Modern science has established the relationship between fast food and obesity quite a long ago. The World Health Organization (WHO) identified obesity as an epidemic in 1997. Processed foods have been identified as the main culprit for this modern-age epidemic. The number of consumers relying on processed foods and fast food consumption is only on the rise despite the alarms from various nutritional and health organizations.
What are processed foods?
All foods that we consume are processed to an extent. For instance, the processing of raw rice, wheat, sugar, vegetables, and fruits happens regularly. Then can we consider them processed foods? What exactly are processed foods? How does junk food cause obesity?
According to the International Food Information Council Foundation, processed foods are those that are deliberately changed in their from their raw agricultural form to consumer edible form.
For instance, noodles made of refined flour and loaded with salt and preservatives are one of the fast foods linked to obesity. While its agricultural form is wheat, which is healthy and nutritious, noodles are a highly-processed version that is loaded with zero nutrition and a satiety quotient.
Some other processed foods that appeal to tastebuds yet fail from a nutrition aspect include pizzas, burgers, chips, and most packed foods dense in fat, sugar, and sodium.
Fast foods include chips, soda, cookies, candy, breakfast cereals, bars, French fries, burgers, pizza, white flour baked goods, and all other high-calorie, low-nutrient foods that people often eat multiple times per day.
Fast food consumption statistics
A PAN India study done on 13274 children aged 9-14 about fast food and obesity by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) revealed that:
- 93% of the children ate packed food
- 68% consumed packaged sweetened beverages more than once a week
- 53% ate these products at least once a day
- 25% of the children take ultra-processed food with high levels of sugar, salt, and fat.
Another study done by WHO reveals stunning statistics about fast food consumption, obesity, and its global presence:
- In 2016, more than 1.9 billion adults, 18 years and older, were overweight. Of these over 650 million were obese.
- 39% of adults aged 18 years and over were overweight in 2016, and 13% were obese.
- 39 million children under the age of 5 were overweight or obese in 2020.
- Over 340 million children and adolescents aged 5-19 were overweight or obese in 2016.
The relation between processed foods and obesity
According to the Protein Leverage Hypothesis put forth by professors Raubenheimer and Stephen Simpson, the human body is designed to feel satiated with good protein.
On the contrary, processed foods and foods that cause obesity do not contain protein and are rich in fat, salt, and sugar. When individuals consume processed food, they attain high calories but not the feeling of satiation. This creates unhealthy cravings and pushes them to eat more carbohydrates and sugar till the level of protein-like satiation is attained.
This overconsumption of carbohydrates and sugar is a vicious cycle that pushes individuals into an obese zone.
Health risks of processed foods
The announcement of obesity as a global pandemic by the WHO indicates the seriousness of the relationship between processed foods and obesity. Individuals are moving to fast foods for a variety of reasons. However, the health risks of junk foods are more than alarming.
Reduction in the availability of protein
The carbohydrate craving makes us eat more unhealthy carbohydrates, diverting our attention from healthy protein. Scientists call this condition as “protein dilution”.
In individuals consuming processed foods for a longer duration, a protein deficiency may occur. This can lead to many nutritional deficiencies and weakened immunity.
Processed foods are rich in oil, fat, sodium, and sugar, that add up to unhealthy calories with every serving. For instance, a hamburger of 100 grams provides 295 calories which demands a 30-minute session of jogging or running.
When children and adults who are inactive in exercise routines consume such unhealthy calorie-rich junk foods regularly, they add up loading calories into their bodies which triggers obesity in no time.
Studies found that in children habituated to junk foods and processed foods there is an imbalance in the gut biome. The gut is the center of the holistic well-being of an individual. It designs the thoughts, emotions, and habits of an individual in a proven way.
Children who prefer junk food may show aversion towards healthy food when they grow up. They may also display mood swings, emotional imbalance, and lack of decision-making due to poor gut health.
Obesity due to processed foods can lead to hormonal imbalances in both males and females. It can disturb their reproductive system, and psychological wellness and affect their personal well-being and professional performance.
What foods comprise junk foods?
According to NCBI, the following foods are listed under processed foods, junk foods, and foods that cause obesity and related disorders:
- Fish sauce, Soy sauce – Leads to overweight, Brain lesions, obesity, diabetes, neurotoxic effects, endocrine disorders
- Sweetened Soda, soft drinks – Leads to weight gain and Diabetes, Hypertension, atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease, vascular resistance in the kidneys.
- Margarine, French fries, Doughnut, Pastry, Ice-cream – Increase in Inflammatory markers (Heart Risk), T2DM, cancer and diabetes, cardiovascular disease.
- Buns, Bagels, flour bleaching agents, and a dough conditioner – Lead to Asthma, carcinogenicity.
- Frenchfry cardboard sleeves, Burger and sandwich wrappers, Bread wrappers, and Burger packaging containing Fluorine – lead to breast cancer, Fertility, and a Weakened Immune system.
- Soda, Flavoured water, processed cheese, and chicken nuggets – Lead to Kidney disease, Bone problem.
- Mayonnaise, Roasted pork – Lead to Reproductive toxicity, testicular toxicity, abnormal implantation, and placental development.
Also Read: 10 Compelling Reasons to choose Organic Food
In addition, many packaged foods that are a part of modern-day snacks and go-to foods are actually considered junk foods.
- Chocolate chip cookies, high-fat diet, potato chips, and marshmallows.
- Mash of Ruffles original potato chips, Chips Ahoy original chocolate chip cookies, Jif smooth peanut butter, Nesquik powdered chocolate flavoring.
- Industrially processed foods (biscuits, potato crisps, sweets, cheese, etc.)
- Cafeteria diet comprising of peanut butter, hazelnut spread, chocolate biscuits, savory snacks, sweetened cereal, and a lard and chow mix.
- A diet consisting of high-calorie Junk food items including cheesecake, bacon, cookies, sugar wafer, potato chips, high-sugar breakfast cereals, marshmallows, or chocolate candies.
- Sweets (Biscuits, cookies, cakes, chocolates, candies), sweetened beverages (Soda, soft drinks, fast foods (Hot dog, hamburger, cheeseburger, fried chicken, pizza), and salty snacks (chips, cheese curls, popcorn, pretzels).
- Sugar-sweetened beverages, salty snacks, sweets, and fast foods were considered Junk foods.
- Deep fried food, pickled food, processed meat products, biscuits, coke or like drinks, convenience/fast food, canned food, dried or preserved fruit, cold and sweet food, barbecue food, etc.
- Salty snacks, sweets, sweetened beverages, and fast food.
Tips to switch from processed foods to whole foods
The root of processed food consumption lies in busy work lifestyles. With the rise in the number of working parents, cooking at home is considered a tedious activity.
In addition, the affordable price range of junk foods is tending parents and weaker economic sections towards junk food more than nutritious food which is on the higher end of the price spectrum.
Furthermore, spending on junk food is considered a sign of rich and luxury in many homes. In their attempt to attain some relaxation away from their work or kitchen chores, parents are shifting to junk foods which eventually is deteriorating their health like a slow poison.
A strong intent and combined effort are necessary to make a switch from processed foods to healthy foods. Here are effective ways to reduce processed foods consumption and win over fast food and obesity:
- Accept the truth: To make a switch from processed foods to a healthy diet, first identify the root cause. Accept that you are one among the victims of modern lifestyle and unhealthy eating habits. Make a resolve to switch to healthy eating and stand to it.
- Identify the triggers: The common triggers of junk food cravings include skipping breakfast, unavailability of fruits and vegetables, lack of time to cook, or laziness to make homemade food. Identify what’s causing you to prefer processed foods as a first step to making a shift from junk foods to healthy foods.
- Be mindful when shopping: Strictly eliminate junk foods and packaged foods when you are grocery shopping. Stay away from the section of foods that cause obesity. Bring home raw, healthy, and nutritious foods with which you can make lip-smacking healthy recipes.
- Check the labels: Often labels of processed foods can be misleading. Zero-fat junk food might not be really zero in fat. Always read the labels and for best results, eliminate any food that has preservatives, salt, and sugar on it.
- Get a nutritionist’s advice: It can be demotivating or perplexing to start a new nutrition schedule. Consult a nutritionist to gain a personalized diet schedule that will free you from unhealthy cravings and divert your mind from foods that cause obesity.
- Eat like your grandmother: As it is popularly said, eat the foods that your grandmother used to. Include more whole foods, cereals, raw sugar, unrefined bread, and grains, traditional foods in your diet. Also, remember to include regular exercise in your schedule to cover for the labor-intensive lifestyle your grandmother led. Remember that traditional foods are always designed to fit one’s genetic make-up.
- Plan your meals ahead: Stock your fridge with healthy options and plan your meals ahead to save time on cooking. Cut vegetables and keep them handy to save time during your busy hours. Strictly do not include space for foods that cause obesity.
- Make your diet wholesome: Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can cause cravings for processed foods. Consult a doctor to identify such underlying conditions and include supplements on their suggestion.
- Keep ready-to-eat homemade recipes ready: Modern lives can leave us with little energy to cook towards the end of the day. Keep healthy, preservative-free, homemade dishes ready in your kitchen which can serve as healthy meals on such tiresome days. Remember that eating simple food at home is much healthier than digging into junk food due to tiredness.
- Change your attitude towards cooking: Cooking is a crucial activity that leads to the foundation of our health. Perceive cooking as an enjoyable activity instead of looking at it as a tiresome one.
- Stick a list of easy-to-cook nutritious recipes: Stick recipes of nutritious easy-to-make foods such as smoothies, milkshakes, salads, etc on your kitchen wall. They serve as a reminder for you to eat healthy even on a busy day.
- Consume fiber and protein: Protein is essential in maintaining immunity levels while fiber keeps your gut and body healthy and clean. Consume ample portions of healthy protein such as paneer, dry fruits, protein-rich vegetarian food, cereals, and fiber every day to prevent cravings for junk food.
- Be a role model to children: Children observe everything from their parents including their eating habits. Be a role model when it comes to clean eating and your child will turn into one when he becomes a parent.
- Make nutrition fun for children: Do not force children into liking healthy foods. Explain the hidden benefits of nutrition in foods with the help of short stories, videos, and animations and make them naturally love healthy food.
- Involve children in cooking: Create a liking for cooking in children from their early days. Educate them about foods that cause obesity. Involve them in making healthy recipes explaining the hidden nutrition and easy way to make them. This is also a great way to engage children at home and spend quality time with kids.
- Start slow, stay consistent: If you believe eliminating processed foods in a go is not possible, start slow. Start with using raw versions, replacing junk foods with healthier options. Stay consistent in this approach to see visible, sustained results. This works wonders in making your body free from foods that cause obesity.
- Manage stress: Stress can push us towards unhealthy eating. Manage stress with yoga, quality eating, spending time with kids and pets, getting close to nature through hiking, camping, travelling, and maintaining work-life balance.
Switch from junk foods to healthy, homemade foods
The human digestive tract is a great processor. The digestive system of humans is designed to absorb nutrients from raw and whole foods effectively. Modern life may require slightly polished or refined versions but never benefit from ultra-processed foods and junk foods.
Obesity from processed foods and fast food consumption is preventable. The first step to beating fast food and obesity starts by switching back to homemade food and removing foods that cause obesity totally from our menu.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are obesity and overweight the same?
Both are different. Overweight individuals can still be healthy if their metabolism is active. On the other hand, obesity is a condition that needs immediate attention.
Can fast foods cause obesity?
Fast foods can cause obesity. They drive individuals towards eating more high-calorie, zero-nutrition foods and create obesity and health problems in the long run.
How can I reduce fast food consumption?
Become aware of the relationship between fast food and obesity. Switch to homemade food with healthy ingredients to stay happier and healthier.