We need energy to do our day to day activities. What are the activities that do not require energy? Sleeping? Sitting Idle? Eating Food? It might be surprising to know that even all these activities require energy. How? As most of our internal vital organs like brain, heart, kidneys function continuously throughout our life and they require considerable amount of energy for their efficient functioning. Simply saying, to be alive we need energy all the time. This energy which our body uses is measured in calories.
Almost all the foods we take provide us with energy. But all the foods we eat may not have enough nutritional value and such foods we take which are without any nutritional value are known as ‘junk foods’. Why are they called ‘junk foods’? In what sense these foods are ‘junk’? The ‘junk foods’ have either less or no nutritional value and also have harmful unhealthy substances which when taken regularly may cause variety of diseases.
Nutritious food generally has a mix of some or all of the nutrients viz., Carbohydrates, Proteins, Minerals, Vitamins, Fats and Water. Each of these nutrients has specific function and role in the functioning of our body. For example
i) ‘Carbohydrates’ and ‘fats’ are the main source of energy,
ii) ‘Proteins’ help in the growth and repair,
iii) ‘Minerals’ keep the bone, teeth and muscles in good form.
That is the reason why it is always recommended to take ‘balanced diet’. A ‘balanced diet’ is a one which has the correct proportion of all the above nutrients apart from the ‘dietary fiber’. ‘Dietary fibers’ are part of food that do not get digested in our body. Then what is the use of it? They help in keeping the digested food moving freely through the complex structure of digestive system till they get excreted. So it is better to take foods that contain ‘vegetables’, ‘fruits’ and ‘dietary fiber’ (Certain vegetables, fruits and green leaves are good sources of ‘dietary fiber’).
The ‘junk foods’ in general consist of high level of salts, sugars, unhealthy fats and harmful chemical substances which are used to either enhance the taste of food or make us addictive to the food. Some of the ‘junk foods’ are
- Soft drinks
- Ice Creams
- Fried / Deep fried Foods
- Most of the ‘ready-to-cook’ or ‘ready to eat’ items
- Fast foods
These ‘junk foods’ do also provide our body some calories (i.e., energy). But as they do not have any nutrients, the calories they provide are called ‘empty calories’. ‘Empty Calories’ mean that these ‘junk foods’ give us some calories (which can otherwise be had through some other good foods) and do not have any value apart from that.
Keep in mind, these ‘junk foods’ do have nutritional value ‘empty’ but they have harmful side-effects ‘aplenty’. Hence ‘empty’ may not be always mean ‘zero’.
It has now become fashionable to talk about ‘zero calories’. Most of the advertisements of food products these days focus on ‘zero calories’ by labeling the products with a suffix or prefix ‘lite’. The claim of them is that the food products have no ‘calorific value’ and is safe to eat. How can on earth a food item be without calories? The answer to this question is simple. These ‘lite’ food items have ‘artificial sweeteners’ which have either very less calorie or no calorie
Majority of these food products including sweets, confectioneries etc., use ‘aspartame’ instead of sugar. In fact, this ‘aspartame’ is used in most of the ‘sugar-substitutes’ also. But, the side-effects of long-term usage of ‘aspartame’ are still not clearly known and some of the medical studies say that numerous health risks are associated with the usage of ‘aspartame’.
One more popular ‘artificial sweetener’ is ‘Sucralose’ and risk associated in consuming it is still debatable. It may be a good choice to avoid these ‘zero calorie’ items as it is better take a known risk (i.e., health problems related to sugar) than to tread in an unknown path by taking ‘artificial sweeteners’. Shakespeare’s famous quote is ‘Sweet! Are the uses of Adversity’. But nowadays it has become ‘Adverse! Are the uses of Sweets’.