Have you ever wondered how much damage one hot dog or bag of chips can do to your body? Scientists don’t have precise answers, given the wide variation in human metabolism and digestion. However, there’s no doubt that what you put in your mouth impacts your health.
A healthy diet requires balance. It’s okay if you occasionally eat foods high in sugar, salt, and fat, as long as most of your diet consists of nutrient-dense, plant-based meals. Here’s how junk food affects your body and why you should make healthier substitutions.
Sugar Doesn’t Treat You Sweetly
You might be one of many Americans who gets way too much sugar in your diet. This substance has a sneaky way of adding up, given the way many manufacturers use the sweet stuff in nearly everything, including tons of products you’d never suspect.
Commercial pasta sauces often contain anywhere from 2 to 12 grams per half-cup serving. Given that the American Heart Association recommends that women restrict consumption to 25 grams daily, you could take in nearly half your recommended daily allowance (RDA) in one bowl — and that’s if you don’t ladle a restaurant-sized portion.
Eventually, everything you eat breaks down to sugar, but nutrient-dense foods rich in other substances go through a complicated chemical process first that prevents too much sweet stuff from flooding your bloodstream at once. Insulin is a hormone that helps admit sugar into cells, where they can use it for energy or store it for later use.
Trouble brews when you eat too much simple sugar. Your body doesn’t have to do much to break it down, causing a spike in blood glucose. Your pancreas responds by pumping out more insulin, but eventually, it can’t keep up with demand.
If the situation continues long enough, it can progress to Type 2 diabetes in some people, although researchers remain unsure exactly why it affects some more than others. Regardless of whether you develop this disorder, excess blood sugar promotes inflammation and can damage body tissues — so go easy on the sweet stuff.
Salt Can Elevate Blood Pressure
Sodium is a vital electrolyte, but too much of it can put your heart at risk. To understand how this mechanism works, think about how eating a salty bag of chips makes your mouth feel. You probably can’t wait to wash the crumbs down by guzzling cola.
The tissues in your body react the same way. When you eat too much salt, they pull fluid into your veins and arteries, which increases your blood pressure. Over time, this force can damage your vessels and lead to a heart attack.
Processed Meats Increase Cancer Risk
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), processed meats like ham fall into the carcinogenic category, along with smoking. That lunch joint that advertises itself as healthy may contain many menu items that are far from it. Please pass on the cold cuts and salami to avoid these nasty junk food effects.
The same goes for meat snacks. Treats like Slim Jims fall into the processed meat category. While pure dehydrated jerky does not, the WHO also suspects red meat as a probable carcinogen. The breakdown of haem, a chemical found in red meat,
releases substances that harm your intestinal lining, possibly causing cancer.
Trans Fats Still Lurk in Many Places
Trans fats occur when manufacturers partially hydrogenate oils, causing instability. Even though the FDA banned trans fats in 2018, they gave a phase-out period, meaning that some items lurking in your office vending machines might still contain these harmful substances.
However, the vegetable oils used in your favorite baked goods might not be much better. Many canola oil brands use a solvent called hexane, and the heat used during the process can lead to trans fat formation.
If you can swing the price tag, look for cold-pressed versions that don’t come with the associated health risks. However, please remain aware that the donut or muffin you pick up at the bakery probably contains the problematic sort.
White Flour Does Few Favors
White flour is nearly as bad as sugar when it comes to this junk food’s effect on your Type 2 diabetes risk. It contains no fiber or nutrients, only empty calories, and it can slow down your digestive tract while spiking your blood sugar. When this occurs, weight gain, chronic pain, and fatigue often follow, sometimes leading to more poor diet choices and a vicious cycle.
Fortunately, you can find plenty of substitutes for bleached flour these days. Ancient grains like amaranth and quinoa are safe even for many with gluten sensitivity, although you have to watch for cross-contamination if you have celiac disease. Garbanzo bean and lentil flour both provide a potent protein punch, which is particularly important for vegans and vegetarians.
Alcohol Causes More Problems Than It Solves
There’s nothing like a cold one to relax at the end of a hard day, right? Please think twice about this junk beverage if you value your health.
You probably know that alcohol isn’t good for your liver, but maybe you drink it because you heard it’s good for your heart. However, repeated binge drinking can elevate your blood pressure long-term, and you can get the same antioxidant effects from drinking unfermented grape juice.
Alcohol also does a number on your neurotransmitters. It affects serotonin, glutamate, GABA, and dopamine levels, all of which impact your mood. If you ever felt anxiety after a night on the town, don’t blame your tension on sleeping through your alarm.
Experts recommend sticking to no more than one drink a day if you choose to indulge. However, many folks are better off passing on the bottle.
Watch Out for Junk Food’s Effects on Your Body
Now that you understand junk food’s effects on your body, you can at least make an informed choice the next time you indulge. Please don’t deprive yourself, but do educate yourself about the risks.