According to a National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, one-third of the U.S. diet consists of junk or fast food. Why has it become so prevalent in society—and how can one resist it?
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In 1976, a satirical song titled “Junk Food Junkie” hit the airwaves. The lyrics, penned by Larry Groce, started: “You know I love that organic cooking, I always ask for more, and they call me Mr. Natural, on down to the health food store.”
But as the song develops, listeners discover something disturbing about “Mr. Natural.”
“Oh, but at night I take out my strongbox, that I keep under lock and key, and I take it off to my closet, where nobody else can see…then I pull out a Hostess Twinkie, and I pop it in my mouth.”
“Mr. Natural” leads a double life, eating healthy food during the day and junk food at night.
Later, the song states, “Ah, but when that clock strikes midnight, and I’m all by myself, I work that combination on my secret hideaway shelf, and I pull out some Fritos corn chips, Dr. Pepper and an ole Moon Pie, then I sit back in glorious expectation, of a genuine junk food high.”
“Mr. Natural” cannot resist satisfying his secret cravings for sugary desserts filled with frosting and salty deep-fried chips.
“Oh, folks but lately I have been spotted, with a Big Mac on my breath, stumbling into a Colonel Sanders, with a face as white as death, I’m afraid someday they’ll find me, just stretched out on my bed, with a handful of Pringles potato chips, and a Ding Dong by my head.”
While many know that junk food and fast food are associated with an increase in obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, tooth decay, and other maladies, and that vegetables and fruit are what they should eat, the popularity of fast food—more aptly labeled “junk” food—continues to grow. These salty snack foods, candy, gum, sugary desserts, fried fast food, and carbonated beverages are some of the “major” food groups within this category. Generally, these contain minimal amounts of protein, vitamins, minerals, fiber and lots of calories from sugar or fat.
Deep down, most desire to be “Mr. Healthy”—eat balanced meals, have a chiseled physique like their favorite athletes, and be able to shop at any clothing store. But with the hustle and bustle of everyday life, money tight, and the allure of a grilled burger calling your name, what is a junk-food junkie to do?
As any busy person knows, eating healthy may not always seem realistic. Children need to be ferried to soccer and ballet practice. There are work projects, laundry, family crises, changing the car’s oil—all of which have to be done. Quality options are often substituted with highly processed boxed meals.
Not to mention that depending on where you live, eating right may appear virtually impossible. A drive down a main street of any sized town or city engulfs the senses in an onslaught of bright colors, flashing signs, and enticing slogans all designed to make you crave a quick-fix meal.
“Over the last three decades, fast food has infiltrated every nook and cranny of American society,” Eric Schlosser wrote in Fast Food Nation. “An industry that began with a handful of modest hot dog and hamburger stands in southern California has spread to every corner of the nation, selling a broad range of foods wherever paying customers may be found. Fast food is now served at restaurants and drive-throughs, at stadiums, airports, zoos, high schools, elementary schools, and universities, on cruise ships, trains, and airplanes, at K-Marts, Wal-Marts, gas stations, and even at hospital cafeterias. In 1970, Americans spent about $6 billion on fast food; in 2000, they spent more than $110 billion. Americans now spend more money on fast food than on higher education, personal computers, computer software, or new cars. They spend more on fast food than on movies, books, magazines, newspapers, videos, and recorded music—combined.
“Pull open the glass door, feel the rush of cool air, walk in, get on line, study the backlit color photographs above the counter, place your order, hand over a few dollars, watch teenagers in uniforms pushing various buttons, and moments later take hold of a plastic tray full of food wrapped in colored paper and cardboard. The whole experience of buying fast food has become so routine, so thoroughly unexceptional and mundane, that it is now taken for granted, like brushing your teeth or stopping for a red light. It has become a social custom as American as a small, rectangular, hand-held, frozen, and reheated apple pie.”
When it comes to dealing with the increase in fast food—and the associated obesity epidemic—there is a lot of blame to go around. There are food manufacturers and their sly production techniques, unscrupulous advertisers who know their claims are half-truths at best, calculating retail marketers who understand that placing junk food next to a checkout line will elicit a young child’s fury and Mom’s lust for that “King-sized” candy bar.
“If you have gained a lot of unwanted pounds at any time during the last 30-odd years, you may be relieved to know that you are probably not to blame. At least not entirely,” health columnist Jane E. Brody wrote in a New York Times editorial.
“Many environmental forces, from economic interests of the food and beverage industries to the way our cities and towns are built, have conspired to subvert the body’s natural ability to match calories in with calories out.”
Ms. Brody continues, “When I was growing up in the 1940s and’ 50s, I had to walk or bike many blocks to buy an ice cream cone. There were no vending machines dispensing candy and soda, and no fast-food emporiums or shopping malls with food courts. Nor were we constantly bombarded with televised commercials for prepared foods and drinks laden with calories of fats and sugars.
“Yes, we kids had our milk and cookies after school, but then we went out to run around and play until dark. Television watching…was mostly a weekend family affair, not a nightly ritual with constant noshing.
“Most meals were prepared and eaten at home, even when both parents worked (as mine did). Eating out was a special event. ‘Convenience’ foods were canned fruits and vegetables, not frozen lasagna or Tater Tots. A typical breakfast was hot or cold cereal sweetened with raisins or fresh fruit, not a Pop-Tart, jelly doughnut or 500-calorie bagel with 200 calories of cream cheese.
“Before a mass exodus to the suburbs left hordes of Americans totally car-dependent, most people lived in cities and towns where feet served as a main means of transportation.”
Later she adds, “As more women entered the work force, the food industry, noting a growing new market, mass-produced convenience foods with palate appeal. The foods were rich in sugar, salt and fat…”
Partly due to convenience foods, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that obesity is fast approaching the most common preventable cause of death—a close second behind tobacco. Obesity can cause many other health complications, including cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, sleep apnea, and others.
The surgeon general reported “even moderate weight excess (10 to 20 pounds for a person of average height) increases the risk of death, particularly among adults aged 30 to 64 years. Individuals who are obese have a 50 to 100% increased risk of premature death from all causes, compared to individuals with a healthy weight.”
Much of this, health experts say, is related to the increase of processed food.
Recall the Twinkie Mr. Groce sang about. The additive that gives them their smooth feel—cellulose gum—is also used in rocket fuel. The gooey pastry eaten for breakfast? Most likely it contains alloxen, a byproduct of white flour. It has been shown to destroy the pancreatic beta cells of healthy experimental animals. The white biscuit sauce slathered on top of a piece of fried chicken? It could have been created with corn dextrin, a common thickener used in most fast food that is also present in the glue on envelopes and postage stamps—and is even put in explosives.
Similarly, the list of other ingredients in what is labeled “food” would shock you. Manufacturers have found a way to cause you to keep coming back for more by including certain additives and chemicals that create an addiction to their products.
In a 60 Minutes broadcast that aired on November 27, 2011, an industry “cloaked in secrecy” was introduced to the world. This little known, multibillion-dollar business creates natural and artificial flavorings that cause consumers to keep coming back. Scientists, called flavorists, work in labs testing and creating flavors to make food “taste” better.
When these scientists find something they like, they extract flavor molecules from anywhere they can be found and then “mimic Mother Nature’s molecules with chemicals,” according to the program.
Why do they do this? To “improve” on the original taste. This industry’s main goal is to develop “a flavor so good you can’t resist it,” which will create an addiction to the taste so you keep coming back for more.
In addition, foods that are mass produced can be more quickly processed, more efficiently packaged and sold, and stay on the store shelves longer. This all amounts to more profits for the food manufacturers but less nutrition for you.
Even if you opt for so-called healthier fast-food, these are sometimes worse. One popular fast food chain added several salads to their menu, but after throwing iceberg lettuce, a couple of cherry tomatoes, and some shredded carrots in a bowl, then adding chicken, bacon, cheese, dressing and croutons—their “healthy” salad amounted to over 800 calories—and a whopping 53 grams of fat!
As the American way of life is exported across the globe, many are blaming the United States for their own nations’ expanding waistlines.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one billion adults are overweight (300 million are obese), and unless something changes soon, this figure will surpass 1.5 billion by 2015. WHO also reported that at least 2.6 million people die each year as a result of being overweight or obese. Over 42 million children under 5 years of age are overweight.
Entire countries are literally eating themselves to death through a regular diet of junk!
While the blame game could go on forever—science calls it a disease, doctors recommend surgery for it, evolutionists claim overeating is a leftover characteristic from man’s hunter/gatherer days—ultimately the only one who is responsible for putting a stop to it, through monitoring what is on your plate, is you.
The modern world embodies a rushed existence. Attention spans are shorter. Time has become increasingly precious, with many not wanting to waste a single second. Almost all push the limits and sleep less, looking for any shortcut to get more out of each day.
Where does a healthy diet fit into all of this? “Nowhere,” most conclude, and the first place they cut corners is with their diets.
Realize, however, that what you put into your mouth is the fuel for your body. Consider. You would never pour sand into the gas tank of your car. If you did, you would go nowhere—and fast!
Eating junk food is similar, but the effects take longer to become obvious than sand for fuel. Realize what the ingredients contained in overly processed products are doing to your internal organs. Many of the calories in junk food come from dietary fat, starchy carbohydrates, and sugar. This results in excess fat in the body. Excess fat wreaks havoc on the body’s very delicate and complex internal system.
John Hopkins Medical Institution wrote about a recent study of 7,000 men and women by the Multiethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). It was discovered that obesity doubles the chances of someone developing heart failure. A senior researcher stated, “Even if obese people feel otherwise healthy, there are measurable and early chemical signs of damage to their heart, beyond the well-known implications for diabetes and high blood pressure.”
Those who survive almost exclusively on a junk food diet may appear to be fine, yet the real harm is taking place inside the body. Even those who are not drastically overweight can still be eating themselves to death.
Think of the chemicals mentioned earlier—cellulose gum, alloxen, corn dextrin, and many others. Consuming these is no better than trying to run a car engine on sand.
The body needs certain vitamins and minerals to function properly. Unlike automobiles, though, the human body can put up with a lot of abuse before it quits running.
When you eat a poor diet, you severely impair the body’s ability—through its immune system—to fight off toxins and diseased cells. Yet the negative effects of wrong eating often take years to manifest themselves.
This is where cancer comes in. Consuming junk food is now recognized as a main contributing factor to the development of cancerous cells.
Obviously, concluding that a healthy diet is impossible in today’s society is not a viable approach. You cannot cut corners on what you eat. You need healthful food to think, work and thrive!
Most realize they need to consume healthful foods, and in moderation. Yet there are a few major roadblocks.
First is the societal demand for quick fixes. For junk food, there are surgeries such as stapled stomachs and gastric banding. Neither of these address eating habits, and many people—due to poor diet and lack of exercise—gain back the weight lost from these extreme procedures. All they have left to show for it is a hefty medical bill!
Also, society tends toward extremes. Everyone has probably met a “health food nut” who prides himself on growing his own wheatgrass, insists on rudely bringing up your food-choice shortfalls at every turn, and would never “stoop so low” as to allow anything non-organic to pass through his lips. And he haughtily makes sure you know it. Despite all this talk of “health,” he seems chronically underweight and pale. Something is definitely wrong.
Then there is the other side. This fellow chows down takeout at every meal. His decisions at lunch consists of which value meal number to select—“Should I have the two hamburger patties or just one? Large fries or extralarge?”—and he will not eat it if it is not deep-fried, fat-filled and drizzled in ketchup.
Missing in both of these instances is balance. One is so “health conscious” he is not eating enough of certain foods. The other gorges every chance he gets. Neither extreme is good.
“In the daytime I’m Mr. Natural, just as healthy as I can be, but at night I’m a junk food junkie…”
Kicking the junk food habit is hard. The creator of “Junk Food Junkie” was himself an addict.
“That’s the way I always ate when I was a kid,” Mr. Groce said in the book The Wacky Top 40. “No matter how hard my mother tried, I ended up eating a peanut butter sandwich and Fritos and drinking Dr. Pepper. That was pretty much the staple.”
Whatever condition you find yourself in, it is never too late to turn things around. All it takes is some knowledge and commitment. Only you can make the tough choices necessary to break free from a damaging addiction.
If your health is a mess, chances are your diet is a mess. This comes back to the fuel idea. What you put in your body directly relates to your health. Good food builds good health. Junk food, bad health.
This is an example of the principle of “cause and effect.” For every effect, there is a cause. You may be in the condition (effects) you find yourself in today because of the sum total of poor and ill-informed choices (causes) made over the course of time. Do not be discouraged. If you have made poor choices in the past, it should not affect your resolve to change.
Whether food is helpful or harmful depends on the laws of nature. Something that your body can fully digest and use will bring vibrant health. Something that is junk will only lead to lethargy and disease.
Take control of your life and start today. You choose how you will fuel your body. To help you get started:
Many conclude nature’s health principles are just that—nature’s. But when fully understood, these rules for an abundant existence came from a Creator. This Supreme Being wants all mankind to lead happy, abundant lives, as it states in His Word, the Bible, “Beloved, I wish above all things that you may prosper and be in health, even as your soul prospers” (III John 1:2).
To learn much more about how to be truly healthy, request a free copy of the booklet God’s Principles of Healthful Living. This informative publication will answer questions such as: Why is rest so important? How can we minimize toxins? Does hygiene matter? Do nutritional supplements help? What about herbs and the benefits of herbal remedies?
You will also learn how to “reactivate” your body, the benefits of wholesome foods, the dangerous toxins in our food and environment, how rest and sleep rejuvenates your body, the multiple benefits of physical fasting, and so much more.
Changing your life will be difficult. Even songwriter Larry Groce acknowledged this in an interview: “I know a lot of people think junk food isn’t nutritious—but I don’t know anyone who doesn’t agree that it tastes good” (The Wacky Top 40).
Yet, given the knowledge gleaned from this article, how can you continue on the path you are on?
If you follow the Creator’s principles of health, you can kick the habit of being a junk food junkie!