Karen Ensle Ed.D., RDN, FAND, CFCS
Family & Community Health Sciences Educator
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County
Why are nutrition experts concerned about junk food? Too much can take away your natural hunger and replace healthy choices with foods and drinks that are high in fat, salt, or sugar.
Our society is saturated with snacks and foods, as well as beverages that are relatively inexpensive. These high calorie products that have way too many calories often take the place of more nutritious foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy.
Often, our minds and bodies are overwhelmed with foods that have little nutritional value but are good tasting with a great smell, texture and color that are attractive to our eyes and taste-buds. Below are six ways to help you stay away from junk food and make healthier food choices:
1. Eat Regular Meals so You Do Not Get Too hungry.
If you're too hungry, your stomach sends signals to the reward system in your brain that you need to respond to any food cues you see. Try to keep to a regular meal schedule, skip fad diets and include healthy foods and lots of fruits and vegetables in your daily diet.
2. Drink Water First and Eliminate Sugar Sweetened Beverages.
Sugary drinks like soda, sports drinks, energy drinks, or sweetened teas may lead to weight gain. We are not sure why this is. One possibility is that liquid calories may not be interpreted by the brain as people eat only slightly less food when they drink a glass of regular cola rather than when they drink a zero-calorie glass of water or diet cola.
3. Consume Snacks that are Nutritious and Low in Calories.
Do you get hungry between meals? Try snacking on a piece of fresh fruit or veggie sticks with hummus. Identify foods that you enjoy but are lower calorie foods that are also low in fat, salt or sugar. Pick foods you enjoy eating so you don't end up craving junk foods. Our stomach and brain needs to be satisfied with food consumed at meals and in-between.
4. Understand Your Stressors.
Take time to notice the emotional triggers that can set you up to crave palatable junk foods. Go for a walk, call a friend, try some meditation, or distract yourself. Stressful settings will cause you to have food cravings that will cause your blood sugar to rise and fall quickly which will affect your energy level and cardiovascular health. Planning ahead on how you will handle these triggers will help you to choose healthier food and beverage options instead of high calorie alternatives. When we are stressed, we need to drink water and consume nutritious food so our body stays healthy and balanced.
5. Get Plenty of Sleep.
When researchers let people sleep only four hours a night for five days, they ate more and gained weight. In similar studies, participants reported increased hunger and they had an appetite for high-carbohydrate (sugary) or high-fat foods. Strive for 7-8 hours of sleep each night. Less sleep of 3-4 hours each night makes adults more prone to personal injuries due sleepiness on the job, overeating which may lead to weight gain and cause obesity, poor work output due to feeling tired, as well as a poor diet, due to lack of regular meals, unhealthy snacks and caffeinated beverage consumption.
6. Keep a Smile on Your Face and Realize the Downside of Marketing.
Lots of slick marketing on television, the internet and other media makes junk food tempting. Understand it is difficult to bypass these high calorie alternatives for healthy snacks and meals. Remember, our food environment makes it difficult for people to eat and drink healthy foods and beverages most days. Take small steps to stay away from junk food and make healthier food choices.