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What counts as "junk food"?

ipsedixit Feb 8, 2010 07:27 AM

What exactly is junk food?

Some things are obvious ... Soda, candy bars, donuts, etc.

And some things are obviously not junk food ... fruits, vegetables, etc.

But between those two poles is a vast murky middle ground, right?

Take candy bars for example. You say a Snickers bar is junk, but what about a Snickers Dark, which is made out of dark chocolate. Dark chocolate is supposed to have anti-oxidant and other healthful benefits. And, aren't peanuts good for you, which all Snickers bars have? Junk?

And what about something benign like rice cakes. They certainly aren't harmful in the sense that they are full of transfats or high in sodium or sugar, but then they are essentially empty calories -- offering only simple carbs and very little fiber. Junk? If cardboard had calories, we would just call them rice cakes and make the dictionary one word less voluminous.

Or, how about cheese pizza? Cheese is high in calcium and protein. Tomato sauce is high in anti-oxidants and vitamins and minerals. Is the problem that the crust may be made from white flour? What if it was a whole-wheat crust? Still junk?

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  1. b
    beevod RE: ipsedixit Feb 8, 2010 07:33 AM

    It is a misnomer and absurd to call any food that makes one happy "junk." Is vodka, or tequilla a "junk" beverage because its nutrients are minimal?

    1 Reply
    1. re: beevod
      danieljdwyer RE: beevod Feb 12, 2010 11:42 AM

      The trouble with this is defining happiness, particularly the relationship between long term happiness and short term happiness. To a smoker, a cigarette certainly provides happiness. The trouble is that it's short term happiness. In the long term, chances are that cigarette is providing substantial levels of unhappiness. Poor physical health is one of the leading contributors to the causation of a wide range of psychological and emotional issues which all lead to a state of life most would classify as general unhappiness. Unhealthy eating is, in the US, the current leading cause of avoidable health issues.
      Now, to be fair, eating unhealthy foods in moderation isn't likely to lead to health problems, addiction, or contribute significantly to a state of unhappiness. Smoking cigarettes in moderation similarly has been demonstrated to have a negligible effect on health, mental or physical. Unfortunately, in the case of both unhealthy foods and cigarettes, most consumers who use the product are not using it in moderation. The same, fortunately, cannot be said of alcohol, most consumers of which are using the product in moderation.
      To me, this makes it perfectly fair to label, say, Funyuns as junk food. If we can't diss crap like that, we can't diss cigarettes either.

    2. l
      LauraGrace RE: ipsedixit Feb 8, 2010 04:24 PM

      This is an interesting one to ponder, ipsedixit (BTW, have I ever mentioned how much I appreciate your name? I teach Latin!).

      I think my answer to that question can be answered with a simple xy graph -- the x axis being "level of factory processing" and the y axis being "unhealthiness". So something could have a high y but a low x -- high in fat, or pure carbs, or whatever, but unprocessed (I'm thinking heavy cream, or brains, or something) -- and I wouldn't call it "junk food." BUT, the converse wouldn't necessarily be true. Even something lowfat, or low carb, or whatever, that bears no resemblance to any ingredient found in nature (fat free Twinkies, light beer *wink*), I would label as "junk" in almost every situation.

      Which, I guess, makes the whole graph thing break down, doggonit.

      So a simple answer would be: junk food is anything that, through extensive processing, becomes a product whose component ingredients are unidentifiable.

      Your specific examples -- I'd call snickers bars junk in all their iterations, even with almonds. Factory processing, presence of HFCS, and quality of ingredients push this one over to the "junk" side. Rice cakes -- not junk, but why bother? Eat a bowl of rice crispies instead. ;) Totino's frozen cheese pizza, definitely junk. Super-processed. My homemade pizza, or the one from the gourmet joint down the street that uses San Marzano tomatoes and locally made mozzarella and basil from the herb garden out back is definitely NOT junk. In fact, I would like some of that mythical pizza right this minute!

      All this is said with tongue firmly in cheek, FWIW! :)

      Valete, y'all!

      2 Replies
      1. re: LauraGrace
        Sam Fujisaka RE: LauraGrace Feb 12, 2010 01:54 PM

        Your graph breaks down because the two variables - processing and unhealthiness - are not independent.

        1. re: Sam Fujisaka
          LauraGrace RE: Sam Fujisaka Feb 13, 2010 07:41 AM

          Blast! Curse my mediocre graphing skills!! *shakes fist at the heavens*


      2. pikawicca RE: ipsedixit Feb 8, 2010 04:47 PM

        This is a no-brainer. Junk food has calories, but little or no nutritional value. I think we all know it when we see it. Some examples are ice cream, potato chips, pork rinds, you get the idea.

        4 Replies
        1. re: pikawicca
          EWSflash RE: pikawicca Feb 8, 2010 05:47 PM

          Maybe not. Don't underestimate a groundswell of people in denial wanting their favorites to be worth something. You had me going until the pork rinds. ;-)

          1. re: pikawicca
            bucksguy14 RE: pikawicca Feb 8, 2010 05:54 PM

            Wait! Isn't there calcium in ice cream? Do you mean to tell me that I've been eating ice cream all these years and my bones are no better for it? Impossible, I say!!! And, what about my nightly red wine? Are you telling me that it has no value for my heart? Impossible, I say!!!! Now, the potato chips, I'm just might have to agree with that assessment.

            1. re: bucksguy14
              JamieK RE: bucksguy14 Feb 26, 2010 04:03 PM

              When it comes down to it, ice cream is just cold sweet grease. Good red wine is divine no matter how you drink it.

            2. re: pikawicca
              lagatta RE: pikawicca Feb 12, 2010 12:14 PM

              I wouldn't quite call ice cream junk food (that is not an excuse, I don't eat it because of the cow's milk and the white sugar, two things I don't eat). It does contain calcium and other minerals.

              It is a problem when one is talking about food that is too fatty, sweet, salty or high in calories but does contain significant nutrients - such as nuts for example.

            3. EWSflash RE: ipsedixit Feb 8, 2010 05:45 PM

              I see good opinions here, but I'm thinking it will end up being too subjective to define, due mostly to beevod's post, which is absolutely on the money.

              1. m
                maxie RE: ipsedixit Feb 8, 2010 06:13 PM

                Junk food is in the eye of the beholder. What I consider junk food may be the nutritional highlight of your week. I would say that foods that are highly processed, have high bad fat and/or sugar content, and use questionable quality of ingredients are junk, but my judgment would vary on a case by case basis. Recchiuti's burnt caramel = delicious, special treat; Rolo's = junk food. That's just me.

                1. h
                  hungryfi RE: ipsedixit Feb 12, 2010 04:55 AM

                  I think the idea of junk food has more to do with quality than nutrition. Enjoying bacon wrapped figs, a beautiful cheese or a hand crafted pastry is a high calorie indulgence. Scarfing down a candy bar or a bag of chips is not satisfying, it is simply a waste of fat and calories. I suppose if you savor candy and chips it could be indulgent, but it is made to be a quick, cheap snack, not a special experience and I think that makes it junk.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: hungryfi
                    ccrow RE: hungryfi Feb 12, 2010 05:42 AM

                    That's a really good point... when I indulge a craving for chips, I generally just eat & eat, definitely *not* savoring; when I make myself a batch of buttered popcorn, however, I do tend to eat it slowly & enjoy. Both arguably 'junk' but I guess popcorn is more healthful, as long as I practice restraint with the butter. >drool<

                    1. re: hungryfi
                      jlafler RE: hungryfi Feb 15, 2010 10:36 AM

                      This is pretty much how I define junk food.

                    2. f
                      food smarts RE: ipsedixit Feb 12, 2010 05:11 AM

                      Ask people in Haiti what junk food is. Food provides sustenance in it's most basic form. If a food contains calories it has nutritional value - it will provide sustenance. Since the beginning of time, man has preserved food in one way or another - drying, canning, freezing, so sneering at "processing" is ridiculous. We process foods in our kitchens before we consume them! Does that turn them into "junk"?

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: food smarts
                        LauraGrace RE: food smarts Feb 12, 2010 07:39 AM

                        Who's sneering? ;) Besides which, the "processing" I do in my kitchen (chopping, mixing, sauteing, baking, roasting -- even drying, canning, and freezing) is a tiny shade of the amount of processing done in a factory, where you're talking about chemical leaveners and emulsifiers, adjuncts, preservatives, artificial colorants and flavoring agents, etc. that are inevitable in, say, Twinkies and Cheetos.

                        You're not suggesting that it's ideal for folks to live on Twinkies and Cheetos and Dr. Pepper, I'm sure, since they are extremely calorie-dense.

                        I'm not a member of the food police by any stretch -- I think legislating the definitions of what is and is not food is ridiculous, but I think adding a descriptive term to the beginning of food to clarify its quality or characteristics is fine. "Nutritious" food, "gourmet" food, "junk" food, etc.

                        1. re: LauraGrace
                          Phurstluv RE: LauraGrace Feb 12, 2010 03:25 PM

                          Hey, lay off the Twinkies and Cheetos!!!

                          Kidding....... and yes, we don't need any more Food Police, thank you. Everything in moderation........

                          1. re: Phurstluv
                            Uncle Bob RE: Phurstluv Feb 12, 2010 03:50 PM

                            Moderation.....I'll dwink to dat.........:)

                            1. re: Uncle Bob
                              Phurstluv RE: Uncle Bob Feb 12, 2010 05:30 PM

                              Raisin' my glass to ya right now, friend!!!!

                          2. re: LauraGrace
                            jlafler RE: LauraGrace Feb 15, 2010 10:49 AM

                            " I think legislating the definitions of what is and is not food is ridiculous..."

                            Maybe it would be if we knew exactly where all of our food came from and the conditions under which it was manufactured, and/or trusted the corporations that make it. Sadly, this is not true for most if not all of us.

                        2. Soop RE: ipsedixit Feb 12, 2010 05:58 AM

                          Surely it's a case of balance?

                          If you eat a proper meal, let's just say stew, you will get a certain rounded set of nutrients and vitamins. If you eat junk food, the balance is tilted vastly towards an excess of salt, fat, calories, sugar etc.

                          That's how I'd class it.

                          1. m
                            makanhounds RE: ipsedixit Feb 12, 2010 09:46 AM

                            'Junk Food'? you are debating a 'buzz word' that the media created to label stuff the health nuts want to attack. many of the foods listed in the discussion could be considered 'junk', but why the undertone of guilt if you eat it? Twinkies, chips, beer, pork rinds, rice cakes, ice cream, snickers - all have their time and place for eating. A party with no chips or beer? Coffee break without a bit of sweets - like a Twinkie or a highly artistic and delicious cupcake? A Snickers bar (any flavor) can hit the spot for me during a high energy activity (like shoveling 18 inches of snow yesterday). Ice cream on a hot summer evening after a relaxing BBQ dinner with a bunch of friends....?
                            Junk food is only junk if you think it is......then just don't eat it.
                            But please don't try to make me feel guilty about eating it!

                            BTW - rice cakes can be tasty if you eat the Asian versions - not the 'diet' versions for the mass American market.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: makanhounds
                              Soop RE: makanhounds Feb 12, 2010 02:09 PM

                              It's human natre to label things - but I can't disagree with your core point.

                            2. s
                              spm RE: ipsedixit Feb 12, 2010 11:12 AM

                              I really love this topic. My favorite story about junk food is when a bear broke into our car and ate the anti-freeze but NOT the rice crackers. That was the last time I bought rice crackers.
                              Processed food is a scourge and should be avoided at all costs if you want to stay healthy. That is, except for ice cream (calcium and protein?) and the occasional dark chocolate.

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: spm
                                mollyomormon RE: spm Feb 12, 2010 01:50 PM

                                Would you consider ice cream and dark chocolate to be "processed foods?" I guess it depends on how they were made, but I don't think those would be on my list of highly processed foods.

                                1. re: spm
                                  danna RE: spm Feb 24, 2010 07:47 AM

                                  but since anti freeze is poison, maybe you shouldn't take nutritional advice from that particular bear...

                                  one of my friends did a no-processed-food diet for a couple of weeks...we had fun debating the merits. Is peanut butter processed? well, yeah. no doubt. is it bad for you? is whole wheat bread bad for you? it took a lot of processing to turn that stalk of wheat into flour.

                                  1. re: danna
                                    jlafler RE: danna Feb 24, 2010 05:07 PM

                                    Yes, "processed" is a relative term. My favorite example of a good processed food is tofu.

                                    1. re: danna
                                      chowser RE: danna Feb 24, 2010 05:54 PM

                                      There was an interesting discussion along these lines on the Media and Food board about molecular gastronomy. Some posters said they don't eat food if it couldn't have been produced 100 years ago (or was it 1000?). So, wheat could be processed back then as could all natural peanut butter but not Jif. It doesn't mean the appliances that we use today, eg ice cream could be made w/out a freezer.

                                      1. re: danna
                                        FrankD RE: danna Feb 25, 2010 04:52 AM

                                        My favourite peanut butter is just peanuts, ground up with a tiny bit of salt. No extra hydrogenated oils, no sugars, nothing. How is that any more "processed" than a finely chopped onion? Or ground beef?

                                        "Processed" to me implies food that has undergone processes that you cannot replicate in the AVERAGE home kitchen. So, flash freezing, hydrogenation, etc., are the types of things that might make a food processed. Just cutting, or grinding doesn't fill the bill, IMHO.

                                    2. s
                                      silence9 RE: ipsedixit Feb 12, 2010 01:01 PM

                                      Hi there... To me, something ceases to be 'junk food' the moment that a plate and utensils accompanies (and improves) the consumption/enjoyment thereof. Remember the Seinfeld episode where Elaine observes her fastidious employer Mr. Pitt eating a Snickers bar with plate, knife and fork (thereby causing George to begin following suit and modeling the behavior to his corporate peers)? I've munched on a slice of pizza walking on the Venice Beach boardwalk (junk food), and I've as well partaken of pizza with plate/utensils at the Silverton/Batali venue Pizzeria Mozza (not junk food). Burning the calories (pun intended) to actually wield a knife/fork/spoon, set down said utensils while I chew, and then assessing the remaining edible environment (the chow) awaiting further _considered_ choices (on my plate) would seem to elevate the chow into non-junk food realm. Though I suppose that would make those foie gras 'lollipops' I've heard about, technically, junk food...

                                      1. Rmis32 RE: ipsedixit Feb 12, 2010 02:57 PM

                                        If it's served thru your car window, it's junk food
                                        if it's cereal that makes the milk turn a different color, it's junk food
                                        if you get your fuel from the same place your car does, it's junk food

                                        Courtesy of my food guru, Michael Pollan

                                        12 Replies
                                        1. re: Rmis32
                                          mcf RE: Rmis32 Feb 12, 2010 04:30 PM

                                          If they feed it to cattle to make them gain weight and have streaks of fat marbling in their muscles, it'll do the same to you. :-)

                                          1. re: mcf
                                            Rmis32 RE: mcf Feb 12, 2010 05:08 PM

                                            Yes, we used to say that you are what you eat. Now we say that you are what, what you eat, eats.

                                            1. re: Rmis32
                                              BobB RE: Rmis32 Feb 15, 2010 08:31 AM

                                              If what you eat eats, period, it's meat (or at least fish). Thus not junk food per se, though it can become such through overprocessing. Welcome to the top of the food chain.

                                              1. re: BobB
                                                mcf RE: BobB Feb 15, 2010 04:59 PM

                                                Some of us think meat's junk food it it eats corn and grain in a feedlot, laced with animal byproducts, hormones and antibiotics. Meat can be junk food before it's processed, unless you define feedlot practices as processing, then I'd agree.

                                                1. re: mcf
                                                  BobB RE: mcf Feb 16, 2010 04:29 AM

                                                  I can see why some people get to that point of view, but it's extreme - VERY extreme. To equate your average supermarket sirloin with a Twinkie, to my mind, is beyond fringe. But feel free to think so if you like.

                                                  1. re: BobB
                                                    mcf RE: BobB Feb 16, 2010 05:21 AM

                                                    I didn't equate them, I think the Twinkie is much worse. But the meat in the supermarket, compared to grass fed, has terrible cumulative health effects both in our bodies and due to its effect on our environment.

                                                    Not equal, but both with junk characteristics.

                                                    1. re: mcf
                                                      BobB RE: mcf Feb 16, 2010 05:32 AM

                                                      Ah, so now we're just talking about "junk characteristics." By which definition anything that's not strictly from the crunchy-granola-organic end of the food spectrum qualifies as junk.

                                                      Personally I'm not so paranoid. Anything I buy fresh and cook for myself is not junk food. What is? In the immortal words of Justice Potter Stewart, "I may not be able to define it but I know it when I see it."

                                                      1. re: BobB
                                                        mcf RE: BobB Feb 16, 2010 09:19 AM

                                                        No paranoia involved; I just have different criteria than yours when assessing food quality.

                                                      2. re: mcf
                                                        cowboyardee RE: mcf Feb 16, 2010 06:39 PM

                                                        "the meat in the supermarket, compared to grass fed, has terrible cumulative health effects"

                                                        Please cite either sources, or at least list some of these effects so that others could research them.

                                                        1. re: cowboyardee
                                                          mcf RE: cowboyardee Feb 17, 2010 05:08 AM

                                                          I've done so before on other threads, and am paying attention to the fact that CH moderators don't want this to turn into a medical board. But if you're truly interested, you can certainly find info on the environmental damage, antibiotic resistance issues and the pro inflammatory lipid and biochemical profile of feedlot beef as compared to grass fed.

                                                          1. re: mcf
                                                            cowboyardee RE: mcf Feb 17, 2010 05:37 AM

                                                            I would find it very strange (and horrible) to think that the mods are perfectly cool with people making broad medical claims on these boards but not with them citing any real reasons for believing said claims.

                                                            I don't have any problems with your claims - I just think people telling others what is [un]healthy from what appears to be a scientific perspective should be prepared to list their reasons for believing so.

                                                            1. re: cowboyardee
                                                              mcf RE: cowboyardee Feb 17, 2010 11:48 AM

                                                              I am well prepared to do so, but that's not what CH is for. I provided you with the areas to check out for yourself if you have a genuine interest in the issue, so happy reading. :-)

                                                              Here's the relevent post from the mods, at the end:


                                          2. chowser RE: ipsedixit Feb 15, 2010 06:11 PM

                                            I had this problem when my kids went to school and there was a "no junk food" rule. Okay, potato chips out. Pretzels? Where do they fall? Spelt pretzels seem fine to me but regular ones? Cookies? Probably not but what if I used whole wheat flour and made them low fat? Banana bread? It was all too murky for me. I think I'm the only parent who stressed about it.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: chowser
                                              LauraGrace RE: chowser Feb 15, 2010 06:25 PM

                                              Jeez, I wish my school had that rule. We don't have a hot lunch program (very small private school) and you should see some of the absolute unmitigated garbage my students eat -- hot dogs, nuked on styrofoam plates, three days a week, frozen Kid Kuisine meals or lunchables the other two days...

                                            2. s
                                              sueatmo RE: ipsedixit Feb 20, 2010 02:21 PM

                                              I know it when I see it.

                                              1. c
                                                cgj RE: ipsedixit Feb 24, 2010 07:20 AM

                                                Simple: junk food is any food you, or the person next to you, or the person next to him, does not approve of. It is thus a worthless concept.

                                                1. invinotheresverde RE: ipsedixit Feb 24, 2010 07:43 AM

                                                  This post was timed perfectly! Recently, my family and I were playing the word game Scattegories. The chosen letter was H and the category was Junk Food. I wanted two points, so I wrote Hamburger Helper. In my mind, that's the epitomy of junk food, but everyone else disagreed. Thoughts from a Chow perspective?

                                                  15 Replies
                                                  1. re: invinotheresverde
                                                    danieljdwyer RE: invinotheresverde Feb 24, 2010 07:47 AM

                                                    I would have counted it, because of the subjectivity of the term. I wouldn't call hamburger helper junk food, but the argument can easily be made that it is. It's certainly a nutritionally poor meal.

                                                    1. re: invinotheresverde
                                                      BobB RE: invinotheresverde Feb 24, 2010 07:51 AM

                                                      Hmm... good one. I'd say it's not junk food in the purest sense of the term, which I'd reserve for crap that you take right out of its wrapper and shove into your mouth. Part of what makes junk food junk food is that the effort factor should be nil. Still pretty much crap, though.

                                                      1. re: BobB
                                                        ipsedixit RE: BobB Feb 24, 2010 09:10 AM

                                                        Have you seen these self-contained microwavable Hamburger Helper meals?

                                                        Not saying whether HH are junk food ...

                                                        1. re: ipsedixit
                                                          BobB RE: ipsedixit Feb 24, 2010 09:33 AM

                                                          No, I haven't really looked at Hamburger Helper for - well, ever. Interesting. But the blurb on the product page is disturbing:

                                                          "One of life's simple pleasures is to relax after a busy day and enjoy a good meal with ones you love. Hamburger Helper dinner mixes bring families to the dinner table for a hearty, wholesome meal."

                                                          On a product page for a microwaveable dinner for ONE. How sad is that?

                                                      2. re: invinotheresverde
                                                        silence9 RE: invinotheresverde Feb 24, 2010 08:59 AM

                                                        Hi... Re: Hamburger Helper - I've never made/ate it, but isn't its concept to 'stretch' a protein (ground beef) with a bulk/filler product (the Helper ingredients), to feed as many as possible for as little $ as possible? Junk food seems to carry the taint of an individual or solo indulgence, as opposed to the feed-the-family for less than $5 motivation with Hamburger Helper. Much as I would not consider Cream of Mushroom soup (as an inexpensive casserole 'sauce') as a junk food. There is an altruism (for lack of a better term) that seems to accompany the lowly Hamburger Helper, in its mission to feed many hungry pie-holes at dinner time...

                                                        1. re: invinotheresverde
                                                          ipsedixit RE: invinotheresverde Feb 24, 2010 09:12 AM


                                                          Hamburger Helper is a tough one. I think what counts as junk food is all relative.

                                                          Compared to an apple, Hamburger Helper would probably be junk. Compared to Cheetos? Not junk.

                                                          So I guess it would depend on what other people had put down in the H category for junk food ...

                                                          How's that for a non-answer answer? :-)

                                                          1. re: ipsedixit
                                                            invinotheresverde RE: ipsedixit Feb 24, 2010 09:44 AM

                                                            That was a total nonswer!

                                                            1. re: ipsedixit
                                                              mollyomormon RE: ipsedixit Feb 24, 2010 11:35 AM

                                                              That was an answer a lawyer would have drafted! ;)

                                                              1. re: mollyomormon
                                                                ipsedixit RE: mollyomormon Feb 24, 2010 12:25 PM

                                                                Uh, ahem, I guess I'll take that as a compliment ...

                                                              2. re: ipsedixit
                                                                lagatta RE: ipsedixit Feb 28, 2010 10:50 AM

                                                                I'd call Hamburger Helper more "stupid, unneccessary food" than junk food. You can stretch the ground meat with normal pasta, an onion, a few dried herbs and spices, for a fraction of the cost.

                                                                1. re: lagatta
                                                                  ipsedixit RE: lagatta Feb 28, 2010 10:55 AM

                                                                  As I mentioned to BobB above, have you seen these self-contained microwavable Hamburger Helper meals?

                                                                  1. re: lagatta
                                                                    linguafood RE: lagatta Feb 28, 2010 11:05 AM

                                                                    Really, that would be cheaper? I don't know. I've recently doctored up a blue box with some ground beef, shrooms, bell peppers, and lots of hot sauce. The mac n cheese was 50 cents, plus the rest. I don't think there is pasta out there that is as cheap AND comes with that delicious neon-orange "cheese" sauce. It was absolutely delightful :-D

                                                                2. re: invinotheresverde
                                                                  chowser RE: invinotheresverde Feb 24, 2010 05:46 PM

                                                                  I'd say junk food but then there was a discussion on the Home Cooking board that a home made cake is just as processed as a cake mix cake so there's obviously a wide range of opinions. But, then I'd also say hamburger can be considered junk food. What else is McDonald's burger if not junk food.

                                                                  1. re: invinotheresverde
                                                                    invinotheresasister RE: invinotheresverde Feb 28, 2010 07:52 AM

                                                                    5 months later and you're still not over it. Hamburger Helper is NOT junk food. It's not the healthiest of things to eat, but it's not junk food. Also, an oboe is not a metal instrument.

                                                                    1. re: invinotheresasister
                                                                      invinotheresverde RE: invinotheresasister Feb 28, 2010 08:19 AM

                                                                      Hamburger Helper is processed beyond belief. It's loaded with sodium. Junk food!

                                                                  2. a
                                                                    akq RE: ipsedixit Feb 24, 2010 11:02 AM

                                                                    I would say that junk food is generally those foods that are "out of balance" where some negative(s) outweighs the positives so it's a net negative. For instance, there's so much fat, calories, sugar, sodium, etc. that it eclipses the positive nutritional value of the food.

                                                                    Additionally, junk foods are also those "processed foods" where there is a lot in the food that is not identifyable as food (chemicals, preservatives, etc.). Those things are edible, but are not food (you wouldn't eat them alone and/or wouldn't derive nutritional value from them).

                                                                    71 Replies
                                                                    1. re: akq
                                                                      ipsedixit RE: akq Feb 24, 2010 12:29 PM

                                                                      "I would say that junk food is generally those foods that are "out of balance" where some negative(s) outweighs the positives so it's a net negative. For instance, there's so much fat, calories, sugar, sodium, etc. that it eclipses the positive nutritional value of the food."

                                                                      What about something like butter or lard? Totally out of balance b/c both are essentially pure fat. Junk?

                                                                      "Additionally, junk foods are also those "processed foods" where there is a lot in the food that is not identifyable as food (chemicals, preservatives, etc.). Those things are edible, but are not food (you wouldn't eat them alone and/or wouldn't derive nutritional value from them)."

                                                                      Nutrition and/or energy bars (e.g. Clif Bars) are processed and have lots of stuff I couldn't identify because I flunked Chemistry 1A in college. Junk? Even most commercial wheat bread is processed with lots and lots of perservatives. Junk?

                                                                      1. re: ipsedixit
                                                                        BobB RE: ipsedixit Feb 24, 2010 12:37 PM

                                                                        Not sure about the Clif bars but butter or lard? That's an ingredient. No one (well, almost no one, I hope) is grabbing a stick of butter and calling it lunch.

                                                                        1. re: ipsedixit
                                                                          akq RE: ipsedixit Feb 24, 2010 12:38 PM

                                                                          I think butter and lard are junk food, by themselves (I mean, come on, if you eat a pat of butter alone how is that not junk food?). They may, however, be ingredients in non-junk depending on what you combine them with. Put a little bit of butter and spices on steamed veggies? not junk. Mix butter, white flour and sugar for a shortbread cookie? junk food.

                                                                          Nutrition and/or energy bars like cliff bars are total junk food. So are "energy drinks" like monster and red bull. Same with a lot of commercial breads and other products. Plus, I said not identifiable "as food" (qua food) - meaning, that while "modified food starch" and "maltodextrin" are edible (and appear in the ingredients list for the rice cakes in my desk drawer), if presented with those ingredients alone I would never identify them as food and eat them (e.g. "tonight I am going to eat a big bowl of maltodextrin with a side of modified food starch for dinner!").

                                                                          I guess I'd add a lot of "convinience foods" to the "junk food" list. That doesn't mean no one should ever eat them, but that they shouldn't make up the bulk of your diet (as opposed to whole grains, fresh/frozen/unprocessed produce and lean meats which should). I am surprised that what I am writing is controversial...

                                                                          1. re: akq
                                                                            ipsedixit RE: akq Feb 24, 2010 12:48 PM

                                                                            Ok, I guess butter/lard is more ingredient than anything else. Sort of like Hamburger Helper.

                                                                            But with energy bars, I think you have a pretty wide definition of junk food if you consider energy bars and most commercial breads to be junk. I mean, if I were to eat a slice of some random national brand whole wheat bread would you accuse me of eating junk?

                                                                            Not saying you are wrong or right, just thinking aloud that's all ...

                                                                            1. re: ipsedixit
                                                                              akq RE: ipsedixit Feb 24, 2010 01:03 PM

                                                                              If pressed, I would say that most energy bars and commercial bread is junk food. If you look at most commercial bread, there is almost no whole grain and very low dietary fiber, plus high calories and carbs. I LOVE white sandwich bread, don't get me wrong, but it's junk food. Some are better than others - you can get commercial bread with some dietary fiber and whole grains and fortified with vitamins, but those are generally the exceptions.

                                                                              With energy bars - I personally just don't like them, so I am not an exepert by any means. Many of the bars are high calorie (that's what gives you the energy) and high fat. Plus, you're generally better off eating fruits/veggies/whole grains/lean meats than the bars any day.

                                                                              1. re: akq
                                                                                Phurstluv RE: akq Feb 24, 2010 02:42 PM

                                                                                So, I take it you bake all your own bread....after you mill your own wheat stalks into flour....

                                                                                1. re: Phurstluv
                                                                                  mollyomormon RE: Phurstluv Feb 24, 2010 02:51 PM

                                                                                  I also don't eat most commercial bread for this reason or bake my own. Instead, I've found the few brands that do use whole grains and have a lot of fiber or I buy from local bakeries that do the same.

                                                                                  1. re: Phurstluv
                                                                                    akq RE: Phurstluv Feb 24, 2010 04:36 PM

                                                                                    I never said I don't eat junk food...but I try to minimize the junk and maximize the better stuff. Not always successful, but I do try. Don't most people?

                                                                                    1. re: akq
                                                                                      Phurstluv RE: akq Feb 24, 2010 04:55 PM

                                                                                      I don't really care what most people do or don't do. I don't judge people by what they eat or buy at the store.

                                                                                      What my comment was about was that you eschew "most commercial bread" so do you grow your own wheat and bake your own bread to avoid it being like commercial brands. If you're like me, who doesn't have the time to do that, then you probably end up buying some type of commercial product. Maybe your bread has more fiber or whole grain in it, but if I don't like how it tastes, what's the point of me buying it? So I don't.

                                                                                  2. re: akq
                                                                                    danna RE: akq Feb 25, 2010 05:02 AM

                                                                                    I DO eat a lot of energy bars, and for the record, here's the ingredient list of a chocolate PowerBar:


                                                                                    Obviously, that's a lot of sugar...but that's the purpose, to fuel up before activity. I don't see that any of the other ingredients are particularly concerning.

                                                                                    1. re: danna
                                                                                      chowser RE: danna Feb 25, 2010 07:58 AM

                                                                                      Hence the name "energy" bars. Sugar-free wouldn't work.

                                                                                      1. re: chowser
                                                                                        ipsedixit RE: chowser Feb 25, 2010 08:09 AM

                                                                                        If sugar were the true culprit, what would one say about (oh, I don't know ..) an apple? A banana? Basically all sugar and carbs ...

                                                                                        I don't think any of us are saying a Clif Bar (or other simliar bars) are the paragon of healthy eating per se, but these bars certainly don't fall in the "junk food" bin ... me thinks.

                                                                                        1. re: ipsedixit
                                                                                          chowser RE: ipsedixit Feb 25, 2010 08:42 AM

                                                                                          That's what I said below about sugar, and fat, too. I think Clif bars have their place, above junk food. But, I don't think the average couch potato needs to be eating them. I rarely have them but it's great for my son who plays 4 hours of tennis, needs a quick high calorie bite to eat before a long TKD practice and I don't consider it junk food, not like I would a Snickers bar which I guess would serve the purpose, too, and make him much happier.

                                                                                          1. re: chowser
                                                                                            chowser RE: chowser Feb 25, 2010 08:44 AM

                                                                                            Anyway, as this discussion shows, it's impossible to draw the line between what is junk and what is not. There are many shades of gray.

                                                                                        2. re: chowser
                                                                                          danieljdwyer RE: chowser Feb 25, 2010 08:20 AM

                                                                                          That's not entirely true. While I think the energy bars are fine if you are really burning all those calories in your workout - though there are much better sources of the calories, and I personally don't want to replace the calories I burn working out - you don't need sugar for energy. The Khoisan hunter gatherers of southern Africa - whose genetics and lifestyle are most similar of all humans to those of the first modern humans of about 200,000 years ago - travel an average of 20 miles a day on foot through rough terrain. A typical hunt involves a 10 mile run to exhaust prey. Their diet involves no grains or refined sugars and very little fruit.
                                                                                          I'm not advocating a hunter gatherer diet, but if they don't need sugar to run ten miles across the Khalahari, no one needs sugar to work out.

                                                                                          1. re: danieljdwyer
                                                                                            chowser RE: danieljdwyer Feb 25, 2010 08:40 AM

                                                                                            As a modern day American, I like my gu for long distance runs/workouts, as does every marathon runner I know. :-) But, I'm sure the Khoisan hunters don't wear high priced running shoes w/ orthotics like we do, either. I've never said it can't be done w/out energy shots/etc. but they are effective, and recommended.

                                                                                            I actually rarely eat Clif bars but know people who love them for post-long run refueling. Portable and quick, high calories when you need them.

                                                                                            1. re: danieljdwyer
                                                                                              ipsedixit RE: danieljdwyer Feb 25, 2010 08:44 AM

                                                                                              I don't believe Chowser was saying that one "needs" sugar for energy.

                                                                                              Rather, I think the point was that sugar provides a readily and digestible source of energy.

                                                                                              Of course we all know that basically anything we eat -- be it fats, carbs or proteins -- will provide us energy and fuel those ATP cells.

                                                                                              So like I said before it's not that we "need" sugar for energy, but that sugars is a good source of readily and easily digestible source of carbs when your glycogen stores have been depleted.

                                                                                              And, really, you don't even want to know what I fuel up with after a long century ride on my bike (hint: it's Mtn. Dew and that thing they call a "Twinkie" ...)

                                                                                              1. re: ipsedixit
                                                                                                chowser RE: ipsedixit Feb 25, 2010 08:47 AM

                                                                                                Hmm, in that case would you consider Mountain Dew and Twinkie to be junk food, or refueling food?;-) I'll bet you max out on number of ingredients ingested in a fuel stop with those.

                                                                                                1. re: chowser
                                                                                                  ipsedixit RE: chowser Feb 25, 2010 09:03 AM

                                                                                                  Mountain Dew + Twinkies is not junk food, I say.

                                                                                                  It's GUNK food. :-)

                                                                                              2. re: danieljdwyer
                                                                                                chowser RE: danieljdwyer Feb 25, 2010 08:49 AM

                                                                                                This is interesting, though. I'd love to find out how much glucose stores the Khoisan hunters naturally carry in their bodies, compared to the average American. I'd guess it would be far higher. And, I'd love to know if they would be better hunters, if they had handy dandy packs of gel, or Twinkies, in ipsedixit's case.

                                                                                                1. re: chowser
                                                                                                  danieljdwyer RE: chowser Feb 25, 2010 10:31 AM

                                                                                                  Both their fat and glucose stores are lower than is typical of humans in agricultural societies. This has interesting effects on psysiology. For instance, you'll often hear people toss information around about how humans are naturally meant to get married and start pumping out children as teenagers. Khoisan women, however, because their diet and liefstyle allows for little in the way of short term energy storage, do not even become fertile until an average of 18, though the average age of marriage and reproduction is closer to 25. They also are not able to have children more frequently than about once every 3 or 4 years, despite breastfeeding duties often being shared among several women in the tribe. The study of these peoples which began in earnest only within the last 40 years, has thrown a lot of the basic assumptions of anthropology and human physiology out the window.
                                                                                                  Oh, and generally, the tribes that have started eating sugar and carb rich foods stop hunting. They have abandoned their hunter gatherer lifestyle and life on UN grain rations. It's a truly sad thing.

                                                                                                  1. re: danieljdwyer
                                                                                                    chowser RE: danieljdwyer Feb 25, 2010 11:58 AM

                                                                                                    Interesting. Are there gatherers in their tribe, or is their diet almost all animal protein/fat? Do you know the ratio of their diet (carbs/protein/fat)?

                                                                                                    1. re: chowser
                                                                                                      danieljdwyer RE: chowser Feb 25, 2010 12:38 PM

                                                                                                      I don't know the exact breakdowns. They do gather, though they aren't broken down into hunters and gatherers so much. Their societies are remarkably egalitarian. While the men tend to be the ones the actually do the wearing down and killing of prey, simply due to typically being faster runners, the entire tribe typically sets out together to find food. They eat seeds, nuts, grubs, vegetables, and what little fruit grows in the Kalahari, all as they find them. When they find antelope, they chase one until it collapses from heatstroke. I believe nuts are the most important source of calories for the majority of tribes.

                                                                                                2. re: danieljdwyer
                                                                                                  mcf RE: danieljdwyer Feb 25, 2010 11:51 AM

                                                                                                  Studies have shown that it takes endurance athletes three weeks to adapt to fat burning on ketogenic dieting instead of glucose from dietary sugars..

                                                                                                3. re: chowser
                                                                                                  mcf RE: chowser Feb 25, 2010 11:49 AM

                                                                                                  It would if it had protein; supplies energy that lasts much longer than sugars do.

                                                                                                  1. re: mcf
                                                                                                    chowser RE: mcf Feb 25, 2010 11:56 AM

                                                                                                    If you've just depleted your glucose stores and want to replenish them as quickly as possible for immediate energy, sugars are a better option; hence gus are often pure carbs. If you want to eat breakfast and work out an hour or so later, protein combination would be better. As muscle recovery goes, there have been studies that show pure carbs immediately work best and there have been studies that show combination of protein and carbs work best.

                                                                                                    1. re: chowser
                                                                                                      mcf RE: chowser Feb 25, 2010 01:21 PM


                                                                                                      1. re: mcf
                                                                                                        chowser RE: mcf Feb 25, 2010 02:24 PM

                                                                                                        For weight loss, people have to be careful of calories consumed, whether post workout or not. A study of 10 people really doesn't tell you much, nor is that study peer reviewed, nor does it say the affect of the insulin change, how that translates to results. In the long run, did the people lose more weight, less, etc.? Obviously a low carb meal will have a different insulin response than a high carb meal. As I said above, there are studies that show high carbs work for recovery and there are studies that show that a combination work. You can pick and choose whatever study to fit your argument.

                                                                                                        If a person, whether an athlete or not is lifting weight, then it is important to eat right afterward. If a person is walking for an hour, there is no need to eat after exercising. If a person has run 20 miles, then replenishing muscles is important. That said, I don't think the energy bars are for people who are walking on a treadmill--they're made for athletes who are working long and hard.

                                                                                                        1. re: chowser
                                                                                                          mcf RE: chowser Feb 25, 2010 02:41 PM

                                                                                                          The only folks who need carbs to recover are folks who eat a lot of carbs because their metabolism is accustomed to high levels of available glucose. Folks who don't eat carbs adapt to burning fat for fuel. Endurance athletes have been studied for this effect.

                                                                                                          1. re: mcf
                                                                                                            ipsedixit RE: mcf Feb 25, 2010 03:54 PM

                                                                                                            People will "burn" or use whatever energy source for fuel depending on what they consume -- be it carbs, fats, or proteins. Yes, the human body will adapt to its surrounding conditions -- physiologically and environmentally. So if you feed it more fats than carbs, it will learn to use the former for fuel more efficient. Our bodies certainly are amazing in this respect.

                                                                                                            But, I'm not sure how this makes a certain food "junk" ...?

                                                                                                            Also, mcf, that link to the drugs.com site is relevant, how? That study simply shows that consuming calories "may" affect weight loss. Well, you know what? Not everyone works out to lose weight. I know I don't.

                                                                                                            1. re: ipsedixit
                                                                                                              chowser RE: ipsedixit Feb 26, 2010 03:12 AM

                                                                                                              That study made no sense at all to me. By pushing the time frame to 3 hours after a workout, it made exercise irrelevant to the study at all. What it seemed to show is that 10 overweight people (keeping in mind that overweight people have higher rates of diabetes and prediabetes) were affected differently by high carb and low carb diets. It never even showed a result of a difference in weight change. This is the reason we have so many myths floating around: "Dairy helps you lose weight!" People don't look at the details of a study, devil and all.

                                                                                                            2. re: mcf
                                                                                                              chowser RE: mcf Feb 26, 2010 03:08 AM

                                                                                                              Do you any links, to peer reviewed studies, that show that? That's not what I've read in any of my personal training books, CEUs or classes I've taken. Your body burns fat for fuel, when it's used up available glucose, if it's working at a higher intensity (hence hitting the wall for marathoners); or when it's working at low intensity, eg. a slow walk will predominantly burn fat over glucose. Anyone who works at a higher intensity will be burn more glucose for fuel. It has nothing to do with "their metabolism is accustomed to high levels of available glucose." It is more complicated than burning one or the other but that's a simplistic explanation.

                                                                                                              1. re: chowser
                                                                                                                ipsedixit RE: chowser Feb 26, 2010 04:49 AM


                                                                                                                I agree with you. From what I understand, when your body starts to require fuel for energy, it will first start with carbs (or your glycogen stores), then fat, then finally muscle (or protein).

                                                                                                                This is why some people advocate fasting for 12 hours before a cardio workout if the goal is to lose weight and/or burn fat. Dunno if it actually makes a significant difference, but that's the theory anyways.

                                                                                                                1. re: chowser
                                                                                                                  mcf RE: chowser Feb 27, 2010 07:09 AM

                                                                                                                  I'm posting these because you've requested them, but they may be deleted since this is developing into a scientific, not chowish area, though I do believe they're on topic:



                                                                                                                  Metabolism. 1983 Aug;32(8):769-76. Related Articles, Links

                                                                                                                  The human metabolic response to chronic ketosis without caloric
                                                                                                                  restriction: preservation of submaximal exercise capability with
                                                                                                                  reduced carbohydrate oxidation.

                                                                                                                  Phinney SD, Bistrian BR, Evans WJ, Gervino E, Blackburn GL.

                                                                                                                  Absolutely, your body will burn available glucose/glycogen first, then fat, then protein. UNLESS you don't store much glycogen, hence the fat burning advantage of carb restriction.

                                                                                                                  1. re: mcf
                                                                                                                    chowser RE: mcf Feb 28, 2010 05:27 PM

                                                                                                                    We're talking about two different things. I'm talking about immediately refueling your body after a workout, not about long term diet or the effect of ketogenesis on performance (which, again, you'll find contradictory studies on the effect of it but far more that show its deleterious effect on performance--hence, athletes train more with carbs and you'll find few, if any, recommendations for a ketogenic diet for marathon training). While the studies you posted talked about compostition of diet, I didn't see where it talked about types of fuel burned during the exercise. Your body can take in energy from different sources and convert it to what is needed; hence, if you eat too many calories of refined carbs, your body will store it as fat, not as glucose.

                                                                                                                    1. re: chowser
                                                                                                                      mcf RE: chowser Mar 1, 2010 05:53 AM

                                                                                                                      I believe I posted a recent citation about the effects of exercise being negated by carb fuel afterward, but I also think we're off the board topic here overall.

                                                                                                                      1. re: mcf
                                                                                                                        chowser RE: mcf Mar 1, 2010 07:51 AM

                                                                                                                        Yes, I recall the study you posted of 10 people that didn't have much of a conclusion because they found the same effect three hours after the exercise, also. There's just too much misinformation out there based on misread/misunderstood/poorly conducted/misinterpreted studies, IMO.

                                                                                                                        1. re: chowser
                                                                                                                          mcf RE: chowser Mar 1, 2010 08:42 AM

                                                                                                                          I always say, your body, your science experiment. Just do what seems to work best for you individually, ultimately, and don't fail to question authorities.

                                                                                                                          1. re: mcf
                                                                                                                            linguafood RE: mcf Mar 1, 2010 09:08 AM

                                                                                                                            maybe time to take this subthread elsewhere?

                                                                                                                            1. re: linguafood
                                                                                                                              mcf RE: linguafood Mar 1, 2010 09:20 AM

                                                                                                                              I thought my last post clearly signaled a complete end to the conversation. For my part, anyhoo. You're right.

                                                                                              3. re: akq
                                                                                                chowser RE: akq Feb 24, 2010 05:50 PM

                                                                                                Ingredients in a clif bar:

                                                                                                Ingredients: Organic Brown Rice Syrup, ClifPro® (Soy Rice Crisp [Soy Protein Isolate, Rice Flour, Barley Malt Extract, Calcium Carbonate], Organic Roasted Soybeans, Organic Soy Flour), Organic Rolled Oats, Dried Apricots (Apricots, Evaporated Cane Juice, Rice Flour, Citric Acid, Ascorbic Acid), Organic Evaporated Cane Juice, ClifCrunch® (Organic Oat Fiber, Inulin [Chicory Extract], Organic Milled Flaxseed, Organic Oat Bran, Psyllium), Organic Dried Apples, Organic Date Paste, Organic Sunflower Oil, Natural Flavors, Citric Acid, Salt, Colored With Annatto

                                                                                                1. re: chowser
                                                                                                  akq RE: chowser Feb 24, 2010 06:34 PM

                                                                                                  Yup - the very first ingredient is a sweetner. The bar has 250 calories, 3g fat, 45g carbs, 21g sugar..that's a lot of sugar. It's certainly not the worst thing you could eat, but it's not the best, either, imo.

                                                                                                  1. re: akq
                                                                                                    ipsedixit RE: akq Feb 24, 2010 07:46 PM

                                                                                                    That certainly is not junk to me.

                                                                                                    Why is a sweetner automatically junk in your book? Is honey, then, by your logic, also junk? Pure fruit juice? Junk also?

                                                                                                    1. re: ipsedixit
                                                                                                      akq RE: ipsedixit Feb 25, 2010 10:20 AM

                                                                                                      A sweetner isn't automatically junk in my book. I was pointing out that the first ingredient (and I think they list ingredients by volume, right?) on the list is a sweetner. The clif bar isn't the worst thing in the world and if someone is looking for calories, they can certainly get it from a clif bar...but they can also get calories a lot of other places. Is a clif bar the best place to get them? Nope. Is it the worst? Nope. Most people, myself included, would not benefit from a clif bar (too high cal, I am not an athlete, etc.) like we would from other foods. That doesn't mean clif bars are horrible.

                                                                                                      I do count fruit juice in the junk category (obvs added sugar makes it junk, but even without added sugar, all juice is is fruit (not junk) minus fiber, which pushes it in the junk category for me.

                                                                                                      1. re: akq
                                                                                                        ipsedixit RE: akq Feb 25, 2010 03:57 PM

                                                                                                        "I do count fruit juice in the junk category (obvs added sugar makes it junk, but even without added sugar, all juice is is fruit (not junk) minus fiber, which pushes it in the junk category for me."


                                                                                                        So a V8 is junk food to you, then?

                                                                                                        What about that popular homemade tonic ginger-honey drink for sore throats? It's basically just sugar (honey) water with some ginger essence. Junk in your book?

                                                                                                        1. re: ipsedixit
                                                                                                          akq RE: ipsedixit Feb 25, 2010 06:45 PM

                                                                                                          I'd guess that based on my earlier posts, you can guess my answer to those questions. HOWEVER, I am not sure that my labeling it "junk food" has the same meaning for me that it does for you. Just because something is, to me, "junk food" doesn't necessarily mean it shouldn't ever be consumed...

                                                                                                          The V8 juice can be junk food or not, depending on how it's used, I guess. It would be more beneficial to actually eat the veggies that go into the V8 rather than drinking the juice. Whether the honey/ginger water is junk food depends, also, on how it's used. Is it 2:1 honey to water, drunk by the liter daily? Junk food. Is it a drizzle of honey with ginger used as a tonic? Not junk food.

                                                                                                        2. re: akq
                                                                                                          danieljdwyer RE: akq Feb 25, 2010 05:44 PM

                                                                                                          Fruit juice does not lack fiber. Most fruit is not a good source of insoluble fiber, but many fruits are among the best sources of soluble fiber. Many juices retain a significant enough percentage of their soluble fiber to be very healthy. A glass of prune juice, for instance, has more than the daily recommended amount of fiber.

                                                                                                          1. re: danieljdwyer
                                                                                                            akq RE: danieljdwyer Feb 25, 2010 06:50 PM

                                                                                                            Prune juice isn't generally "juiced" it's pureed, so it retains the fiber in the whole prunes, unlike juices (like orange and apple) that remove the solids (and thus remove the fiber). A lot of commercial prune juice, like other types of juices, has significant added sugar, which, imo, negates some of the positive aspects and moves it into the "junk" category.

                                                                                                            1. re: akq
                                                                                                              ipsedixit RE: akq Feb 25, 2010 07:28 PM

                                                                                                              I asked earlier, but you never answered.

                                                                                                              Why do you consider sugar an automatic negative, so as to "negate[] some of the positive aspects" of food and thereby "mov[ing] it into the 'junk' category"?

                                                                                                              1. re: ipsedixit
                                                                                                                akq RE: ipsedixit Feb 26, 2010 09:46 AM

                                                                                                                I don't consider sugar an automatic negative - it's in a lot of healthy foods. However, most of what I've been taught about healthy eating generally includes limiting excess added sugar. One way (shorthand, sure, but a common way) that nutritionists and doctors have suggested to do this is to read the ingredient list and generally avoid products where added sweetners are in the first several ingredients.

                                                                                                              2. re: akq
                                                                                                                danieljdwyer RE: akq Feb 25, 2010 07:31 PM

                                                                                                                A lot of packaged commercial anything have added crap that makes them unhealthy. A bad version of a food existing doesn't make that food unhealthy.
                                                                                                                I'm guessing that by juicing you mean squeezing, in which case few commercial juice are prepared that way. Most are pureed or crushed, then strained. The soluble fiber is not removed, which would be a difficult and expensive process. The insoluble fiber is lost, but, again, fruit just isn't a great source of that to start with.
                                                                                                                I'm not claiming all fruit juices are healthy; this is certainly not the case. But many do have a substantial amount of fiber, and many that don't are healthy for a variety of other reasons. Many juices are also quite incorrectly assumed to be unhealthy as well. Commercial apple juice is crap, but people lump apple cider, which is quite healthy, in with it and assume it's also crap. Lumping different products together and making generalizations just doesn't work.

                                                                                                                1. re: danieljdwyer
                                                                                                                  akq RE: danieljdwyer Feb 26, 2010 09:55 AM

                                                                                                                  Which juices have a substantial amount of fiber? And which prune juice has a day's worth of fiber per glass? I am not aware of these juices, but I am certainly interested to learn about them as I do like juice but don't drink it much for the reasons I've mentioned. Just because fruit isn't a great source of fiber doesn't mean it should be discounted - generally it's tough for the average American to consume sufficient fiber and so getting into the habit of choosing the higher fiber choice is a good thing...

                                                                                                                  The question isn't whether you can get any nutritional benefit from juices - obviously you can. The question that I was answering was whether I'd lump juices (generally) into junk food category and I would (generally). There may be exceptions to that, but I don't know of any specifically.

                                                                                                                  Maybe this would help - if we agree that fruits are part of a healthy diet - would it be healthier for someone to eat the whole fruit or drink only the juice from the fruit? What I've been taught is that it's healthier to eat the whole fruit rather than drink the juice for a lot of reasons, including (1) more fiber in whole fruit, (2) no added sugar in whole fruit as opposed to a lot of commercial juices, and (3) calories - it's must easier to drink excess calories in fruit juice than to consume those calories in whole fruit.

                                                                                                                  If the juice is in lieu of soda or if the person wouldn't otherwise eat the whole fruit, juice is probably a decent idea in moderation. However, an average person (without a calorie deficit or some other special circumstance) asked me whether they'd be better off eating an orange or drinking a glass of orange juice, I'd say eat the orange.

                                                                                                                  1. re: akq
                                                                                                                    danieljdwyer RE: akq Feb 26, 2010 10:39 AM

                                                                                                                    Sounds like we basically agree. Whole fruits are certainly a better choice than juices. I'll admit I'm not terribly familiar with the nutritional content of commercial juices, as I don't buy much in the way of packaged or prepared foods of any kind. I do buy apple cider from a few different local cider mills. An 8 ounce serving of that contains 4-5 grams of fiber, so if I have a 12 ounce mug of hot cider for breakfast on a fall morning, that's about a quarter of my daily fiber needs. Would I be better off just eating an apple? Absolutely, but chances are I'd drinking the cider because I am either running late or don't feel like eating. I'm better off drinking the cider than skipping breakfast. I suppose that's how I would define junk food: are you better off consuming it or consuming nothing (discounting potential starvation as a factor)?
                                                                                                                    In terms of what juices have substantial fiber, in terms of "a lot", I'm not sure, beyond prune juice. I should have phrased that differently, as what I mean was more that a lot of juices retain a substantial portion of the fiber of the fruit even when strained. I know berry juices retain most of the soluble fiber from the berry, as do fruit juices from the prunus family (peaches, plums, cherries, apricots, et cetera), and pomaceous fruits (apples, pears, quinces, et cetera). My assumption would be that pulpier fruits like citrus and pineapple retain very little fiber, and the fruits themselves probably don't have much in the way of soluble fiber to begin with.
                                                                                                                    Surprisingly, nutrition.gov has almost no information on this. I had to look through the nutrition data given in the recipe booklet that came with my juicer.

                                                                                                        3. re: akq
                                                                                                          chowser RE: akq Feb 25, 2010 03:16 AM

                                                                                                          Well, it is for a purpose--it is an energy bar and glucose/fructose/sweetener is the best way to refuel your body after a workout, or during a long distance event. I don't consider gu to be junk food, similarly, because it's the fastest way to get glucose to the muscles during endurance events.

                                                                                                          And, as ipsedixit said, sweetener/simple sugars aren't automatically junk or you're adding fruit to the mix. Figs, per 100 grams, have 16 grams of sugar. If, as you said above, fat is evil, then avocados would be junk food, too. One hundred grams of avocado have 15 grams of fat. Or, purely, I don't consider honey or olive oil to be junk food either.

                                                                                                          1. re: chowser
                                                                                                            akq RE: chowser Feb 25, 2010 10:21 AM

                                                                                                            Agreed. But the first ingredient on that list is a sweetner. It's not fruit. There is fruit in the bar as well...but it's basically sweetner plus binder = calories = energy. For people who need the calories, great. Most of us (myself included) don't.

                                                                                                            Btw, the caloric requirements of a long distance runner/elite athlete are going to be different than the average person. Back in my swimming days there were lots of people sucking on honey bottles and eating high sugar stuff at meets, that doesn't mean that those things aren't junk food, nor does it mean that's a healthy snack for the average person. One of the things I've noticed with some elite athletes and how they eat is that it is way more compartmentalized (for lack of a better term) than most people...the average person probably tries for balance at each meal, as opposed to elite athletes who often have very specific requirements for protein, carbs, fat, etc. and often satisfy those things separately rather than as part of what most people would call a "balanced meal." That's just a totally different way of eating (fueling?) and really doesn't fit into what I'm talking about, I guess.

                                                                                                            1. re: akq
                                                                                                              chowser RE: akq Feb 25, 2010 12:00 PM

                                                                                                              There are definitely better and worst foods for you. I guess in my head, energy bars and such are made for athletes and they serve that purpose in a better way that many other quick bites out there, especially things like chips or other "junk" food. As I said, I very rarely eat them (I'd prefer fruit and peanut butter) but also in part that they kill the jaws for those of us with TMJ.

                                                                                                              1. re: chowser
                                                                                                                danna RE: chowser Feb 25, 2010 12:56 PM

                                                                                                                yep. in the winter, i have to take my PowerBar out of my Camelbak and warm it up in my armpit for awhile before I can chew it.

                                                                                                                so.... athletes may not be good examples to use when discussing food needs and habits for normal people (or for athletes when they aren't in the midst of training) Under normal circumstances, I keep my food OUT of my armpit.

                                                                                                                1. re: danna
                                                                                                                  chowser RE: danna Feb 28, 2010 05:30 PM

                                                                                                                  That's funny--it would never occur to me to do that to soften up a Power Bar. But, I'll confess that in order to get down gu, I lick my sweaty arm first, get some salty taste in my mouth and then down the gu--kind of like a tequila shot.

                                                                                                                  1. re: chowser
                                                                                                                    BobB RE: chowser Mar 1, 2010 07:14 AM

                                                                                                                    I'm not generally one for using Web acronyms, but all I can say to that is - whoa, dude, TMI!

                                                                                                                    1. re: chowser
                                                                                                                      danna RE: chowser Mar 1, 2010 09:53 AM

                                                                                                                      awesome. do you bite a lime?

                                                                                                                      Sounds like you need to switch to PowerGels. I find Gu pretty foul, but I actually LIKE THE TASTE and ENJOY EATING Tangerine 2x caffeine PowerGels. It has salt in it, too. I know , it's sick, I could fill a cupcake w/ one of those.

                                                                                                                      1. re: danna
                                                                                                                        chowser RE: danna Mar 1, 2010 04:01 PM

                                                                                                                        Maybe I should pass on the gu and go with tequila next time! I've tried all kinds of gels but just call them gu out of laziness but I've never tried the tangerine. I'll try it next time I need one--thanks!

                                                                                                          2. re: chowser
                                                                                                            jlafler RE: chowser Feb 25, 2010 07:40 PM

                                                                                                            The Clif Nectar bars are more like real food.

                                                                                                            I carry energy bars with me because I am diabetic and sometimes need to eat something to prevent my blood sugar from dropping. (This is distinct from plain sugar, which is for when my blood sugar actually *has* dropped below a safe level.) I use Lara bars which usually have 3 to 5 ingredients: dried fruit, nuts, and spices. They're basically trail mix in a convenient form.

                                                                                                            1. re: jlafler
                                                                                                              chowser RE: jlafler Feb 26, 2010 03:05 AM

                                                                                                              I like Lara bars, too--they're like a trail mix in a bar form.

                                                                                                        4. re: ipsedixit
                                                                                                          danieljdwyer RE: ipsedixit Feb 24, 2010 12:39 PM

                                                                                                          Eaten by themselves, I would say that yes, butter and lard are junk food.

                                                                                                        5. re: akq
                                                                                                          invinotheresverde RE: akq Feb 24, 2010 12:29 PM

                                                                                                          By your standards, Hamburger Helper should've counted!

                                                                                                          1. re: invinotheresverde
                                                                                                            akq RE: invinotheresverde Feb 24, 2010 12:39 PM

                                                                                                            I would have counted it. Processed shelf stable product to which you add meat and no fresh veggies. However, if you use lean ground beef, or turkey and maybe add veggies - not the worst thing in the world.

                                                                                                            1. re: akq
                                                                                                              Phurstluv RE: akq Feb 24, 2010 02:47 PM

                                                                                                              But by your definitions, what about all the processing?? That's the whole reason it's shelf stable......

                                                                                                              The whole debate that we cannot eat anything with chemicals or preservatives in it is rather silly, being that almost all of the food in the grocery stores has been modified to be shelf stable, so that it can last through the transit and storage process. I know I can certainly make that argument for some fruits & vegetables, whereas they have no preservatives in them, they are coated with wax, ( a preservative) and have been genetically modified or at least, hybridized, to withstand the rigors of travel and storage.

                                                                                                              1. re: Phurstluv
                                                                                                                akq RE: Phurstluv Feb 24, 2010 04:37 PM

                                                                                                                huh? That's why I said I'd count it as junk food...

                                                                                                                1. re: akq
                                                                                                                  Phurstluv RE: akq Feb 24, 2010 04:46 PM

                                                                                                                  I guess what I'm saying is, when you say if you add a lean protein & maybe some veggies, not the worst thing in the world, you're saying then it's no longer junk food, but I'm asking, well, the product itself still has processed stuff in it, regardless of what you add. So is it still junk food?

                                                                                                                  1. re: Phurstluv
                                                                                                                    akq RE: Phurstluv Feb 24, 2010 04:58 PM

                                                                                                                    I'd say strictly speaking yes because it still has all those unidentifiable ingredients in it. However, once you add the lean protein, veggies, etc. you make it into a meal that may or may not be acceptable as a part of your diet (obviously this is a personal choice). Personally, I'd eat hamburger helpper once in a while with lean protein, etc. but not everyday.

                                                                                                                    For myself, I try to minimize my junk food intake, but I don't avoid it completely. I love junk food, but in excess it doesn't make me feel good. Under my personal definition of junk food, if it's either a net negative nutritionally *or* has all those unidentifiable ingredients it's junk food. Now, as with most things, there's better junk food and worse junk food. I'd rather eat homemade ice cream with organic eggs, milk, flavor, etc. than a twinkie, although I'd say they are both junk food.

                                                                                                                    1. re: akq
                                                                                                                      Phurstluv RE: akq Feb 25, 2010 09:20 AM

                                                                                                                      So we DO agree on something - Everything in moderation ;)

                                                                                                        6. JerryMe RE: ipsedixit Feb 24, 2010 04:10 PM

                                                                                                          Junk food is the stuff you eat and then you feel bad. Whether it's your aunt's fruitcake, ice cream, doritos, peanut butter w/ semi=sweet chocolate chips, another piece of cake, the last awesome rib, the last bit of jam on bread that's gone south, the last bit of cornbread w/ all the potlicker (which is too good to be true).

                                                                                                          It's not so much that you feel bad eating it, but then you realize that you didn't need it and now you feel bad. I don't think it's defined by calories or nutritional content. It's the stuff that makes you feel bad.

                                                                                                          1. linguafood RE: ipsedixit Feb 25, 2010 08:55 AM

                                                                                                            All this talk about junk food makes me want to run out, buy a blue box (I was going to make pasta tonight anyway), and have it with some ground beef and veggies. Junk, no junk, whatever. Haven't had the glo-in-the-dark "cheese" in forevah. Now I'm getting excited '-P

                                                                                                            5 Replies
                                                                                                            1. re: linguafood
                                                                                                              Phurstluv RE: linguafood Feb 25, 2010 09:20 AM

                                                                                                              GO FOR IT!!!!

                                                                                                              1. re: linguafood
                                                                                                                chowser RE: linguafood Feb 25, 2010 09:39 AM

                                                                                                                Glow in the dark mac and cheese tastes best when eaten with the fingers. But why waste perfectly good stuff by adding veggies to it?

                                                                                                                1. re: chowser
                                                                                                                  linguafood RE: chowser Feb 25, 2010 09:47 AM

                                                                                                                  I really can't eat it "just like that." I need not only the illusory health effect of the added veggies, but the flavah. Like, the perfect combo in my book is mac, red peppers, mushrooms, and ground beef. Oh, and LOTS of sriracha. Happiness on a plate.

                                                                                                                  1. re: linguafood
                                                                                                                    Striver RE: linguafood Mar 1, 2010 10:21 AM

                                                                                                                    I can't believe you don't add bacon!!

                                                                                                                    1. re: Striver
                                                                                                                      linguafood RE: Striver Mar 1, 2010 11:55 AM

                                                                                                                      I know! The audacity!!! Kidding aside -- I do like my bacon. But there is only so much saturated fat I can handle in one dish '-)

                                                                                                              2. d
                                                                                                                dcortara RE: ipsedixit Feb 27, 2010 08:14 PM

                                                                                                                in my view, junk food is "food" made by an entity only interested in making as much money off of you as possible, without caring about your health or happiness... zero love food = junk food

                                                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                                                1. re: dcortara
                                                                                                                  ipsedixit RE: dcortara Feb 27, 2010 08:21 PM

                                                                                                                  Lots of commercial farmers care absolutely "zero" about its consumers, except for the marginal profit value an additional consumer means to their bottom line.

                                                                                                                  So, therefore, a commercial apple would be junk food?

                                                                                                                2. 1389AD RE: ipsedixit Mar 5, 2010 11:26 PM

                                                                                                                  Here's my opinion:
                                                                                                                  If the food tastes good and you feel well after eating the food, then for you, it isn't junk.
                                                                                                                  If the food tastes, smells, or feels disappointing when you eat it, or you don't feel so well after you eat it, then for you, it's junk.
                                                                                                                  Lots of things that people call "junk foods" are perfectly fine in moderation. The only problem is too frequently eating them in place of a real meal when you get hungry, simply because they're more easily available.

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