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Posted at: Aug 24, 2019, 10:05 AM; last updated: Aug 24, 2019, 10:05 AM (IST)

Time to junk the junk food

In today’s culture, anything instant, including food, has a high number of takers. This can adversely affect our health

Dr Parameshwara C M

The current generation wants everything fast; fast mobile phones, fast cars, fast delivery and fast foods. However, it does not realise that anything that brings instant gratification may not be beneficial. This is especially true in case of fast food as most of the young people depend on it too much nowadays. An average adolescent spends 45 per cent of his/her budget in eating out. 

Many studies have proven negative effects of these fast and processed foods on our health. Most young people are not aware that these foods lack fibre and many other essential nutrients. The bread in burgers or the base of the pizzas are usually made of refined flour having nil fibre.     

An occasional meal of fast food won’t hurt, but a regular habit of eating out could badly affect your health. These ultra-processed, fast foods contain substances extracted from foods (like sugar and starch), added from food constituents (hydrogenated fats) or made in a laboratory (food flavours or food colours). These ingredients add more flavour and taste, are cost-effective and make the food attractive as well.

However, these foods are loaded with salt, sugar, fats and preservatives and can cause high blood pressure, high sugar and weight gain besides numerous ill effects on mental health, skin, teeth, heart, etc. These also adversely affect our digestive system.

Here are some of the serious health issues that can happen after excessive consumption of fast foods.

Immediate increase in blood sugar: Most fast foods and carbonated drinks are loaded with simple carbohydrates and sugars with almost no fibre. These simple carbohydrates are easily digestible and immediately broken down into glucose (sugar) in the blood, quickly elevating blood sugar levels. 

As long as insulin is secreted normally and your organs can handle these sugar spikes, this process remains regulated. But frequent consumption of refined and simple carbohydrates causes weight gain and increases the risk of type-2 diabetes.

High in salt and sugar: Fast foods are also high in fat, sugar and salt. This can cause water retention, making a person feel puffy or bloated.

Lacking fibre: Dietary fibre found in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds helps to keep our digestive system working properly as it helps in flushing waste out of the body. As processed foods are quite low in fibre, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, etc. their consumption cannot provide the required daily fibre intake of 25gm/day. 

A low fibre diet is associated with a high risk of digestive conditions like constipation, diverticular disease (digestive tract inflammation) and it also reduces healthy gut bacteria. These processed foods are quickly broken in the mouth as well as these do not require much chewing. Their taste and flavour activate the reward centre in the brain instantly. 

Slowing digestion: Fast foods slow down the digestion process. Digestion of any food requires various enzymes which these fast foods lack. Also when the food is absorbed by the intestines, it requires fibre and water to excrete. 

But junk food lacks in these nutrients which ultimately leads to poor digestion and may cause irritable bowel syndrome. Also fast foods lack many enzymes, hence these tend to remain in the stomach longer as our system is not genetically programmed to easily digest these foods. This places a significant burden on the digestive system. Bowel transit time is greatly reduced. The gut, hence, becomes a breeding ground for bad bacteria, food allergies, sensitivities, and inflammation.

Malnourishment: Nutritionally speaking; the high calories in fast foods are accompanied by low nutritional content. These lead to low satisfaction levels.

Affects gut microbiome balance: Junk food affects gut microbiome balance which reduces the growth of good bacteria. This, in turn, affects the production of beneficial short-chain fatty acids like butyrate. All these have adverse effects like inflammation.

Reduces metabolic rate: High-fat fast foods alter the gut microbiome which affects our body metabolism. 

Nutrient malabsorption: Fast foods put a strain on our digestive tract which has to work long hours to break down these foods. When food remains in your digestive tract for such a long time, it affects nutrient absorption and leads to many nutrient deficiencies.

Effect on the gut affects mood: There is a strong connection between the brain and the gut. It is important to know that 90 per cent of serotonin receptors are located in the gut.

Acid reflux: Any high-fat, fried, spicy food or fast food can overwhelm the stomach resulting in acid reflux (GERD) and heartburn. It also causes pale colour stools called steatorrhea, which is an essentially excess fat in the feces. People with irritable bowel syndrome should not consume fast foods. Oil from the junk food gets deposited in the stomach causing acidity. Also, the spices cause irritation of the stomach lining.

Incredibly addictive: Fast foods stimulate a strong reward response in the brain and it becomes easy to overeat it.

PLANNING MEALS IS THE KEY

You can avoid eating or depending on fast foods if you plan your meals in advance. This planning has various other benefits as well.

  • Keeps a check on calorie intake. 
  • Cuts down on simple sugars. One should avoid sweets and chocolates on an empty stomach as it sharply affects the body’s biochemistry. 
  • Do avoid tea and coffee as these dehydrate the body. Replace these with green tea and detox water. 
  • Exercise daily. 
  • Snack on nuts, dry fruits, seasonal fresh fruits and veggies. 
  • Have small frequent meals.
However in today’s times it is not possible to completely avoid junk food. However, when eating out one can opt for comparatively healthier options.

MAKE THE SWAP

Look for healthier options for your meals

  • Have green or quinoa salads (minus cream or mayo dressings), steamed vegetables, fruits or clear soups instead of fries. 
  • Opt for water, low-fat milk shakes, iced tea or slushies without sugar instead of soft drinks, thick shakes and smoothies. 
  • Instead of desserts such as pies, cookies or waffles,  have a bowl of fruits or fruit yogurt.

Savour your meal

Sit down when you eat. Many people eat this kind of fast food while doing other activities.  If you are distracted, you may not pay attention to how much food you are eating. Pay attention to your meals. This way you are less likely to overeat. 

 — The writer is chief colorectal surgeon and founder, Smiles International Institute of Coloproctology, Bengaluru.

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