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The term "junk foods" is loosely used to describe foods like hamburgers and French fries served at fast-food restaurants. Actually, there is nothing wrong with these foods per se. You can prepare healthy hamburgers and French fries, using good quality natural ingredients and healthy cooking oil.
The problem with ‘Junk foods’ at fast-food restaurants
They contain very little nutrients, with lots of harmful chemical additives. From this perspective, a lot of modern, processed foods are similarly "junk".
Differences between natural and processed foods
Rich in nutrients
Rich in calories but lacking in vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and fibre
Short, spoils easily
Appears to stay “fresh” for years with preservatives
Colour and texture
Vibrant colours, rich textures
Dull and bland appearance boosted by artificial colours; uniform texture
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Foods with hidden ingredients
Modern processed foods contain far more ingredients than most people realise. To begin with, few people bother to read the ingredients list on food packaging. But even if you read it, you may not get the full picture as many food additives come with complex chemical names that you may not understand. Besides, many ingredients are not required by law to be listed.
Foods that don’t come with food labels
For example, in recent years there has been concern over trans fats, which are artificial fats that can cause serious diseases. Many countries do not have trans fat labelling laws.
Those that do usually require food manufacturers to state "No trans fat" or "Trans fat o gram" as long as the trans fat content is less than o.5g. You may think that o.5g is not a lot, but trans fats are so harmful that the only safe level is zero! Then there are foods that do not come with food labels. Consider a hamburger. It is just a bun, a meat patty and some vegetables. Or is it? Let's look at the ingredients:
Example a hamburger bun contains:
- Enriched flour (which may could contain more than 20 chemical additives that are not required by law to be listed);
- Wheat gluten (which is harmful to those with gluten intolerance);
- High fructose corn syrup, a highly refined form of sugar;
- Partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (which contains trans fats);
- Salt (refined salt comprising pure sodium chloride);
- Chemical additives such as dough conditioners, colouring, preservatives and so on.
How is meat patty made?
The meat patty may not be "pure beef" even if it is touted as such. In many cases, it contains "pink slime", which is made from leftover meat after a beef carcass has been cut up. This meat is separated from the fat and bones using industrial processes and then treated with ammonia (the chemical that gives urine its smell) to destroy bacteria. The result is literally "slime". It does not look, smell or taste like beef. Artificial colouring and flavouring are added to make it resemble meat. It is estimated that as much as 75 percent of ground beef sold in the US contains "pink slime", with the content as high as 25 percent.
Such beef contain
The hamburger patty may also contain other fillers such as starch or soy protein isolate, which is another highly processed and harmful product. Even if it is truly "pure beef", it is likely to be poor quality beef from grain-fed - rather than grass-fed - cattle. Such beef tends to contain:
- More fat and less protein;
- Fat with higher levels of omega-6 fatty acids;
- Antibiotic residues;
- Synthetic growth hormones.
A lot of food today is not "food". They have had nutrients removed during processing and harmful chemicals added. Many are artificially created in factories. They are not fit for human consumption.
This content is adapted, with permission, from Book 1 of 2 : The Wonders of Nutrition by Dr Ang Poon Liat. MBBS, M.MED (PAED), MRCP (UK PAED), FAMS, MD.