A Fourth of U.S. Daily Diet: Junk Food

Garbage in, garbage out! No big surprise, a new report on American eating habits reveals about a quarter of the calories we consume come from "junk food." Many experts claim you can counteract the effect of escalating portion sizes by decreasing the amounts of the foods you eat. That doesn't make sense! If a fourth of what we eat is junk food, weight reduction campaigns should emphasize eating differently, not just eating less.

Soft drinks are the number one source of calories, according to the report, accounting for 7.1 percent of the calories these people consumed in 1999-2000.

The combined soft drinks, sweets and desserts and alcoholic beverages categories contributed 23.8 percent of the calories that these survey respondents consumed. Salty snacks and fruit-flavored drinks added another 5 percent of calories. Since these foods are relatively concentrated in calories, you don't have to eat a lot of them to increase your daily calorie total.

Another study looking only at children aged 8-18 reports similar findings. Candy, table sugar, sweetened drinks, baked and dairy desserts, salty snacks, fatty foods like butter and gravy, along with some other nutrient-poor foods made up more than 30 percent of the calories these youths consumed. In fact, desserts and table sweeteners alone comprised almost 25 percent of the total calories. Furthermore, those who ate the most junk food tended to eat the least amount of nutrient-dense, healthful foods. They took in less vitamins A, B-6 and folate, as well as calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc.

However, a third study, which used a randomly selected group, confirms that people who eat a lot of junk food suffer nutritionally. This study looked at the impact of salty snack foods, like potato chips, corn chips, crackers, pretzels and cheese curls. Those who ate the most of these high-fat salty snack foods had diets high in total and saturated fat and low in fruits and vegetables. These people scored poorly for dietary healthfulness.

Another recent study I've discussed before validates the accuracy of these newer findings: 90 percent of the money Americans spend on foods goes towards processed foods.

How can you possibly be healthy with that much processed food in your diet? You really need to reverse that ratio to stay healthy: 90 percent non-processed food and spend plenty of time in your kitchen to prepare it.

Stay away from processed foods and either pay someone to spend time in the kitchen to prepare your non-processed food meals or do them yourself. I have less free time than many of you, yet I prepare virtually all of my meals myself to preserve my health.

MSNBC July 19, 2004

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