Currently viewing the tag: "junk food"


earth2 (Copy)When I talk about health, I generally like to focus on universals–that is, what is true for everybody across the board, and not just the nuances of one diet or another. For example, drinking the juice of an açaía berry is not universal. It may be rich in antioxidants (although there is no scientific evidence to support this marketing claim), but it is not an essential food consumed by people all over the world. Having a diet rich in antioxidants, however, is a universal. Drinking water from a hole in Costa Rica is also not a universal, although maintaining sufficient hydration most certainly is. To pound the point home, there isn’t one person reading this that wouldn’t suffer the same fate were he or she to swan dive off a ten-story building. That’s because everybody is subject to the law of gravity–it’s universal, get it?

Okay so when it comes to dietary health, then, only four universals exist. The human diet must fulfill all four of the following:

  • Act as an energy source—food provides us with energy, measured in calories; energy not immediately used is stored as fat.
  • Act as a nutrient source—in the form of vitamins and minerals that are necessary for metabolism, regulation and tissue repair.
  • bigstock-close-up-view-of-bacteria-12354305 (Copy)Provide water for proper hydration—some “experts” believe that we get all the fluids we need from our food, but I am not one of them; no doubt, though, that diets high in plant-based sources get a good portion of their daily water replenishment from food.
  • Maintain a beneficial gut environment—we now know that the foods we eat directly influence our gut microbiota: the organisms that inhabit our intestines and, among other things, help the digestive process.

That’s it. A healthy diet should fulfill these four universal requirements in the most efficient way. This is a point worth elaborating: While many diets (and I’m speaking of a way of eating here, not a fad diet, per se) may fulfill all four universals, they may not do so efficiently. This is likely the case for the majority of people on the typical western diet (some whole foods, lots of processed foods), which is high in calories and low in nutrients. These people often get their necessary nutrients, but at the expense of having to eat more food to do so. They are not malnourished, but instead over-nourished. Think about it, a diet low in essential nutrients will cause the body to communicate, “More nutrients, please!” in the only way it knows how: By increasing the appetite.

malnourished (Copy)Other diets, like those based on junk food, candy, and/or near-starvation (anorexia) lead to none of the universal being fulfilled, which causes malnutrition, and eventually the breakdown of the body.

So, again, the healthiest diets fulfill the four universals most efficiently. But what’s the best diet for you?  The one that fulfills all four universals with the least amount of food.

Now to say there is one diet that can fulfill this requirement for all people would be lie…because everybody is different. My body type is such that I need lots of protein. When I eat carbohydrate-rich meals, regardless of the source, I get weak and shaky within an hour. Thus, I need protein in every meal. Because of this personal nuance, I find that concentrated sources (meat, eggs, dairy) work best for me. This is NOT a universal; it is a nuance of my dietary needs. Believe me, I know plenty of people that thrive on a predominantly plant-based diet. Physiological variability I tell you.

That’s why I say stick to the universals. If veganism gets you there, then groovy, man. If it’s raw foodism—rock out. All that matters is that the four universals are most efficiently met.

Don’t get caught up into dietary nuances. Eat the widest variety of whole, natural foods that your body likes and craves, and try to get everything you need nutritionally with the least amount of food possible. I promise that you’ll get closer to achieving optimal nutrition by following these principles. It’s the human variability that throws the monkey-wrench into most popular diets, but universal is universal, so keep that in mind every time you eat. And if your way of eating already fulfills all four dietary universals, then you’re doing just fine.


The title of this post may seem obvious, but an interesting study has just been published showing that people will choose healthy foods over junk food if the price of the junk is higher. This study shows strong evidence that a junk food tax might help improve overall health, while lowering the obesity epidemic in this country.

The research conducted at the University of Buffalo in New York gave 42 mothers just over $22.00 to spend at a “supermarket” set up in a room at the university and stocked with images of everything from bananas to whole wheat bread to cola drinks and cookies. They were told to imagine that they had no food in the house and they were going to do the shopping for the week to feed the family. They were given the choices of 30 healthy foods, which included healthy beverages, and 30 junk foods, including sodas and other sugary drinks.

The women went shopping five times, the first round having prices on par with what they currently are at local supermarkets. Two times the prices of healthy foods were lowered, and two times the prices of the junk foods were increased. The interesting results were that hiking the prices of junk foods, like what would occur from a so-called “sin tax,” was more effective in lowering overall calories purchased than lowering the prices of healthy foods. Hmmm…you don’t say.

Even more interesting is that lowering the price of healthy foods merely increased the overall calories the women purchased. Wow!

I love this study! First off, although I am a huge proponent of self-responsibility particularly as it relates to health, I do believe that taxing unhealthy behaviors is appropriate. As much as I believe in the live and let live philosophy, in today’s economic and health care environments, peoples’ poor health choices are being paid for by us all. So I think if you want to smoke, smoke, but you’ve got to pay more; want to live off Susie Qs, pay up; boozer for life, no problem, just pay your share. Now obviously, the only way this type of tax would mean anything is if the money would be used to offset health costs. I’ll leave that to policy makers.

But back to the study: Making healthy foods cheaper didn’t lead people to make better choices, they still went for more. In fact, when they saved on broccoli, yogurt, fish and eggs, they just took the savings and bought cookies and chips. Duh!!! So lower food prices obviously are not the answer, not from a health perspective anyway.

“It appears that mothers took the money they saved on subsidized fruits and vegetables and treated the family to less healthy alternatives, such as chips and soda pop,” the authors of the study said.

But raising the price of the crap actually led mothers to choose healthy foods–a sad statement on human psychology, but an awesome perspective on the power of economics. In the experiment, taxing junk foods by 10% resulted in the shoppers buying 14.4% less high-fat and sugary foods and drinks. That meant their week’s shopping contained 6.5% fewer calories, the study said.

Well what can I say? When it comes to making health choices surrounding food, Americans are severely addicted to junk, and in my estimation, sugar in particular. Only continuous education (what I’m trying to do here) is going to change that. But a sin tax is certainly a way to combat obesity, particularly childhood obesity which is rising rapidly. And it can also help subsidize health care costs. With a culture so dependent on sugary junk food, we’re going to need every penny we can get.

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