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Is There Such a Thing as "Junk Food"?

sugar tip sheet A number of nutrition professionals bristle at the term junk food. After all, it is the overall eating plan that counts, not the stray high-sugar, high-fat, low-nutrient item that gets indulged in here or there. However, there are nutritional consequences to choosing items like soda and chips over healthier foods.

Health Effects of Junk Foods

Not surprisingly, the more junk foods that make up one's diet, the more calories consumed; also, the more fat and saturated fat eaten, and the less fiber. Moreover, as junk food in the diet goes up, the consumption of vitamins A, B6, B12, C, folate, calcium, and iron go down. People who eat more junk food have lower levels of the good HDL-cholesterol that works to clear plaque from the arteries. And they have higher levels of homocysteine, a blood chemical that may be associated with increased heart disease risk.

Fats and Sweets Get All the Attention

Advertising may also be fueling the desire for less nutritionally desirable choices by placing more attention on these products. While we do not see advertisements for carrots, we often see advertisements for chips, soda, and fast food restaurants. And, with children spending more and more time in front of screens, they have impressionable audience.

Studies have shown that children are heavily influenced by food advertising. For example, researchers at the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University found that children who view more advertisements for junk food end up eating more of this type of food.

Everything in Moderation

The whole debate about the term junk food may prompt us to take a closer look at what we are eating and what our children are eating. Americans who consume super-sized meal deals, sugar frosted flakes, soft drinks, candy bars, and other high-fat, low-nutrient foods on a daily basis should slowly change the way they eat.

These foods give us a lot of pleasure, but they should not be eaten every day. We should eat less of these foods and choose healthier options whenever possible. Choosing to include more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can help to improve our overall health. Starting with small changes can make the transition easier.


Eat Right—Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

Center for Science in the Public Interest


Dietitians of Canada

Health Canada


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Countering fast food's health effects. Corporate Accountability International website. Available at: Accessed May 5, 2017.

The dangers of eating fast food. Stony Brook University website. Available at: Accessed May 5, 2017.

Dixon HG, Scully ML, Wakefield MA, White VM, Crawford DA. The effects of television advertisements for junk food versus nutritious food on children's food attitudes and preferences. Soc Sci Med. 2007;65(7):1311-1323.

Does TV influence what your child eats? Eat Right—Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website. Available at: Accessed May 5, 2017.

Last reviewed May 2017 by Michael Woods, MD, FAAP  Last Updated: 5/5/2017