinks hide the enormous amounts of sugar in their added flavour. Therefore, junk food might become a cause of diabetes. Junk food is high in saturated and trans fats. They can raise triglycerides in the blood, also a kind of fat. This high level of triglycerides increases the risk of developing diabetes mellitus.

4. Hypertension

Junk foods contain a lot of salt, which leads to hypertension. Therefore, excessive consumption of junk food may also lead to hypertension. A study explains how an increase in intake of dietary sodium causes hypertension. Coronary thrombosis is highly likely if this condition becomes frequent and not treated.

5. Kidney Diseases

Junk Food is rich in salt, sugar and fat, which causes kidney impairment because the kidneys are highly responsive to all three elements. In addition, high sugar content in junk food raises blood sugar levels. An increase in blood sugar levels may raise the number of glucose transporters and regulatory protein, leading to severe long term effects on kidneys. 

6. Probable Risk of Cancer

Lavish usage of oils, sugar and salt in junk food can increase weight in an individual by a wide margin. Junk food makes a person fat because of the visceral fat cells and their deposition in the body. This extra fat makes a low oxygen environment in the body, triggering inflammation.

Research says that long term inflammation increases the risk of cancer. That is because prolonged inflammation leads to the formation of certain groups of cells that reproduce uncontrollably and damage other cells around them, causing illness, which can cause a tumour. 

Unhealthy Junk Foods to Avoid and Their Healthy Alternatives

Junk Food- More Harm and Lesser Well being- HealthifyMe

See for yourself and understand the ingredients of your food. Then, analyse the benefits and adverse effects of each ingredient. Let us analyse Junk food’s harmful and unhealthy facts and the necessity to avoid them.

1. Junk Foods with Refined White Sugar 

Refined white sugar is a source of zero nutrients and high calories. The detrimental health effects of white sugar are alarming. Refined sugar intake is associated with type 2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity. Several foods that we consume contain refined white sugar. In addition, it is irresistible to cut it down from your diet. However, you may get natural sugars from fruits, dairy products and a high fibre diet. Such forms of sugar are far more beneficial than refined white sugar.

Healthier Alternative

The healthier way to consume natural sugar is through fruits, vegetables, milk, and other natural products. In addition, you should reduce your intake of sweets, chocolates, fizzy drinks, cookies and anything with added sugar.

2. White Flour Bread

The fluffy English bread is a staple breakfast for a majority of the population. The fluffiness is imparted by azodicarbonamide, which is a plastic dough conditioner. People use it to make bread dough fluffier. However, studies suggest that it is a potent carcinogen. In addition, many chemical taste enhancers are laced in your sandwiches, which use bread as the base.

Healthy Alternative

Whole-grain loaves of bread are primarily devoid of bleaching chemicals. So the best option is baking a whole grain loaf.  Spare a few minutes for a healthy meal, and it is worth it.

3. Junk food in the form of Diet Soda

Diet soda and fizzy drinks are full of artificial caramel colours, Bisphenol A (BPA), aspartame, sugar-free contents, artificial sweeteners etc. The misleading advertisements promote them as weight loss agents. However, research in Applied Physiology, nutrition, and metabolism shows that they induce health disorders. For example, they may lead to elevated glucose levels, fatty liver and fat deposition. 

Healthy Alternative

Plenty of water, homemade detox drinks, freshly brewed tea, coffee and the options are endless.

4. Deep-Fried Foods

The main concern with fried foods is the excessive fat and calorie content. Moreover, excess levels of Advanced Glycation End-products or AGEs are deadly to your health. These compounds synthesise when you fry animal products at high temperatures for a long time. Advances in nutrition, experts observed that exposure to AGEs impacts your immunity. In addition, it results in abnormal oxidative stress and inflammation to trigger diseases.

Healthy Alternative

Grill or bake your steaks and vegetables to give yourself a healthy treat.

5. Processed Meat

Industries typically use red meat to make processed meats. They are high in saturated fats and advanced glycation end products (AGEs). Additionally, inflammatory compounds synthesise during various processing stages and heat exposure. According to Meat Science, nitrates and nitrites in cured meat products may convert to nitrosamines. They are carcinogenic.

Sausages are classic examples. A World Health Organization (WHO) study declares that sausage and bacon are prime causatives for bowel cancer. Therefore, they are a real health hazard.

Healthy Alternative

Uncured meats, which are free of nitrates and preservatives

6. Frozen Food

Packaged food industry uses  the freezing process to enhance the shelf life of any product. In addition, they use preservatives to increase a product’s shelf life. The most common preservative is sodium tripolyphosphate (STPP).

The food products, especially fish and meat, are soaked in sodium tripolyphosphate (STPP) during the whole freezing process. However, STPP is a neurotoxin and registered pesticide.

Healthier Alternative

Organic foods with low sodium and sugar

7. Bottled Smoothies and Soft Drinks

Many of you may consider fibre-less fruit drinks or the so-called bottled smoothies along with breakfast, a healthy combination. However, they have heaps of downside. They are full of sugar, high in calories, artificial sweeteners, colours and zero nutrients or fibre. These contents are sure to impact your health in several ways in the long run.

Soft drinks are also unhealthy due to excess sugar and caffeine content. They boost energy only with extra laden calories. Replace them from your diet with healthier versions like herbal teas, lemonade, buttermilk and pure water. 

Healthier Alternatives

Blend a homemade fresh fruit drink or thick smoothie with any seasonal fruit. It ensures that every ingredient you ingest into your system benefits you.

8. Fast Foods

It is an umbrella term for the unhealthy food that you get around instantly. Once adapted to it, you are sure to be addicted to it. It is hard to renounce it. However, these foods contain phthalates and other additives. These additives contain chemical toxins like BPA used in the plastic industry.

An Environmental Health Perspectives study analysed that people who resorted to fast food regularly had higher phthalate levels comparatively. Phthalates link with the CRP marker of inflammation, metabolic syndrome and obesity etc.

Alternative Ways

  • Pre-plan your meal
  • Check in to casual restaurants serving fresh food

9. Caffeine

It is the main ingredient in coffee and coffee products, chocolates, cookies, colas, fizzy drinks etc. Caffeine toxicity in your body can manifest as headaches, high blood pressure, fatigue, depression, insomnia.

Healthier Alternatives

  • Fresh fruit drinks
  • Homemade cookies

10. Refined Flours

Refined flour has a high glycaemic index. Foods with a high glycaemic index spike your blood glucose level and result in fluctuating insulin levels. You would also know it as all-purpose flour or Maida. It is chemically bleached to impart a glowing white and smooth texture.

Several fast foods and junk foods contain maida with no or negligible nutrients or dietary fibre content. A deficiency of dietary fibres results in constipation, irregular bowels, ulcer and even intestinal cancer.

Healthier Alternatives

  • Whole grain flour
  • A well balanced nutritious whole food diet with fresh vegetables and fruits compensates for this issue.

11. Refined Cooking Oils

Refined oils are equally harmful as refined flours. Reused oils are the primary source of trans fat. They also produce free radicals in the body and cause the accumulation of fat deposits in arteries. As a result, it leads to atherosclerosis and other heart diseases.

Healthier Alternatives

  • Fresh ground oil
  • Homemade clarified butter

12. Alcohol

Excess alcohol consumption leads to dehydration, irritability, headaches, addiction, liver disease and other adverse effects. 

Healthy Alternatives

  • Wine
  • Non-alcoholic beer within the recommended dose

13. Mayonnaise

Mayonnaise is the unhealthiest and worst empty-calorie condiment to enhance your junk food. Sodium, sugar and preservatives were added to the list of harmful ingredients apart from taste enhancers.

Moreover, mayo is prepared mainly with eggs. The simple addition of heavy preservatives increases the shelf life. It helps remain fresh and unrefrigerated, on your shelf for months.

Healthier Alternatives

You may prepare a homemade healthier version of mayo with Greek yoghurt, pepper, lemon juice and spices according  to your taste. You can enjoy a preservative-free and less calorie mayo. It makes a heart-friendly and healthy spread.

How to Avoid Junk Food?

Junk food advertising and convenience in eating can easily lure you into eating it. Junk food might save your time, give you comfort or satisfy your urge of eating spicy or sugary food . However, in reality, it does more harm than just giving you pleasure. 

Unfortunately, awareness of the harmful effects of junk food is also not as prevalent in society. So, how do you stop yourself? Following are some tips you can incorporate in your daily lives.

  • Change the environment: Keeping junk food around while at the same time trying to avoid it turns out to be a complete failure. So, stop keeping junk food in your surroundings.
  • Do not buy junk food: Try buying not more than five to seven items where you ensure to make healthy choices by picking up nutritional food like vegetables, fruits, meats, eggs, milk and whole grains.
  • Keeping plenty of healthy snacks easily accessible can make you cut down on junk food consumption. Some examples are fruit salad, granola bars, low-fat yoghurt and almonds.
  • Eating foods rich in proteins and high dietary fibre early in the day can reduce the chances of junk food cravings in the latter part of the day.
  • Drink plenty of water. Water helps balance blood sugar levels and helps cut down unhealthy beverage intake. Drinking plenty of water and staying hydrated reduces a person’s chance of grabbing a can of sugary beverage or soda.
  • Include more protein in your diet. This technique is beneficial as it reduces appetite and keeps you away from overeating.
  • Researchers link overeating with stress. So try to fight stress because that reduces the chances of binge eating, especially junk food.
  • Practise mindful eating: It means to meditate regarding the kind of food you are eating. Analyse the food you are eating.


Our generation’s favourite junk foods are French fries, burgers, chips, pizzas, etc. Unfortunately, they provide you only with unhealthy fats, high calories and no nutrients, which are sure to result in weight gain and a host of health disorders. Additionally, an unhealthy cooking environment with inadequate quality factors aggravates the toxicity of junk food.

The extent to which this food can wreck your body is beyond your comprehension. It is high time to replace these nutrient-deficient foods with a healthier version. It is easier to load up on junk food. However, the pace with which it poisons your health is more alarming.

Habits of consuming junk food have increased, especially in children. The main problem is that it leads to uncountable health hazards by targeting the heart, liver and kidney. Obesity is one of the significant consequences of eating junk food. It leads to many health problems like cardiovascular diseases, liver issues etc. 

Multinational companies and their attractive advertisements solely to profit by luring people into eating fast food is an aggressive sales strategy. But, in reality, it does a lot of harm. Therefore, you should avoid them as much as you can. However, if you want to have it for a change, have it in moderation, and that too, occasionally.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What are examples of junk food?

A. Foods that contain high sugar, high salt and high fats are junk foods. Some common examples of junk food are chips, pizzas, burgers, processed meat like bacon, sugary drinks, chocolate, biscuits and cakes.

A. Any kind of junk food that is prepackaged, conveniently available, and tastes excellent is popular junk food. Snacks like chocolates, carbonated drinks, cakes, fries etc., are some examples of popular high sugar junk foods. In addition, salted chips, sausages, burritos and pizza are other examples.

Q. Why is junk food not healthy?

A. Junk food is unhealthy because it leads to greater chances of chronic diseases like type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, fatty liver, obesity and even cancer. In addition, added chemicals like MSG, triglycerides, preservatives, saturated fat, excessive sugar or salt makes junk food extremely unhealthy.

Q. What are the seven foods to avoid?

A. Seven foods and beverages that you should avoid are: 

  • Caffeine: You can find it in chocolates, coffee etc. It is addictive and causes insomnia, high blood pressure and fatigue.
  • Junk Food: It causes obesity, cardiovascular diseases and other harmful effects in the body.
  • Refined Sugar: It does not have any nutrients and aids in weight gain.
  • Salt: Excessive consumption leads to hypertension and excessive sodium in the body.
  • Alcohol: It leads to headaches, dehydration and irritability. It is addictive and hazardous.
  • Refined Food: It leads to sluggish bowels and constipation.
  • Soft Drinks: It may lead to diabetes and weight gain.

Q. Is Burger junk food?

A. Yes. A burger is junk food because it contains excessive fat, sodium (high salt content) and saturated fat. A single burger has 295 calories, which is enough to cause harm when consumed repeatedly.

Q. Is pizza junk food?

A. Yes. Pizza is one of the most popular junk foods in the world. Pizza is  high in calories and is made up of extremely unhealthy substances like refined dough and a lot of salt. It increases sodium levels in the body and can lead to obesity.

Q. Is chocolate a junk food?

A. Both white and dark chocolates are junk foods because they contain about 50% of sugar and a lot of saturated fat. Chocolates also have added preservatives and flavonoids, which are harmful to health.

Q. Is cake junk food?

A. Cake is low in nutrition and contains a high amount of saturated fat and sugar. Therefore, it causes obesity and even diabetes mellitus when eaten a lot. Thus, cake is junk food.

Q. Is French fries junk food?

A. French fries are a popular snack. However, the high saturated fat and sodium levels put them under the junk food category. French fries consumption may lead to a risk of gaining weight because of their high-fat content. It also lacks vitamins and minerals.

Q. Is fried chicken junk food?

A. Fried chicken is junk food because it contains high amounts of fats. However, chicken with less oil can be a much healthier food that you can include in your diet. The preparation method is responsible for this. Anything deep-fried is junk because it leads to excess oil consumption.

Q. How does junk food affect your body?

A. Junk food affects your body in harmful ways because it is unhealthy. It leads to greater chances of chronic diseases like type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, fatty liver, obesity and even cancer. In addition, added chemicals like MSG, triglycerides, preservatives, saturated fat, excessive sugar or salt makes junk food extremely unhealthy.

Q. What are the ten harmful effects of junk food?

A. Junk food leads to obesity, cardiovascular diseases, kidney dysfunction, non-alcoholic fatty liver, hypertension, depression, guilt, headaches, high blood pressure and even dental problems. In addition, high sugar, salt and fats make them unhealthy for you.

Q. Can junk food harm your brain?

A. Any food that leads to an improper nutrient supply is harmful to the brain. Therefore, having junk food is the main reason for harming the brain. In addition, excess consumption of junk foods leads to anxiety, depression, aggressiveness, impairment of the ability to think and difficulty controlling impulsive behaviours.

Q. What happens when you quit junk food?

A. You might experience excessive cravings and withdrawal symptoms like irritability, tiredness, sadness and aggression. That is why these foods are considered addictive. In addition, it can cause withdrawal symptoms similar to those experienced when quitting tobacco or addictive substances. You may suffer increased irritability and fatigue. Those giving up on sugar and caffeine may experience headaches.

About the Author

A nutritionist by profession and a writer by passion, Sarah holds an MSc. in Clinical Nutrition & Dietetics from Symbiosis Institute of Health Sciences, Pune. She believes in changing lives, one meal at a time with a holistic approach towards overall healing. Her mission is to modify the nutritional habits and behaviors of our next generation to optimize their long-term health and reduce the likelihood of metabolic diseases. Apart from working, she loves to sing, swirl scribble and spread smiles.

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