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Living Well in Yalobusha County


Kicking the “Junk Food” Habit

By: Pamela Redwine,
MSU Nutrition and Food Safety Area Agent

The term “junk food” has been around a long time, as a term used to describe foods that offer little or no nutritional value.  A more recent term that basically means the same thing is “empty calories”.   Empty calories are used to describe foods that offer excessive calories that can contribute to overweight and obesity without offering valuable nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals. Whatever term you prefer to use, if you are attempting to lead a healthier lifestyle, it is important to limit, not completely eliminate, “junk foods” and “empty calories” from your everyday meals and snacks.

If you find yourself eating too much junk food too often it may be more out of habit.  The good thing about a habit is that it can be changed.  If you want to change your eating habits, it is essential that you develop strategies to limit the What, When, Where, and Why of junk foods.  Preparing strategies in advance for handling situations gives you the best chance to change.  So let’s look at some good strategies for kicking the “junk food” habit.

What are your “junk foods”? Junk foods are foods that are higher in added fats, added sugars, added sodium, and calories.  Using the Nutrition Facts label will give us a clue as to what foods we want to limit. Percent daily value (%DV) provides information about how much of a nutrient is provided by the food based on a standard 2,000 calorie diet.  

While many of us may need more or less than 2,000 calories per day, these values give us a quick view as to whether or not this is a food we should buy.  Using percent daily value, 20% is considered high and 5% is considered low.  This rule holds true for both nutrients you want to increase and limit.  If your favorite cookies offer 25% of saturated fat, while offering only 2% of vitamin A and iron per serving, you may want to rethink your choice to purchase the cookies. If a food offers 20% calcium and vitamin A, while offering 4% Total fat and 0% saturated fat, we would consider that a better choice.  

Choosing lower fat, reduced sugar, and lower sodium versions of the same product will help improve your choices.  Also, paying close attention to serving sizes will help limit eating too much in one sitting.

Another important factor to consider is when are we most vulnerable to eating junk foods?  A good idea is to keep a journal of when and what we are eating.  It doesn’t have to be scientific with a scale to measure the amount of each food.  It simply needs to be a log of what you are eating and when you eat it.  

If you find that you are prone to eating “junk foods” between breakfast and lunch, you may want to make sure you have healthier options, like fruits, available during that time of day.  If you find that you are most vulnerable when you first come home from work, you may want to immediately go for a walk or prepare dinner earlier rather than snacking until your next meal.

Habits become very apparent when we are forced to write them down and we can see them.  Identifying the potential pitfalls gives us the opportunity to come up with quick and easy strategies to change the habit.

Where we are most likely to eat junk foods has to also be considered.  Are you prone to buying your favorite chips each time you pass by your snack machine at work?  Try taking a different route or limit the amount of change you have available for such impulsive purchases.  Are you prone to grab your favorite bag of chips and sit on the couch and watch your favorite evening shows? Limit the amount of those types of foods you have available in the home.  

Creating positive barriers between you and your junk foods can help break the habit.  If you know the when and where you are most vulnerable, you are well on your way to breaking the junk food habit. Take time to review what you are currently doing and see where you can easily make small healthier changes.  Those small changes can lead to big results over time.

Finally, we have to look at the why.  Are we choosing foods of low nutritional value because of an emotional connection to the food?  Are we choosing certain foods out of boredom not realizing how much we are eating? Do these foods offer some relief or benefit from feelings or emotions we are currently struggling with?  These are often the hardest questions we have to answer, but nonetheless they are very important.  Understanding why you are eating what you are eating can help give you a more positive outlook and enhance your desire to make positive long term healthy changes.

Remember, there is a place in our daily eating plans for all foods, even junk foods.  But, being able to plan and prepare the what, when, where, and why will give you the power to eat to live rather than live to eat.  Remember not all habits or bad.  So, as you prepare to break the junk food habit, replace it with a healthy habit that you can keep for a lifetime.

Recipe of the Week

Banana Freezer Pops

2 ripe medium bananas

1 can (6 ounces) frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed (3/4 cup)

1/4 cup water

1 tablespoon honey

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

8 (3-ounce) paper or plastic cups

8 wooden popsicle sticks

1. Peel bananas; break into chunks.  Place in food processor or blender container.  Add orange juice concentrate, water, honey and vanilla; process until smooth.

2. Pour banana mixture evenly into cups.  Cover top of each up with small piece of foil.  Insert wooden popsicle stick through center of foil into banana mixture.

3. Place cups on tray; freeze about 3 hours or until firm.  To serve, remove foil; tear off paper cups (or slide out of plastic cups).

Makes 8 servings

Peppy Purple Pops: Omit honey and vanilla.  Substitute grape juice concentrate for orange juice concentrate.

Frozen Banana Shakes: Increase water to 1-1/2 cups.  Prepare fruit mixture as directed.  Add 4 ice cubes; process on high speed until mixture is thick  and creamy.

Makes 3 servings.

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