When it comes to the food pyramid of a college student I feel like junk food is a very important and unfortunately large portion. It falls right under late night pizzas and enough coffee to fill Seneca Lake, twice. From vending machine candy to bags of salty chips, eating junk food is a guilty pleasure for many, and a large industry in the United States bringing in billions of dollars a year. For those concerned about health and weight, companies have tried to cater to their needs. Nabisco has made all their treats into packages only containing 100 calories. Other products have followed the trend marketing sugar free foods or those made without any high fructose corn syrup. What exactly are in these foods we’ve been labeling as “junk,” which make them so detrimental to our health? Can we really trick our bodies with non-fat and low calorie junk food products?
What Do We Consider Junk Food?
In class last week, Professor Miller pulled out of his bags products that are universally considered junk food. Our eyes all widened with awe as each product was placed in front of us, and waited in anticipation as to what the next tasty treat would be. These products included cookies, candies, Twinkies (a favorite among classmates), pudding, frosted animal crackers, and potato chips. Junk foods are products which are high in calories, possess low to no nutritional quality, and usually taste very good. They can also however be masked in foods that we don’t necessarily consider to be all that bad for us. I had a friend in high school that would eat pop tarts every morning for breakfast. This didn’t seem like an awful breakfast to me, especially since I didn’t eat breakfast at all. But, when you take into consideration that one package of pop tarts (2 tarts) contains 420 calories, 32 g of sugar, and 74 g of carbohydrates, one might think differently about the morning meal.
What Are Some Common Ingredients In Junk Food?
In class, we looked at the ingredients of the junk foods presented to see which ingredients tended to be common. These ingredients included sugar, high fructose corn syrup, artificial color, and malic acid. Malic acid was prevalent in most of the candies and is responsible for creating the sour flavor in products such as sour patch kids and nerds. The compound malic acid is shown below:
Artificial coloring was another ingredient which appeared a lot on the junk food labels. Artificial coloring includes dyes such as red no. 40 and yellow no. 5. These dyes are responsible for making the strawberry flavored skittles extra red.
Non-Fat and Low-Calorie Products: Are They For Real?
Many food companies have created additional “healthy” products advertising that they are non-fat, have low calories, or don’t contain high fructose corn syrup. These products make the consumer feel less guilty for eating junk food because they think they’re eating more healthfully. Are these products actually better for us? That is a question that we can’t really fully answer yet because it depends on the product. The best way to decide is to read the label and make sure you understand what each ingredient is. One very interesting label that we came across in class was for brownie bites. The box claimed that it didn’t contain any high fructose corn syrup, but upon reading the ingredients, it showed that the product contained both fructose and corn syrup. A bit of an evil trick if you ask me!
After viewing some junk food labels in class I decided to go to Wegmans for my own “healthy” junk food exploration. I first headed straight to the snack aisle. An item I first noticed was Murray’s Sugar Free Chocolate Cookies. These cookies were sweetened with Splenda, a sucralose based artificial sweetener derived from sugar. These cookies also contained dextrose, which is, oh yes, a fancy word for SUGAR! Another noteworthy item was Edy’s Slow churned, No Sugar Added, Triple Chocolate Ice Cream. This item is also sweetened by Splenda, and makes the claim that it has 1/3 fewer calories and ½ of the fat compared to regular ice cream. Slow churned ice cream is churned for a longer period of time which results in a smoother product due to an increase in the number of air bubbles. The greater the presence of air bubbles in the ice cream, the lesser the caloric content. When labels like this advertise fewer calories, the important thing to consider is the serving size. The Edy’s Slow Churned Triple Chocolate contained 120 calories and 4.5g of fat in ½ cup. If you ate just 1/8 of a cup more of the ice cream, then you’d be eating the same amount of calories as Edy’s regular Grand Chocolate Ice Cream. Serving sizes definitely make a difference.
Michael Pollan claims that consumers today aren’t consuming foods but, “edible food-like substances.” So ask yourself, Is junk food really food? Are the alternative forms of junk food really more healthy?