We are a junk food nation. Just look at the number of aisles in the grocery store devoted just to junk food. We are a nation of pizza, chips and fries. It is these types of foods that are at the heart of our propensity toward obesity and poor health. Junk food is a slang word for foods with limited nutritional value. Every person has their own list of foods that they call junk foods. It usually includes foods that are high in salt, sugar, fat or calories and low nutrient content. Salted snack foods, candy, gum, most sweet desserts, fried fast food and carbonated beverages are some of the most popular junk foods. They generally offer little in terms of protein, vitamins or minerals and lots of calories from sugar or fat. The term “empty calories” refers to the lack of nutrients in these foods.
Rather than banning all but the simplest foods, try to judge each food based on the list of ingredients and nutrition labels found on packages. When reading the list of ingredients, look for sugar, fat or salt as one of the first three ingredients mentioned. If this is the case, you can probably consider that particular food to be very high in sugar, fat or salt.
A look at the nutritional information on a package label will list the number of calories per serving, grams of fat, as well as the food’s sodium, cholesterol, fiber and sugar content. This nutritional information will make you more knowledgeable in selecting foods that will contribute to a healthy lifestyle.
Now look at the number of grams of fat on the nutrition label. For every five grams of fat in a serving of a food, you are consuming the equivalent of one teaspoon of fat. So, if one serving of a food has 23 grams of fat in it, it contains the equivalent of four and one-half teaspoons of fat. You should limit the fat content in foods you eat daily to 30 percent of your total calories. Do not try to lower the fat content of foods below 25 percent, since fat plays a vital role in carrying fat soluble vitamins and keeping your hunger satisfied between meals.
Sodium content should be 2,300 milligrams or less per day. Some foods, like ham and other cured meats, have very high sodium content per serving. You do not need to eliminate them but you need to limit the amount of these foods you consume.
Your cholesterol intake should be 300 milligrams or less per day. It is easy to remember that 300 is the same as the number of calories per serving.
Fiber content will be listed on nutrition labels in terms of grams of dietary fiber. This amount will vary from product to product, but it is recommended not to shop for only the highest numbers you can find. Any amount of dietary fiber above two grams per serving is good, and foods with five grams of fiber or more are considered high fiber foods.
Sugar content is usually listed on packages of cold cereal. A rule of thumb to follow is that four grams of sugar equals one teaspoon of sugar. Limit sugar in cereals to four grams, but relax the sugar content to eight grams per serving if the cereal has fruit in it. Fruits usually contain about 60 percent fructose and 40 percent sucrose. If you were to eliminate sugar from all foods, you would be eliminating fruits, which are valuable sources of nutrients and soluble fiber.
If you want to cut down on junk food, cut down your intake of foods high in salt, sugar, and fat as well as refined foods. Choose your calories by the nutrient company they keep.
Some facts on eating habits:
o Grazing vs. three meals: Our body’s metabolism is designed to protect us against prolonged periods of hunger. This means that if you eat just one meal per day, your body will slow its metabolism so you hang onto calories and conserve energy for a longer period of time. Eating three meals per day will trigger the metabolic rate to go up each time a meal is consumed. Some dieticians recommend grazing throughout the day, and eating approximately six small meals. This allows the body’s metabolism to make full use of the calories it consumes. Try eating when you get up, around 10 am, 1 pm, 3 pm, 6 pm and 8-9 pm.
o Healthy food vs. junk food: Few people can survive in this day and age without a little bit of junk food. However you should try not to eat junk food every day and have the percentage of junk food you consume be less than 25 percent of your overall calorie intake. Junk food simply adds empty calories to your daily calorie total without adding any nutritional value. The fewer empty calories you have, the healthier you will be. Read the labels on food packages and if the fat, sugar or salt content are too high, you can consider it junk food. One of the current theories behind the causes of excessive childhood obesity is that parents may be forcing children to eat healthy foods while not reducing or eliminating junk foods from their diet. In this way, bad eating habits with respect to portion size can develop and continue throughout life.
o Healthy eating is more expensive short term but the long-term medical savings can be huge: Remember that section of the grocery store you rarely venture into? The section with all the fruits and vegetables? This is the section you want to spend most of your time in and, although fruits and vegetables cost more money and take longer to cook, you will reap the health benefits and save money in healthcare costs in the long run.