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If you’ve ever wondered what separates whole foods from refined and processed ones, here are a few good indicators: fiber, sugar, salt, and preservatives. Whole foods contain naturally occurring dietary fiber, with no added sugar or preservatives. Refined foods, on the other hand, have had their natural fibers stripped away during processing and the fiber has been replaced with sugar, salt, and preservatives. Junk food harms your health.
Most people will admit that highly processed foods are some of the unhealthiest foods we can consume. They know that it contributes to body weight gains, mood changes (both up and down) and that they are designed to be highly addictive.
Let’s look at 5 other scientifically proven ways junk food harms your health and waistline.
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Junk Food Doesn’t Satisfy Hunger
Junk food is barely food. It has minimal nutritional value. This type of food, even when consumed in high quantities, will make you “feel” full, but it will not satisfy your hunger. It will aggravate your appetite rather than assist in controlling it.
Why? Because it doesn’t contain enough nutrients and fiber to support the hunger-satisfying hormones in your body. Your body uses hormones, like ghrelin to signal to you that you are satisfied and full. Healthy foods naturally trigger this hormone and keep you feeling satisfied.
Unhealthy foods simply provide you with calories that do not fill you up.
Eating junk food regularly will make your body expect these types of foods. When you don’t get them, you’ll experience cravings. Soon you’ll be staring at the pantry door or opening the refrigerator, looking for a meal or snack that is packed with the addictive sugars or salts that make up processed foods.
Why does this happen? Junk food lacks satiety value and causes swings in your blood sugar levels that bring on hunger.
Junk Food is High in Sodium and Sugar
It’s not only a lack of fiber that makes junk food bad for you, it’s also loaded with sodium and sugar. Plus, junk food is cheaply made with an abundance of artificial ingredients including hydrogenated fats and preservation chemicals so that it can stay on store shelves for weeks, months, or even years.
Why does this matter?
Well, too much sodium matters a great deal. Around 10% of the population is sodium sensitive, meaning consuming too many salty foods will lead to a rise in blood pressure. This increase in blood pressure, especially over a long period of time, can lead to an increased risk of heart disease.
Plus, consuming large amounts of salt increases the risk of developing small hemorrhages in the brain called micro-hemorrhages, even in people with normal blood pressure.
So, why should we care about too much sugar? Well, sugar is also a complicated medical culprit. Extended periods of elevated sugar can lead to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and an enhanced risk of obesity. There is a causal link between obesity and diabetes, and that link point upstream to highly processed foods packed with sugar.
These increased risks, alone, should be enough for all to avoid junk foods.
Sodium and sugar are both, generally, essential to a healthy diet. But the quantity of these in junk food is overkill. Moderation is your friend and moderation is hard to find in these types of products.
Eating Junk Makes It Harder to Control Your Weight
Junk food is high in salt, fat, sugar, and calories, but despite the high-calorie content, it’s low in nutrients. It is a poor source of protein, essential amino acids, soluble fiber, vitamins, calcium, or minerals. While snack foods may provide a short boost to energy, you will experience a crash because of the lack of essential nutrients that your body really wants and needs.
The sugar in junk food causes blood sugar fluctuations and increases insulin. Persistently elevated insulin in your system will lead to increased hunger and contribute to weight gain. The sugar cravings (and salt) will inevitably come when your insulin levels drop. What do most people do when hit with these cravings? They grab for something to satisfy that immediate craving. One study carried out by the National Institutes of Health found that people who ate an ultra-processed junk food diet ate around 500 more calories daily relative to those who ate mostly whole foods.
Plus, the high sodium content leads to fluid retention that causes water weight gain. While this isn’t fat gain, it is still undesirable to have extra unnecessary weight.
Healthful foods should be your go-to snack if you really want to have a chance at achieving healthy body weight and eventual weight loss.
Ultra-Processed Foods Contain Emulsifiers That Aren’t Good for Gut Health
Ultra-processed foods are loaded with emulsifiers by the food manufacturers in order to help stabilize the components in junk food. Yep, you heard that right. In order to keep this food together or more palatable, they add things called emulsifiers. Do you know what an emulsifier is? A good general rule of thumb, that we teach babies as they start getting mobile, is to not put stuff in their mouth that is not food. This should include the chemical compounds that are called emulsifiers.
Scientists now believe that emulsifiers and other additives in junk food may disrupt the gut microbiome. Your body needs a well-balanced gut microbiome for optimal health. This gut microbiome is command central for your immune system since 70% of your immune system lies there.
Therefore, it’s not a stretch to say that junk food could boost the risk of health problems via changes to the gut microbiome.
In contrast, whole plant-based real foods are a rich source of fiber that helps nourish healthy gut bacteria. That’s right, your gut really wants natural fiber for its fuel.
Junk Food Harms your Health by Contributing to Inflammation
After you eat a junk food meal or snack, your body experiences a surge in inflammation. That’s a concern because inflammation contributes to many chronic health problems and is a driving force behind many diseases, including cardiovascular disease, autoimmune conditions, insulin resistance, and some types of cancer. 10 Facts About Inflammation That You Should Know)
Can you avoid all of these diseases by ditching snack foods? We won’t go that far because our health is so complicated, but developing good habits towards nutritious foods will go a long way to give you a fighting chance.
Junk food’s low levels of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, essential nutrients, and other foundational components really make it garbage. You are consuming something that has very little nutritional value and a great deal of negatively impacting side-effects, including, but not limited to, increased inflammation.
In contrast, a whole food diet rich in seeds, extra virgin olive oil, fruits, vegetables, fish, beans, and other real food choices has added anti-inflammatory benefits.
The Bottom Line – Junk Food Harms Your Health
We understand that everyone loves good junk food now and then. We all have snack food cravings.
However, be careful about eating too much junk food as it has profound negative effects on your health. The abundance of salt, sodium, sugar, and artificial ingredients and the lack of fiber only do negative things to your health.
Enjoy a doughnut or an order of French fries once in a while, but don’t make them the bulk of your diet. Give the ultra-processed junk a rest and enjoy more fiber-rich, unprocessed foods for your health.
- How to Stop Eating Junk Food – 13 Tips
- Lean Body Hacks – The Complete Food Edition Guide
- EMH’s Low Carb & Intermittent Fasting Diet
- Unintentional Weight Gain? Know These Subtle Triggers
Am J Lifestyle Med. 2018 Sep-Oct; 12 (5): 375-381. Published online 2018 Apr 3. doi: 10.1177/1559827618766483.
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Fuhrman J. The Hidden Dangers of Fast and Processed Food. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2018; 12 (5):375-381. Published 2018 Apr 3. doi:10.1177/1559827618766483.
Chassaing B, Koren O, Goodrich JK, Poole AC, Srinivasan S, Ley RE, Gewirtz AT. Dietary emulsifiers impact the mouse gut microbiota promoting colitis and metabolic syndrome. Nature. 2015 Mar 5; 519 (7541):92-6. doi: 10.1038/nature14232. Epub 2015 Feb 25. Erratum in: Nature. 2016 Aug 11;536(7615):238. PMID: 25731162; PMCID: PMC4910713.