General Health

Why are Junk Foods (JF) so irresistible?

Food habits have changed drastically over the past few years. In the food industry, advertisement and marketing have also transformed rapidly. Now new foods are designed by targetting and studying the mind and psychology of the consumers. Food companies are shifting the status of food from hunger satisfier and nourishment giver to stress beater, happiness portion, pleasure gainer, mood uplifter and companion of aloneness as well as celebration.

Products are getting formulated to hold customers and enhance their food addiction behaviour. One superb example of this food compulsive behaviour is eating cheese puffs. The scrumptious crunchiness, the way it melts in the mouth and the delicious dusting of powder left on the fingertips makes it more tempting and ignites the craving to eat endlessly.

Most of these irresistible tasty foods are non-nutritious, calorie-dense and offer no or low health benefits. In 1972, Michael Jacobson, Director of the Centre for Science has coined the term “Junk Food” (JF) for these empty-calorie foods.

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In India, having junk food is an uncontrollable craving trend observed currently across all age groups. Despite the harmfulness of JF, there is low awareness and fewer initiatives have been taken to knock off JF addiction.

What is JF?

This also refers to fast food, which is easy to consume. They are low in nutritional value and high in fat, sugar and salt. JF contain little or no essential nutrients. They are easily prepared, served fast, readily available, and moderately expensive.

What is the science of addictive junk food?

Causes of addiction

JF act on the reward system of the brain. While eating the brain releases a bunch of feel-good chemicals in the reward system, such as the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is interpreted as pleasure. The brain is hardwired to seek out behaviours that release dopamine in the reward system. The problem with modern JF is that they cause a massive powerful reward feeling. JF are habit-forming as they light up the pleasure centres in the brain.

According to studies, some factors make JF eating give a joyful kick.

  1. Dynamic Contrast

Sensory contrasts are mostly liked by everyone. This refers to a combination of different sensations in the same food. Mostly these foods have an edible shell that goes crunch followed by something soft or creamy and full of taste-active compounds. The brain finds crunching through something like this very novel and thrilling.

  1. Rapid Meltdown and Vanishing Caloric Density

Foods that rapidly vanish or melt in the mouth, signal the brain that one is not eating as much as they are. These foods tell the brain that one is not full, even though they are eating a lot of calories and this leads to overeating.

  1. Sensory-specific response

The brain likes variety. When it comes to food, if the brain experiences the same taste over and over again, then it starts to get less pleasure. The sensitivity of that specific sensor will decrease over time. JF, however, is designed to avoid this sensory-specific response. They provide enough taste to be interesting (the brain doesn’t get tired of eating them), but it’s not so stimulating that sensory response is dulled.

  1. Memories of past eating experiences. 

When tasty food is eaten, the brain registers that feeling. The next time when the same food is smelt, seen and even read about, the brain starts to trigger the memories and responses that came when this food was eaten last. These memories cause physical responses like salivation and create mouth-watering cravings.

What are the different types of JF?

Various types of junk food are available in the market out of which the most popular junk food is soft drinks, pizza, burgers, potato chips, ice-creams, hot dogs, pakora, chow mein, french fries, cheese chilli and pav bhaji etc.

What are the reasons for the immense popularity of junk foods?

  1. The time factor: They are easy to prepare, with or without cooking and are very tasty. JF can be easily popped while doing other work and is available through the home delivery system.
  2. The taste factor: JF get their taste due to lavish usage of oils, salts and sugar.
  3. Junk food advertising: A lot of money is used for exponential advertisement of JF offline as well as online.
  4.  Shelf life: JF has a long shelf life and mostly does not require refrigeration.
  5. Ease of transportation: The transportation of JF is easy due to its packaging as compared to homemade food.
  6. Cost: The cost of JF is less compared to healthy food. It is easily accessible to all classes of the population due to its low and attractive price range.
  7. Role of women: Females have started working outside, they are so busy and have no time to prepare food. So, fast food is an easy way out because it can be prepared easily.

Why avoid a high intake of junk food?

  • They are low in energy and essential nutrients hence in the long term leading to poor and weak health
  • Due to high oil content, JF intake leads to drowsiness, difficulty concentrating, fat accumulation and a drop in blood pressure
  • Increases the accumulation of bad cholesterol, plaque formation and heart diseases.
  • Contains a high amount of chemical additives which are unhealthy for health. MSG (monosodium glutamate) and tartrazine are such additives which result in harmful health complications if consumed for a prolonged period
  • JF is rich in fat, leading to the building up of fat in bronchioles. Hence oxygen supply tends to reduce in the body which causes some respiratory disorders
  • Results in chronic lifestyle diseases like obesity, diabetes, neurodegeneration, psychological abnormalities, headache, migraine, cancer, unexplained weakness, autoimmune diseases, premature bone ageing and poor reproductive health
  • Promotes a range of emotional and behavioural problems such as somatic complaints, attention problems, aggressive behaviour and hyperactivity

Tips to avoid junk food 

  • Eat a healthy balanced diet including all essential nutrients in the right proportion
  • Eliminate the temptation of JF by Keeping good food nearby and having meals at the right time
  • Create awareness and educate everyone regarding ill long-term effects of JF on health
  • Choose fresh foods and keep fresh easy-to-eat snacks handy, like fruit slices or baby carrots and stop reaching for the processed and packaged stuff
  • Check serving size before eating
  • Read the food label thoroughly before opening the food packet
  • As a rough rule, choose packaged snacks with fewer than five ingredients
  • Do not eat from the box or the bag instead, measure out a serving and put it in a bowl
  • Eating JF once in a while or after an interval is fine. Make a wakeful effort to balance between a healthy and cheat diet.

Conclusion 

The secret mantra for long-term good health is healthy eating and lifestyle. There is a great need to promote the practice of balanced diet eating habits among all age groups to decrease the health risk associated with eating frequent JF.

Everyone especially the younger generation requires adequate conscious nutrition education regarding healthy feeding habits, ill effects of JF, not getting lured by food advertisements, and the importance of Indian traditional eating techniques. Parents must take extra effort to replace JF with healthy food choices. They should also monitor their children’s diet closely and be a role model to them by applying healthy dietary efforts.

Each day take the greatest care of what is eaten or desired to be eaten, to maintain the enthusiasm to become healthy round the clock. More awareness and alertness will help fade away the temptation and fascination of JF universally.

References

  1. Indian J Nutri. 2019;6(3): 208

  2. International Archives of Integrated Medicine,2015; 2(1)

  3. Journal of Drug Delivery & Therapeutics; 2012, 2(3): 67-73

  4. J Consumer Behav. 2022;21:697–712.

  5. Journal of Communicable Diseases, 2020;52(1):65-71

  6. Zeichen Journal,2021; 7(10):174

  7. SAGE Open,2022: 1–6

  8. Int J of Adv Res in Sci and Engi,2018;7(4):975-980

Author

Aparna Das Parmar

Aparna Parmar has over 8.5 years of rich experience in the field of nutrition and healthcare and is currently a corporate nutritionist.

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