Junk food for thought

S Madhusudhana Rao

Who doesn’t love junk food and fizzy drinks? Unless you are a fitness freak or health buff and mentally control your saliva glands, your mouth waters when you see yummy burgers, crunchy garlic breads and salty snacks. To glide them down the throat are sweetened aerated waters. All loaded with hundreds of calories in the form of carbs, fat and sugar. You know they are bad for health and they accumulate in all wrong and unwanted places.  You have to work out a few hours more every day to melt away the extra pounds gained from guilty pleasures.

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S Madhusudhana Rao

Of late, I have been reading alerts and warnings born out of limited and extensive research about junk food and how bad it is for every part of your body, from head to toe, making me wonder if it is so bad why not ban it as a cure for all the health problems? Governments don’t do it. Because it’s your prerogative and your right to eat what you want and ruin your health. The so-called ‘bad foods’ help fatten governments financially. They collect taxes from all those who sell junk or fast food, just like the governments do in the case of tobacco products.

Governments don’t ban tobacco because lakhs of farmers are dependent on the crop, an equal number of workers on processing, production, packaging and distribution of cigarettes. Various levies on the final produce fill state coffers substantially. A ban means losing a chunk of government revenue. That’s why and how you enjoy simple pleasures in life risking health. However, a red alert “Smoking is injurious to health, major cause of cancer and cardiovascular diseases” should make you think whether you want to light a ciggy or kick the butt for good.

Coming back to junk food, Australian researchers say that the part of the brain integral to learning, memory and mental health is found to be smaller in junk food lovers than in those who eat nutrient-rich food like fruit, vegetables, fish, etc. In other words, their indirect message is, junk the ‘unhealthy’ and relish fresh food. Though the researchers have measured the size of hippocampi  — left and right side of the brain — in Australian adults aged between 60 and 64 years using MRI, they believe the findings are relevant for people of all ages, including children.

A few months ago, an American study had claimed that fast food consumption could reduce academic growth in children. The Ohio State University scientists said kids eating more junk food in 5th grade face the risk of scoring less by the time they reach eighth grade. Another research study at the University of California, San Diego, has suggested too much of junk food can destroy memory, especially in young to middle-aged men (what about women?)

To my knowledge, no such studies have been made in this country, mainly because the fad is just catching up with the young generation. Still our older generation loves old fried stuff either made at home or in street corners. Despite heavy calorie count and fat, the traditional Indian snacks are presumed to be not as health-risky as the processed junk and fast food. In any case, one bite or two into it once in a while should not make you lose a bit of memory or kids lose out in class scores!

Watchword: Moderation, not indulgence.

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