Junk food refers to processed food with hardly any nutrition relative to calories. Those who consume high amounts of processed food are more likely to suffer from preventable illnesses, be overweight and feel lethargic in general. We know these foods are terrible for our bodies but why do we like eating them so much? The reasons include convenience, brain wiring and food science. Read below to find out why we find junk food so irresistible and how we can swap it out for more nutritious options that still taste good.
Designed To Taste Good
It is no accident that processed foods are ridiculously tasty. Scientists get paid decent dollars to figure out what makes food addictive. Human brains are designed to crave salt, fat and sugar because foods with those qualities were calorie dense and kept us alive back in the day. Snack manufacturers know this fact and engineer their products to be the perfect combination of fatty, sweet and salty. This is known as the ‘bliss point’. Our primitive brains find this combination so desirable that it can be difficult to stop eating once we start. This explains why it is so easy to polish off a whole bag of chips or a whole pizza. The food is so hyperpalatable, it causes the pleasure centres in our brains to light up.
Not only does junk food taste good, we are constantly being told to eat it by advertisers. It is estimated the average person in 2022 sees up to 10,000 ads every day. Food advertisements are impossible to avoid. We see them on Youtube, in the street, on billboards and even when checking your email. You might think you are too intelligent to be fooled by marketing but the effects can be pervasive. Advertising has a powerful influence over food choices, especially for children. This is why new laws are being written to limit what food companies can advertise to kids.
Takeaways can be hard to avoid as they are. But when your favourite celebrity is promoting their new limited edition meal, these foods become even more irresistible. Every ad for a junk food product makes it feel more familiar to you. Studies show that people pick foods that feel familiar to them, as opposed to choosing products based on taste. If a product feels nostalgic, we are more tempted to get it. Be mindful of this next time you do your groceries or go out for dinner. Are you ordering that item because you know it’ll be tasty and good for you? Or is it just a nostalgic junk food that you’re grabbing without much thought.
Humans are biologically wired to be lazy. Why expend unnecessary energy doing hard tasks if we don’t have to? One of the biggest reasons we turn to junk so often is because it is so readily available. Back in the day, calories were much harder to come across. We would have had to hunt and walk long distances to acquire sustenance. These days you can just get Uber eats or go to a drive thru.
Our supermarkets contain aisles of crisps, chocolate and lollies. It is all too easy to throw these packets into our trolley and mindlessly consume them later. In addition to this, fast food outlets are ubiquitous and snacks in the workplace are always on offer. The society we live in is known as an “obesogenic environment” because it is set up in a way that promotes unhealthy food choices. Maintaining a healthy body weight is a struggle when there are hyperpalatable foods everywhere we look. We don’t have to work very hard to find a tasty, calorie dense snack.
Fortunately, it is not all doom and gloom. The first step to achieving health in an obesogenic environment is awareness. The second step is to find healthy options that give you the same enjoyment but less of the calories, sugars and fats. At NZProtein, we understand that life is too short to eat bland foods. That is why we make higher protein, lower sugar alternatives that taste just as good as junk foods. Foods with a higher protein content are more satiating and therefore harder to overeat. Additionally, we make sure to keep the calories reasonable so you don’t have to worry about moderating your portion sizes.
For those who can’t stop snacking on crisps, our NZProtein pea puffs are a great alternative. You get the same salty, crunchy hit without the unnecessary fats, oils and sodium. If you prefer sweet treats then you’ll have to try the NZProtein marshmallows, mug cakes and chocolate. There are plenty of decent options out there, you just have to put in effort and look.
Although a little junk food in moderation will not kill you, you’re much better off without it. The high prevalence of obesity in New Zealand is a sign that we need to lay off the processed junk and find better alternatives. Now that you are aware of the obesogenic environment, you can find ways around it. Just because a food is tasty, doesn’t mean it is worth eating. Be mindful and pick healthier alternatives whenever you can.