Given the choice between a bowl of strawberries and a piece of strawberry cake, many of us choose the cake. Same goes for the battle between cheese and Cheetos. Maybe we feel bad about that, but we do it anyway. And some of us do it a lot. And though the occasional piece of homemade cake is perfectly fine, a junk food diet will destroy your health. It’s something many people just haven’t grasped yet.
The good news is that not all cake is junk. “You might be eating a snack or baked good made with real, whole ingredients, and while it’s not healthy and it doesn’t replace the nutritious value of eating lunch, it’s not complete junk,” Keri Glassman, a registered dietician and founder of Nutritious Life, says. Junk food is full of unwanted additives and has little to no nutritional value, she says.
Conversely, it’s not just Oreos and Fritos that are the problem. Canned soup, salad dressing, cereal and granola, flavored yogurt, protein bars, jarred marinara sauce — all these things may seem healthy-ish but usually contain a lot of junky ingredients. That’s why you have to read labels.
Glassman urges people to avoid eating anything containing high-fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils (aka trans fats.) She also advises that you avoid other types of refined sugar (sucrose, maltose, dextrose, fructose, glucose, galactose, lactose), as well as nitrates and other unnatural preservatives.
Why Is It Bad and How Can You Stop?
Junk food has little to no nutritional value, which is why it’s not good for you. But why is it bad? Those aforementioned sugars. Experts believe that sugar consumption is a major cause of inflammation and thus obesity and many chronic diseases. It has been linked to diabetes, heart disease, cancer, fatty liver disease, cellular aging, and depression. Glassman says it is also linked to acne, psoriasis, rosacea, and digestive issues.
Beyond not knowing any better, emotional eating is one of the main reasons people crave junk food. Glassman suggests eating from empowerment rather than emotion. She outlines a 3-D approach — delay, distract, disarm — to combat cravings. “Make the conscious decision to delay action before eating. During those planned, delaying minutes, distract yourself. Get your mind off of the food and focus on a task, like meditating. Finally, disarm yourself by getting rid of the trigger-related foods.” In other words, don’t keep chips and ice cream in the house.
Glassman encourages her clients to instead engage in conscious indulgence. “Eat a few things — portioned controlled and the most nutrient-dense option of what you’re truly craving.” For example, if you want an Oreo, Glassman suggests an ounce of 70 percent dark chocolate with a teaspoon of natural peanut butter.
Other ways to consciously indulge are by eating ice cream only from an ice cream shop or eating only cookies you bake from scratch. Want soup? Make it at home. Same goes for marinara sauce and snack bars. By cooking your own food, “Not only do you automatically avoid added preservatives, but this is what a true conscious indulgence means. There was thought put into the ingredients, the process of making it, and the indulgence is truly worth it, as opposed to grabbing a candy bar in the checkout lane of the grocery store.”