Whether you love it or hate it, junk food is available everywhere; from stores and restaurants to your local chip shop and kebab van.For children and adults alike, it can be a tempting, simple and often cheap way to eat.
Some debate exists as to the definition of junk food. Essentially it refers to food and drinks that may have relatively little nutritious value compared to calorific value. We're talking about things like doner kebabs, chips, high-fat burgers, hot dogs, fizzy soft drinks and crisps. It is also arguable that sweets, chocolates and perhaps pizzas may fall into the mix. Some sugary breakfast cereals can even sometimes be included!
Those listed above (and many others along with them) tend to have high fat, sugar, salt and/or starch content, meaning they aren't regarded as being a balanced meal. A burger meal from a high street "fast food" outlet may not, for example, contain much fibre or vitamins and may have no vegetable or fruit content.
Many health campaigners claim that a big influencing factor on the increase in diabetes is a poor diet that's full of junk food. Foods that can result in spikes of glucose levels can lead to obesity and insulin resistance (the decreasing ability of your body to respond correctly to the hormone insulin) and may ultimately contribute to the development of diabetes.
Like many things in life, eating fast food in moderation is unlikely to lead to serious, lasting health problems. Fats, starch and sugar can all be broken down by a healthy metabolism and should cause no real harm, providing it is part of an overall healthy balanced diet. The key thing is to try not to live on these kinds of foods alone or make them the majority of your diet.
Is a burger, made with quality meat, in a wholemeal bun with tomatoes and lettuce really junk food? It probably depends on who has made it and the way in which it is prepared and cooked. Grilling, for example, may be seen as preferable to frying in oil.
When any food reaches your stomach, acid is produced to assist its digestion. Big meals and those that contain a lot of fat and protein may stimulate the stomach to produce more acid than other meals. Therefore, if the junk food you eat has a high fat and protein content, you may well have a good deal of acid in your stomach.
Stomach acid is essential. However, if there is excess acid, and / or if the acid passes out of the stomach upwards (refluxes) into the oesophagus (food pipe), indigestion or heartburn may result.
A weak sphincter (the ring of muscle at the bottom of your oesophagus), excess acid or a very full stomach can all increase the chances of acid coming up into the oesophagus. Since your oesophagus isn't designed to withstand too much stomach acid, heartburn can result if acid comes into contact with its sensitive lining.
Too much acid may irritate the stomach lining or the top part of the small intestine (duodenum) and cause some pain and discomfort. A full stomach can cause stretching of the stomach lining, which is also associated with indigestion. High-fat foods like sausages, beef and lamb burgers, lamb doner kebabs and chips are just a few examples of food types that may increase the risk of either heartburn or indigestion occurring. Fatty foods and spicy foods, like curries and chillies, are some of the top reasons for heartburn and indigestion. Alcoholic beverages, carbonated drinks and caffeinated drinks are also among the top causes.
Eating and drinking these types of foods late at night may not help you either. This is because your stomach may not have had the chance to digest them fully before you go to bed. Additionally, lying down in bed, especially with a full stomach, could result in an increased chance of acid refluxing up into your oesophagus.
You can make some lifestyle and dietary changes that can help you to avoid these conditions. Some changes you may wish to consider could be:
Dietary adjustment and responsibility are key to easing symptoms of heartburn and indigestion. However, if you suffer do from these symptoms - whether it's sometimes after eating fast foods or not - Gaviscon can provide effective relief. It's available over-the-counter from your pharmacy.
Gaviscon gets to work instantly. It helps prevent acid from coming up into your oesophagus by forming a protective barrier or raft on top of your stomach contents, to help keep them in your stomach where they belong. Gaviscon also neutralises stomach acid.
Eating fast food is just a matter of moderation and balance. Why not chat it over with a nutritionist or dietitian at your GP's surgery, if you're in any doubt.
Article published January 1st, 2020