Junk foods are everywhere. You see them in vending machines, rest stops, stadiums, and hotels. They’re sold at movie theaters, gas stations, and bookstores. And if that wasn’t enough, incessant advertising promotes junk food on television.
Junk foods are high in calories but low in nutritional value. In general, these foods include processed and prepared snack foods with long, often unpronounceable ingredient lists.
Consuming excess sugars and fats found in these foods can contribute to weight gain. This excess weight is associated with diabetes.
One of the top risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes is being overweight. When you carry too much fat tissue, especially around your midsection, your body’s cells can become resistant to insulin. Insulin is a hormone that moves sugar out of your blood and into your cells.
When your cells are unable to use insulin properly, your pancreas mistakes this as a need for more insulin, so it pumps out more. Eventually your pancreas will wear out and stop producing enough insulin to keep your blood sugars under control. This causes you to develop diabetes, a condition characterized by high blood sugar levels.
Junk foods are highly processed and high in calories. They tend to have few vitamins and minerals, and are usually low in fiber. Junk foods also often contain large amounts of added sugar and are high in saturated fats and trans fats. This can cause them to digest more quickly, which can spike blood sugar levels and increase bad cholesterol levels.
According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), saturated fat raises your cholesterol level. This puts you at a greater risk for heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. The ADA recommends people get less than 10 percent of their calories from saturated fats.
Trans fat also increases your cholesterol level. It’s even worse than saturated fat because it raises bad cholesterol levels and lowers good cholesterol levels. Trans fat is liquid oil that has solidified, also called hydrogenated fat. It can be tricky to spot because food producers can list 0 grams of trans fat on labels if there is less than 0.5 grams in the product.
For people with diabetes, it’s important to limit sugars and fats found in junk food. This helps keep your weight and blood sugar levels under control. The ADA recommends limiting these foods because they usually take the place of other more nutritious foods in your body.
It can be as hard to break a junk food habit as many other bad habits. Even if you avoid foods obviously laden with sugars and fats, such as cakes and fried dishes, fats and sugars can lurk in foods where you least expect them. Tortilla chips, noodles, muffins, croissants, and the cream you splash in your coffee may be high in simple sugars and contain harmful fats. Sugar also shows up in flavored yogurt and condiments like salad dressings, mayonnaise, and ketchup. It’s also found in high quantities in some fat free foods, as it’s used to substitute for fat.
Many people with diabetes find that the best way to control their intake of harmful fats and sugars is to become an educated consumer. This includes learning how to read nutrition labels to spot harmful fats and sugars. It also includes cooking more often at home to control ingredients.
You can also control your blood sugar level and diabetes by eating:
- foods that are low in sodium
- foods that are low in saturated and trans fat
- whole unprocessed carbs such as vegetables, fruits, and whole high fiber grains
- a managed amount of carbohydrates
- an adequate amount of protein
Also, eating smaller meals instead of three large meals a day can help you manage your hunger better. Getting plenty of exercise will help you lower your blood sugar too.
You can also keep a food journal to note when you eat and how much. This will help you see:
- if you’re overeating or stress-eating
- if you have any other bad eating habits
- if you eat a particular junk food often
Try to swap out junk foods with healthy alternatives. If you enjoy eating out, it’s best to avoid fast food restaurants. If you do occasionally indulge, the ADA has these tips for making your fast food dining healthier:
- Don’t fall into the trap of ordering a deluxe or super-sized food option because it’s a good money value. It may save you money, but it doesn’t save on calories, sugar, or fat consumption.
- Avoid fried foods and go for grilled or broiled instead. Choose lean meats such as turkey or chicken breast.
- Watch the condiments. Mustard is healthier than mayonnaise, ketchup, or rich sauces.
- In the morning, stick with whole-grain high fiber buns, bread, or English muffins, which are lower in calories and fat.
- Order your burger without cheese, which has additional calories and fat.
- Salad bars are good, but limit toppings such as bacon and cheese. Choose healthier fat options such as nuts, seeds, and avocado. Load up on carrots, peppers, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, and celery as well as greens.
- If eating pizza, choose whole-wheat thin crust and veggie toppings.
Considering how pervasive junk food is in the United States, it can be hard to resist. People with diabetes have to pay special attention to their diets to control their weight and ultimately their blood sugar level. Resisting the urge to overeat junk food may be even more challenging. You should limit junk food and choose healthy alternatives whenever possible. This is ideal not just for diabetes, but also for overall health.