Friday, October 3, 2008


Why is that some are known commonly as Junk foods while foods of almost same composition and sensory characteristics do not attract this negative image? The answer is, no one knows. It is believed that the term  originally used, more or less casually in 1972 by Mr Michael Jacobson of Center for Science and Public Health, got stuck and was picked up by many public interest NGOs for branding all those foods containing high sugar, fat and salt, with high visibility in the market shelves as Junk foods, ostensibly to promote consumption of more nutritious foods. The so called Junk foods, since then have been implicated as the villain in the modern day epidemics like obesity, diabetes and hyper tension amongst the population world over. It is unfair to single out some foods as junk while many others escape such a negative image. According to Websters Dictionary, junk is synonymous with rubbish, useless or worthless stuff and one can imagine the travesty of truth when some foods are branded junk ignoring their food value as edible materials.  
The pundits who propagate the concept of Junk foods use this term to describe a variety of food products, invariably high in sugar and low in nutritional value and the underlying assumption is that when these foods are consumed,  the extent of good foods containing high nutrient levels and their benefits are diluted. In this argument it is forgotten that the food industry makes these products to meet a demand already existing and by no means they can be blamed for the habits cultivated by the consumers in their own homes. No food except water can be described as without nutrition and whether it is sugar, fat or salt, all have definite roles to play in human nutrition. It is not the presence of a particular component which causes health problems but excessive consumption which causes undesirable consequences. Even 'Amrut', the heavenly elixir of Gods is considered a poison if consumed beyond a limit and same equally applies to any food also! If the logic of Junk foods is extended practically every food available in the market or public eateries has to be branded as junk food. Highly polished rice, maida devoid of fiber and germs, white sugar, hundreds of traditional fried snacks, almost all sweet meat items, the entire product range served in restaurants all end up in the 'junk' yard! 
The approach of Food Standards Agency in UK is commendable as they have created a separate category of foods under High Fat, Sugar, Salt (HFSS) group , resisting the temptation of using the populist term Junk foods and it is up to the consumer to decide whether to consume them or not depending on the individual health status. Besides HFSS branding does not discriminate based on the manufacturers as there are definite standards for foods coming under HFSS. The consumer mind is very fickle and based on improper, incomplete and illogical information undesirable impressions should not be created which is not good for either the industry or the consumers. A food is a food irrespective of what you call and whether it is good or bad for you depends your health status. A normal healthy person can eat all foods as long as it is adequate to meet the minimum RDA of the micro- and macro nutrients and with the industry putting on the label lot of information about the contents in a transparent manner, buying a food is no more the hide and seek game it used to be 2-3 decades ago. We can do without an 'apartheid' amongst foods, based on flimsy considerations.    

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