High in calories and low in nutrients, junk food is unsuitable for our health, yet the taste and convenience of junk food often make eliminating it from our diet difficult. Junk foods are highly processed; high in added sugars, salts, and trans fats; and often lack good nutrients. What do these terms mean?
The hot dog is one of the most popular street foods in the United States. Considered an American classic, hot dogs were introduced in the United States in the 1860s by European immigrants and later sold with milk rolls and sauerkraut. By the 1890s, hot dogs became a standard food at baseball games and eventually among other recreational activities.
Originally made out of unused pork and beef trimmings (leftover pieces of meat) and flavored with salt and seasonings, the sausage provided an inexpensive and easy-to-cook food option. Food producers later created alternatives that used low-quality or mechanically separated meat, artificial ingredients, preservatives, and additives. Mechanically separating meat involves passing bones with meat residue through a sieve using high pressure to remove small pieces of meat from the bone, creating a paste-like substance used to make sausages. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) allows 20 percent of mechanically separated pork in hot dogs. The quantity of mechanically separated poultry is not determined.
A healthy diet includes foods from various food groups, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean protein, dairy, lentils, and nuts. The Center for Science in the Public Interest links an unhealthy diet to the top four causes of death in the United States:
Researchers have recently uncovered a connection between junk food and depression. A 2019 News-Medical.Net article shared the results of a study conducted by the University of Alabama that revealed a 50 percent increase in teenage depression in 2017 compared to 2005. A group of researchers from Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, Florida, also found links between higher junk food consumption and mild depression and anxiety prevalence. The Omnigraphics book Diet Information for Teens provides information on health risks associated with processed foods and offers ways to support a healthy diet in teens.
Demanding schedules and lifestyles often cause people to opt for readily available fast food rather than a home-cooked meal. If not careful, these choices can lead to unhealthy eating habits. According to the CDC, 44.9 percent of Americans aged 20 to 39 consume fast food daily.
A 2023 report by Budget Branders reveals:
Eating a balanced diet rich in carbohydrates, protein (plant-based or lean meats and seafood), fruits, vegetables, lentils, and nuts promotes a robust immune system and healthy weight. The Diet and Nutrition Sourcebook explains in detail the elements of good nutrition and offers basic dietary guidelines for people of all ages. While it is challenging to eliminate processed foods from your diet completely, you should at least limit their intake. A helpful resource to help plan meals is the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which provides recommendations on what foods to eat. These guidelines, formulated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, are updated every five years. According to a CDC report, out of the adults surveyed, only 12.3 percent met the fruit intake recommendations and 10 percent met the vegetable intake recommendations outlined by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans in 2019. The 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends an intake of 1.5–2 cups of fruit and 2–3 cups of vegetables daily for adults.
One of the most practical ways to avoid overeating junk food is to consume your favorite foods in moderation. Two ways to achieve this include following the “80:20” rule (eating healthy food 80 percent of the time and junk food no more than 20 percent of the time) and having healthier snack options in your pantry to avoid impulsive decisions. A nutritionist or a dietitian can help you make a diet plan that works best for you.
Here are some resources to help plan a balanced diet: