Beyond food snobbery – what makes junk food unhealthy?

sliders are a case in point - what makes junk food unhealthy?

Beyond food snobbery – what makes junk food unhealthy?

You may not have experienced a bad mood, a gut ache, or nausea from eating unhealthy restaurant or cafe food. But I am here to let you know that the more healthy your diet is, the more junk food will make you feel extremely unwell when you do eat it. It is simply a case of not being aware of the effect this kind of food is having on your body. You are interested to know what makes junk food unhealthy. There are quite a few ways that junk food is unhealthy. And this blog post will explore some of them.

Junk food has become increasingly prevalent in our modern society, tempting us with its convenience, accessibility, and indulgent flavours. However, behind the allure of these tasty treats lies a significant concern for our health. So, what exactly makes junk food unhealthy? In this article, we will explore the various reasons why indulging in junk food can have detrimental effects on our well-being.

Definition of junk food

Before delving into the reasons behind its unhealthy nature, let’s establish what exactly constitutes junk food. Junk food refers to highly processed and commercially manufactured food products that are typically low in nutritional value but high in unhealthy fats, and ingredients that will create a big spike in your blood sugar level. These kinds of foods probably have excessive amounts of sodium, and it goes without saying that they are high in calories. These foods are often pre-packaged, ready-to-eat, and loaded with artificial ingredients and preservatives. I would also say that junk food often contains heavy ingredients (such as meat and dairy) that are both hard to digest and stimulate inflammation in your body. As well as toxins, such as pesticides, hormones, or microscopic pieces of plastic.

Unhealthy fats and trans fats

One detrimental aspect of junk food is its unhealthy fat content. Many processed snacks, fried foods, and commercially prepared goods contain unhealthy fats, such as saturated fats and trans fats. These fats can raise cholesterol levels, clog arteries, and increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.

They also have an impact on your brain health, because your brain is composed of 70 % fat. Eating good fats can make you feel so much better. Grilled fish, seaweed, or other foods cooked in olive oil, avocados and nuts such as walnuts, macadamias, almonds, pistachios etc, are a much better source of good fat.

High in added sugar – or simple carbohydrates

One of the primary factors that contribute to the unhealthiness of junk food is its high sugar content. Many fast food options will contain simple carbohydrates such as sugary bread, or dough. Sugary beverages, candies, cookies, and pastries are notorious for their excessive amounts of added sugars. If you eat carbohydrates without fibre and protein, it will result in a higher-than-healthy sugar spike in your blood. And these sugar spikes can lead to sugar crashes, which feel bad in the short term. And over time can have detrimental impacts on your health and longevity. Consuming these sugary treats in abundance can lead to weight gain, and increased risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, and dental problems, to name a few.

Processed ingredients and additives

Junk food is loaded with processed ingredients and artificial additives. These include artificial flavours, colours, preservatives, and hydrogenated oils. These additives not only contribute to the poor nutritional profile of junk food but may also have adverse effects on our health, including allergies, hyperactivity, and other sensitivities. These toxic substances can also be the cause of bad headaches after consuming foods with these additives and chemicals. If you have become used to drinking organic coffee, you will really notice the effect of a chemical-laden cup of coffee from a different cafe.

In an ideal world, restaurants and cafes would only serve food that was organic and pesticide-free (at least for those ingredients that are in the dirty dozen, especially in meat and dairy products (this also helps to provide a better ethical experience for the animal products we consume). However, as it is with the ‘profit motive’, most restaurants and cafes or fast food outlets often source the cheapest ingredients, and this leads to pesticides, micro-plastics, hormones and other chemicals in your food that you definitely don’t want in your body.

Negative impact on the digestive system

The lack of fibre and excessive consumption of processed ingredients in junk food can disrupt the digestive system. It can lead to digestive issues, including constipation, bloating, and discomfort. Additionally, the imbalance of gut bacteria caused by a poor diet can affect overall gut health and immune function.

Also, if your body is used to ingesting easily digestible foods, such as brown rice, vegetables, vegetarian forms of protein such as beans and tempeh and other similar foods when you swallow a big lump of meat, your system isn’t ready for it in any way shape or form. And it can feel like an utter brick in your stomach for hours after you consume it.

This is not to say that eating healthy food should be discouraged. It is just that there is such a massive difference between the big smile you get on your face when you eat a balanced meal with lots of prebiotics, fibre, nutrients and good fats, carbohydrates and proteins and a heavy, meal of meat and unhealthy fats and the bad and grumpy mood that you can get from fried, fatty, heavy, chemical-laden foods. Have you ever noticed this? There is a whole heap of research on the connection between mood and food, which I hope to share with you at some point.

Addiction and cravings

And yet, junk food is carefully engineered to be highly palatable and addictive. The combination of sugar, fat, salt, and artificial flavours triggers the pleasure centres in the brain, leading to cravings and overconsumption. This addictive nature of junk food can make it challenging to break unhealthy eating patterns.

I get it. It can be tempting. And you will get cravings for the most unhealthy foods. But if you really notice how that food makes you feel and be mindful of your mood after all the commercial food that you eat, you will learn which foods to steer clear of.

It is so true that there is an evolutionary imperative to eating calorie-dense foods and those that contain fat and sugar, which is probably how our commercial food environment evolved in this way. However, this is just a superficial justification for serving these kinds of foods. The real work is designing menus that are both healthy, delicious and ethical.

Transformation of the food environment

I feel that there needs to be some kind of incentive for commercial food producers to provide healthy foods that make people feel good and contribute to long-term health objectives. I think that cooks and chefs who design their restaurant or cafe menus don’t fully appreciate how important their decisions are. And how much impact they can have on our environment, people’s health and the treatment of animals.

While the convenience and indulgence of junk food may be tempting, it is essential to recognize its detrimental effects on our health. The high levels of added sugars, unhealthy fats, excessive salt, and lack of essential nutrients make junk food a significant contributor to various health problems. By opting for a balanced diet rich in whole, unprocessed foods, we can nourish our bodies, support optimal health, and reduce the risks associated with consuming junk food. Has this article helped you understand what makes junk food unhealthy? If so, let me know your biggest challenge in the comments.


Q: Can I still enjoy junk food occasionally without harming my health?

A: Occasional consumption of junk food in moderation is unlikely to cause significant harm. In fact, many nutritionists suggest the 80/20 rule of eating. As long as you are eating healthy food 80 % of the time, eating unhealthy food 20 % of the time should be okay – if you can stomach it! By eating healthy I mean a balanced diet and a focus on whole, nutrient-dense foods.

Q: Are there any healthier alternatives to satisfy my cravings for junk food?

A: Yes! There are plenty of healthier alternatives available that can satisfy your cravings. Opt for homemade snacks using wholesome ingredients, such as air-popped popcorn, fruit-based, or probiotic-rich desserts such as yoghurt, and lean on tried and tested alternatives like a cup of cocoa instead of a piece of chocolate. Also, if you are the sort of person who enjoys rich breakfasts, a nice alternative can be an omelette with one egg, organic kalamata olives, red onion, mushrooms, tomatoes (if in season) and organic spinach, on a slice of organic bread. It feels like a good cafe meal, but it is actually healthy!

The world is your oyster in terms of experimenting with swaps for junk food. Lately, I have been marinating triangles of tempeh in olive oil and tamari and baking them in the oven for 25 minutes. They make a delicious, protein-rich snack!

Q: How can I break the cycle of junk food addiction?

A: Breaking the cycle of junk food addiction can be challenging but not impossible. Start by gradually reducing your intake and replacing junk food with healthier options. Seek support from a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian to help you develop healthier eating habits.

Q: Can junk food affect children’s health differently than adults?

A: Yes, junk food can have a more significant impact on children’s health due to their developing bodies and nutritional needs. Regular consumption of junk food in childhood can lead to long-term health consequences, including obesity and an increased risk of chronic diseases.

Q: What are some strategies to resist the temptation of junk food?

A: To resist the temptation of junk food, plan and prepare your meals in advance, keep healthy snacks readily available, and practice mindful eating.

Good luck!

Image credits:

Lamb Souvlaki at Cafe Vasiliki” by pointnshoot is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Go Burger Kobe Sliders” by ~db~ is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

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