Business of Well-being

Junk Food and the American Waistline

Ever find yourself snared by the intoxicating smell of a Big Mac or a Whopper? Do you find yourself captured by two all beef patties, special sauce, onions, cheese, pickles, lettuce on a sesame seed bun? How about going after a fish and chips meal at Long John Silvers, or diving face first into a bucket of the Colonel's finest? Do you long for the taste of roast beef piled high with melted cheese and horsey sauce from Arby's?

What about the countless fast food locations across the country that  serve meals to go by the millions every year? Do you find yourself reaching for the call button on the drive through more than once a week, or park in a spot where the waitress comes to you outside in your car to take your order of Tots, Rings, a Shake, and a myriad of tantalizing and amazing treats beyond your control to resist?

Junk food is a slang word for foods with limited nutritional value, according to Every person has their own list of foods that they call junk foods, and you can also include foods that are high in salt, sugar, fat or calories and low nutrient content. Salted snack foods, candy, gum, most sweet desserts, fried fast food and carbonated beverages are some of the major junk foods.

Generally, they offer little in terms of protein, vitamins or minerals and lots of calories from sugar or fat. The term "empty calories" reflects the lack of nutrients. And according to, junk food isn't just greasy burgers from fast food restaurants. Junk food includes overly salty foods such as potato chips and pork rinds.

Foods loaded with sugar such as packaged cupcakes and candies are also junk food. Foods that are high in saturated fats, sodium and refined sugar usually provide little or no nutritional value. Your body can't convert junk food into bone, muscle or healthy organ cells. According to, saturated fats and trans fats, like those found in junk food, get dispersed throughout your body and can lead to fat build-up in your blood, thereby increasing your blood pressure.

These fat build-ups clog your arteries and increase your risk for heart disease. Too much sodium increases your blood volume. An excess of salt in your body can result in water retention. Your blood retains salty water and increases your blood pressure. The body requires a small intake of sodium to function properly, around 2400 milligrams a day.

When you consume too much sodium, the balance between fluid intake and outgo is disturbed. The kidneys cannot properly convert the excess to waste, resulting in edema and kidney disease. Refined sugar is linked to tooth decay because sugar breaks down calcium. This means excess sugar not only causes cavities, it puts you at risk for osteoporosis.

Sugar is stored in the liver as glucose, but the liver can only store a finite amount. Excess sugar enters the bloodstream as fatty acids, which the body stores as fat. Eating too much sugar makes you fat. This fat is difficult to burn off and can ultimately result in obesity, heart disease and other health issues. According to, research carried out in the United States shed some more light on why people can't leave the burgers alone.

If you thought it was just because they were lazy and fancied a quick bite to eat rather than cooking dinner, you could be wrong. Apparently some people get addicted to the taste of popular fast food because it contains just the right mixture of fat, sugar and salt to set off the pleasure chemicals in the brain.

Experiments carried out on lab rats showed that when they were fed a diet that consisted of 25% sugar - and then the sugar is removed, the rats become anxious, their teeth start to chatter and they suffer with the shakes - not unlike people going through a nicotine or morphine withdrawal.

The researchers also noticed long lasting changes in brain chemistry of rats fed with foods that had a combination of sweet, salt and fat in, which led them to conclude that there was a possibility that people too could see brain changes - and become physically addicted to eating fast food. Most junk food contributes no nutritional value to the body, according to the Health Guide. When eaten in moderation junk food can be included in your diet.

One of the long term side effects of eating too much junk food includes lack of energy, because junk food does not give you the nutrients you need to function properly. You may feel tired or lack the energy needed to finish a task at work or home. You may crave sugar feeling very hungry and weak due to the imbalance the junk food will create in your body.

Another side effect is poor concentration because you feel tired due to the accumulations of fat in your body. There is lack of vital oxygen that can affect your brain cells due to lack of healthy food in your system. Heart disease may develop because of the accumulations of plaque in the arteries.

Junk food causes your heart to have to put extra effort into pumping the blood. So your heart suffers damage receiving low oxygen and fatigues from the extra effort to pump blood through clogged veins. High cholesterol results at times damaging your liver and hurting your heart. Not only that, but you often put on weight due to the fat and high carbohydrates in junk food.

Many children develop weight problems from eating too much junk food. Too much junk food is not good for your health. Some people that eat junk food develop diabetes because most snack foods have too much sugar. Some people develop high blood pressure because of the high sodium content in junk food.

Other problems it causes with kids are mood swings, lack of interest in physical exercise, constipation, weight gain, and other illnesses. However, people crave the taste of most junk food, no matter how bad it is for you.According to, taste is vital to repeat business. Before modern refrigeration, mothers depended on smell, color and taste to determine whether food was fit for the family supper.

Instinctively, you still depend on these senses to feel safe about what you eat. Most people buy their weekly groceries according to convenience and taste. This is evidenced by the fact that processed food makes up about 90% of all the money Americans spend on food. The dilemma with processed food is that canning, freezing, dehydrating, super heating and storing all contribute to destroying most of the natural flavors of food, resulting in that "cardboard" taste.

So along came the chemical factories to the rescue to try to reproduce the original tastes of the foods. They are a highly secretive industry and will not reveal their clients. After all, they would not want us thinking that the unique taste of a Happy Meal was produced by a scientist in a while lab coat applying few drops of specialized chemicals to your kid's food, far away from grills and deep fryers. Your beloved burger was nothing more than a tired old cow given a high dollar makeover.

These masters of disguise are called flavorists. As much as 90 percent of flavor comes from the aroma of food, according to Your taste buds can detect up to six different basic tastes; the rest is left up to your nose to fill in the full spectrum of subtle flavors. People spend a lot of money to experience delicious flavors.

Wars have been waged over rare spices, and connoisseurs will pay top prices for a well-aged bottle of wine. International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) is responsible for creating the distinct personalities of many of the popular name brand products Americans have come to know, from crackers, breakfast cereals, pet foods, potato chips, all-natural juice drinks, beers, organic soy drinks, to furniture polish, dishwashing detergent, and floor wax.

The science behind the scent of your underarm deodorant is basically the same one that puts the flavor in your pop tarts. The flavor industry is big business. According to, every year about 10,000 new processed food products will be introduced to consumers and nearly all will need a careful makeover from a flavorist.

The nostalgic aroma of a Big Mac is a carefully manufactured scent, bottled in some lab just off the New Jersey Turnpike. Maybe one day you will be able to buy a vial of Big Mac Essence. Walking into a fast food establishment today, though, holds a completely different feeling for most people. The smells that greet you at the door are as real as the plastic framed reproductions hanging on the walls.

Unwrapping fancy advertising, pulling off the extra crispy coating, probing below taste-bud appeal; it is easy to expose naked motive: money. According to, rather than taking a radical approach and banning all but the simplest foods, judge each food based on the list of ingredients and nutrition facts on the label found on packages. When reading the list of ingredients, look for sugar, fat or salt as one of the first three ingredients.

If any of these are listed that high in the ingredients, you can probably consider that food to be too high in sugar, fat or salt. The label will list the number of calories per serving, grams of fat, sodium, cholesterol, fiber and sugar content. This nutritional information will make you more knowledgeable in selecting foods to reduce your nutritional health risk.

Calorie content of 300 calories per serving or less is considered to be all right, except whole meals unless you are following a weight loss diet. Be cautious though as to how large a serving size is. If 4 ounces of yogurt is a serving size and you eat an eight-ounce container, you have doubled the calorie content. Sometimes, the package serving size is not how little you serve yourself! Now look at the number of grams of fat.

For every five grams of fat in a serving of a food, you are eating the equivalent of one teaspoon of fat, according to So, if one serving of a food has 23 grams of fat in it, that serving has the equivalent of four and one-half teaspoons of fat. You should limit the fat content in foods you eat daily to 30% of your total calories. Don't try to lower your fat content to below 25%, since fat does play a vital role in carrying fat soluble vitamins and keeping you satisfied between meals.

Sodium content per serving should be 2300 milligrams or less per day. Some foods, like ham and other cured meats do have very high sodium content per serving. Limit these foods rather than eliminate them, and cholesterol content should be 300 milligrams or less per day. It is easy to remember that 300 is the same as the number of calories per serving.

Fiber content will be listed in grams of dietary fiber. This amount will vary from product to product, but don't necessarily shop for only the highest numbers you can find. Any amount of dietary fiber above two grams per serving is good. Foods with five grams of fiber or more are considered high fiber foods. Sugar content is usually listed on cold cereal packages.

A rule of thumb to follow is four grams of sugar equals one teaspoon of sugar. Limit sugars amounts in cereals to four grams, but if the cereal has fruit in it, relax the sugar content to eight grams per serving. Fruits usually contain about 60% fructose and 40% sucrose. If you were to eliminate all sugar, you would be eliminating fruits, which are a valuable source of nutrients and soluble fiber. If you want to cut down on junk food, cut down your intake of salt, sugar, fat and refined foods.

Choose your calories by the nutrient company they keep. Many people who struggle with weight tie food to emotions, according to They eat a lot to make themselves feel better, often opting for foods that make them feel warm and full but are not really healthy. In the same way, people use money to make themselves feel better, often taking out payday loans and buying items such as clothes that they know they don't need.

They buy them to make themselves feel better about something. Perhaps they want to feel more powerful and in control. Both of these approaches lead to bad habits for physical and financial health. Many people just get into the habit of doing counterproductive things. They grab their favorite snack that is high in "feel good" but low in nutrition and pop it their mouths without thinking.

They buy the same $5 coffee because it is the purchase that makes them feel like it is going to be a good day even though they could make their own coffee for almost a month for the same price. According to, these thoughtless, poor habits add up to bloated waistlines and bloated expenditure sheets. Further, impulsiveness can become a bad habit, as well. Impulse eating or buying is just a way someone can circumvent their better judgment.

People know that stopping and thinking would lead them to a choice better for their cholesterol and their bottom line, but they would rather feed their habits than satisfy the need to improve their health. Every calorie adds to your weight problem. You have to eat, just like you have to spend money.

Trying to live in constant denial and restraint only leads to binges in eating and spending. You need to focus on creating new habits to replace the old ones. You need to remove yourself from temptation, as well. Clear the house of junk food and put your cash in a CD or savings account where it is not easily accessed. Training yourself to view food and money differently will help you manage both of them better.

They are not the cures for your emotional needs. They simply enable you to keep needing them. Turn your mind around and use food as fuel and money as a vehicle to a healthier lifestyle. Fresh fruits and vegetables, according to, are low-cost items that are full of nutrients such as amino acids, antioxidants and vitamins that fight disease.

Add whole grains as well in reducing your costs and waistline and low-fat dairy for stronger bones and teeth. Get rid of the junk food for snacking such as candy, chips, and cookies and, replace such foods with yogurt, microwave popcorn, or fresh fruit. You will also see a reduction in the amount you pay at the grocery for your efforts.

Studies show that people who make food substitutes in which they replace junk food with healthier alternatives lose more weight and keep it off more often than people who merely follow a low-calorie diet. Exercise, as stated, is also part of the equation for a healthier lifestyle. When going on certain errands if they're less than a mile away, bike or walk instead of driving to the destination.

You will not only become more fit and trim but also save on gas and reduce car maintenance and expense. There is a direct correlation between healthy eating, exercise, and saving money, according to Taking care of yourself will save you money now and for years to come.

As you can see, you do not have to put out a lot of money out in order to maintain your health. Simply by making a few modifications in how you eat and the way you undertake your daily activities can reduce costs and bring you more health and prosperity. Instead of greasy burgers, grill turkey burgers topped with fresh lettuce and tomato, according to

Instead of salty potato chips, try veggie chips or low-sodium corn chips with fresh salsa. Instead of sugary cakes and candies, try fresh fruits or fruit juices. The occasional bit of junk food isn't going to ruin your health. If you follow a healthy diet and exercise regularly, your body should be able to process the odd indulgence. Your waistline, and your wallet, will thank you.

About the Author

Mark Roberts has almost 30 years experience in sales and marketing in the tax, insurance, health care and investment markets. As the Manager of National Accounts for Careington International, Mark serves as the account manager to Careington clients including financial institutions, insurance companies and national association groups.

As a licensed life, health and accident insurance agent, Mark regularly participates in employer benefit enrollments for worksite products offered through Careington's affiliate, Core Five Solutions, a nationwide insurance agency and licensed third party administrator. In addition, Mark maintains a health care blog, ,and contributes dental and medical articles to the Cypress Time,

Careington International Corporation is a licensed Discount Medical Plan Organization. Dedicated to improving the health and well-being of individuals, Careington's health and wellness solutions are designed to complement traditional health insurance and provide substantial savings for under-insured or uninsured individuals.

Careington combines its flagship non-insurance discount plans with insurance plans administered through its affiliate, Core Five Solutions, Inc., to create cost-effective solutions that improve the affordability and accessibility of quality health care. For more information, call (866) 222-2558 or visit

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