Is the Junk-Food Gene Making You Crave Fattening Foods?
Plus, How to Overcome It
Junk food, fast food, we know it’s all unhealthy, yet we still order takeout and frequent drive-throughs, sometimes several times a week. The top five reasons Americans eat junk food are convenience, availability, no time to cook, it’s quick and affordable — but at what cost to their health?
Kids with the so-called “junk-food gene” are more likely to eat junk food — and more of it — than kids who don’t.
A study conducted by the American Institute for Cancer Research showed that a quarter of the calories Americans consume come from nutrient-poor choices, otherwise known as “junk food.”
Soft drinks accounted for 7.1 percent of the calories consumed by the 4,700 people surveyed. Altogether, soft drinks, sweets, desserts and alcoholic beverages made up nearly one-quarter (23.8 percent) of the total calorie intake!
Junk Food Cravings — A Genetic Link
Could it be that genes are responsible for this overload of junk food in our diets?
Well, a study released by the New England Journal of Medicine reported that children with a specific gene variant were more likely to eat more energy-dense food, meaning fattening unhealthy foods.
The study however did not reveal a difference in metabolism between the kids with the genes and those without it, meaning the gene influenced the way they ate, but not necessarily the way their body digested and used the calories.
“The way the genes influence obesity is through behavior, rather than metabolism,” said Dr. Goutham Rao, clinical director of the weight management and wellness center at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, on MedicineNet.com. “That means this is something you can work on. And, the good news is that a lot of kids who had the gene weren’t overweight.”
These findings are “hopeful” because the researchers didn’t find a difference in metabolism, he said. In other words … just because you have the gene it doesn’t mean you’re destined to be fat … although you may tend to want to eat a bit extra.
Upon studying the eating habits of 97 children, the researchers found children with the variant gene consumed around 100 calories more per meal — this translates to an extra pound of weight about every 12 days!
Dr. Rao stressed the importance of practicing prevention of obesity when raising children.
“The important message from this study is that prevention is key,” said Rao on MedicineNet.com. “If you have a child whether they’re overweight or not, if they have a predilection for seeking junk food, you need to intervene. The emphasis should be on portion control. If you restrict a food completely, the message children get is that there’s something special about that food, and then they’re going to overindulge when they do get it.”
Obesity Rates in America are Skyrocketing
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), obesity in adults has increased by 60 percent within the past 20 years and obesity in children has triped in the past 30 years.
This increase of obesity raises concern because of its dangerous repercussions upon the health of Americans. Obesity has been linked to the risk of many diseases and health conditions including:
- Coronary heart disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Cancers (endometrial, breast, and colon)
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Dyslipidemia (for example, high total cholesterol or high levels of triglycerides)
- Liver and Gallbladder disease
- Sleep apnea and respiratory problems
- Osteoarthritis (a degeneration of cartilage and its underlying bone within a joint)
- Gynecological problems (abnormal menses, infertility
Seven Ways to Overcome Your Junk Food Addiction
Does the thought of cheese puffs, buttery popcorn, ice cream, candy and other “forbidden foods” make you salivate? Remember it’s OK to indulge on occasion, as completely depriving yourself of your favorite junk food will only make you want it more.
Even if you or your kids have the “junk-food gene,” you can still adhere to a healthy diet. Often this involves reprogramming the way you think about food.
As you eat, think about the food, give thanks for it, and really taste each bite. When you savor your food in this way, you will feel full and satisfied on much less food. If you have trouble feeling calm and focused when you eat, or tend to eat in a hurry (in front of the TV, while driving, standing at the kitchen counter, etc.) or for emotional reasons, try reprogramming these unhealthy habits with guided meditations using a relaxation CD. Such a CDs can calm your mind, and soothe your emotions to create a state of deep relaxation and focus in your body for one fo many improved healthier habits.
Some other practical ways to take back control over your eating habits include:
- Go to your local supermarket and stock up on healthy foods and snacks such as fruits, granola, yogurt, nuts, raisins and veggies.
- Reduce your intake of carbonated beverages like soda and drink more water.
- Journal your eating habits and replace calorie-dense foods with healthy alternatives.
- Stay active and keep yourself busy. Focusing on something else such as a hobby or other activity will reduce the likelihood of becoming bored and reaching for a bag of chips.
- Cook meals at home using fresh ingredients. This will give you a greater appreciation of what you’re eating and the ability to experience the true flavor of the foods.
Resist the Drive-Through With These Quick Dinner Ideas
Do you have a tendency to default to junk foods simply because you don’t have time to cook? With these quick dinner ideas you can create delicious meals in no time:
Simple Side Dishes and Snacks: Keep your refrigerator stocked with frozen, or fresh veggies to accompany a healthy meal. Some good fresh vegetables and fruits to have on hand are celery, carrots, and tomatoes and oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit and grapes.
Easy Baked Potato: You can have this with your meal or even as a meal by itself and in less than 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Wash the potato, then microwave on high for about 4 minutes. Rinse it again so it’s wet. Finish baking in oven for 10 to 15 minutes. Make this potato a meal by adding steamed broccoli, chopped pimentos, salsa, plain yogurt, sautéed mushrooms, tuna or sweet corn. This also works great with sweet potatoes!
Create Your Own Pasta: Ideally, choose whole-grain pasta rather than regular pasta for more nutrition and health benefits. Put any of these toppings or a combination of these for a delicious pasta dinner:
- Fresh basil and white beans
- Roasted red pepper
Colorful Salads: Salads are a great source of vitamin C and with a few added ingredients can make a great meal in themselves. You can dress up your salad with several tasty healthy options. Some ideas are grilled chicken, raw almonds, raw sunflower seeds, cranberries, vegetables (choose different colored vegetables such as carrots, purple cabbage, green and red pepper for variety), feta cheese, olive oil and olives.
Creative Omelets: All you need is a few fixings such as green, yellow or red peppers, mushrooms and onions for a quick dinner.
Cook Meals for the Week and Freeze: Cook large-volume food — a hearty batch of soup, a pan of lasagna, turkey chili and lots of whole-wheat pasta or brown rice. Freeze the meals in small containers and take out as needed.
Create Healthy Deserts: If you’re looking for something to satisfy your sweet tooth but still be healthy, try out the recipes in Gluten-Free French Desserts and Baked Goods cookbook. EVERYONE with a sweet tooth will love the more than 100 recipes in Valerie Cupillard’s “Gluten-Free French Desserts And Baked Goods” — and it’s an ideal way to have your cake and eat it too!
New England Journal of Medicine