I have been asked this question many times: do you eat junk food? After all, as a doctor I must follow a healthy way of eating. But isn’t healthy eating a bland, fat-less, and unexciting way of spending time at the table?
There are a lot of disbelievers around. Healthy and tasty do to usually go together, so not surprisingly I get these questions a lot:
- Does Dr.D eat junk food?
- If I drop junk food do I have to eat tasteless food?
- Is junk food really bad for you?
- If I remove junk food what is there left to eat?
Knowledge is power and I actually managed to combine healthy menu with pleasure at a table without breaking a bank or a blender.
So, what is junk food?
The definition junk food is clear. It is food that has little or no nutritional value and/or have added unhealthy ingredients. The term junk food was coined in 1972. Before that “junk food” did not exist.
Many of our common foods belong to the family of junk food:
- soft drinks,
- hot dogs,
- ice cream,
- donuts, and
- donut-cousins to list a few.
That’s rather simplified. Let’s have a look a bit deeper:
- Very well then, but if pizza has no nutritional value, shouldn’t we at least put white bread in the same category? It is made of the same nutrition-less flour, right?
- If ice cream is a junk, shouldn’t we put flavored yogurt in the same junk category? Flavored yogurt contains more or less the same amount of sugar as an ice cream.
- If hamburgers are red meat kings of junk then why should your sloppy Joe be any better?
- Regular oranges only have 20% of the nutrients as compared to organic oranges, why aren’t non-organic oranges considered junk food?
Does junk food taste better?
Why do we indulge in junk food more than any other food? What makes us crave them and then feel good afterwards? Are salt and grease the magic ingredients?
A study done by Paul Johnson and Paul Kenny at The Scripps Research Institute suggested that junk food alters brain activity just like street drugs do. Moreover, junk food can be as addictive as heroin or cocaine. If you like junk food and looking to switch to healthy eating you should remember the two points below:
- After a few weeks on junk food, the pleasure centers of rat brains became desensitized and required more junk food for the same pleasure. Note: if you feel hungry frequently please check your diet for junk food content
- Rats fed with junk food refused to eat healthy food and starved for two weeks after dietary modifications. Note: make a gradual change from junk to healthy food otherwise expect some rather severe difficulties.
It is no wonder that adults trying to switch to a healthier diet have such a hard time with the task. And what about kids? Kids do not understand what addictions are. The only thing they know is that eating candies or drinking pop relates to pleasure.
It is not their dislike for broccoli or carrots, but the emotional attachment to junk that takes over. Unfortunately most parents and especially grandparents feel guilty about refusing junk treats. Correcting your children’s diet is not easy, but the success lies in parental awareness and not in giving into immature and inexperienced decisions of poor nutrition based on want rather than need.
Is it possible to eat healthy?
So, what’s there to eat after all that junk food is gone? Can there be any other way to please the brain? In clinic I observe that patients who managed to throw away the shackles of addiction unanimously concluded that their taste buds changed.
Healthy foods actually start to taste great as people become more sensitized to a huge variety of flavors that were ignored while on the junk food diet. In fact, junk food will lose their appeal or even start to taste awful.
To make a smooth and natural progression towards a healthy diet start from the top of the list. Take approximately a month for each specific point below to fully understand your eating habits, your emotions, and your attachments to certain foods:
- Identify and eliminate sugar junk in your and your kid’s diet: sweets, flavoured yogurt, ice cream, pop, most fruit juices,
- Identify and avoid grain and flour junk in your and your kid’s diet: white breads, bagels, pizzas, white rice and most cereals
- Identify and eliminate artificial food additives: read all the labels at the back. If you find a word you do not understand most likely it is an artificial additive
- Identify and eliminate unhealthy fats: fries, deep fried foods e.g. fried rice, fatty meats, fatty sauces and gravies
- Identify and eliminate excess salt: read nutritional chart on food packages. Total sodium intake for an adult should be 1-1.5grams a day.
- Identify non-organic foods: especially avoid those that are heavily sprayed with toxic pesticides such as cherries, blueberries, celery, spinach, peppers, and lettuce. Replace them with the organic variety. Get organic spices
Do I eat junk food? Of course I do! Although you will not spot me with a jelly-donut in my mouth I will admit to living in sin as well. In order to satisfy my pleasure centers I will occasionally enjoy a special delight in a coffee shop or a grass-fed patty in a local burger joint. Our modern life does not lend itself for 100% dietary purity, but moderation is always possible!
If you find yourself overweight, having blood pressure or cholesterol issues the moderation is not on your side. Consider a 2-week no-junk dietary makeover. You may lose a few pounds and surprise your doctor with better health parameters. Because Health is a Skill, not a Pill.