The Dangers of Junk Food

As a personal trainer in London, a city full of junk food outlets, I’m constantly advising my clients to ditch the junk food and eat healthily. Your chances of achieving your fitness goals are hugely increased if you ‘eat clean’ as they say in the States.

Here are some categories of junk food to avoid and why:

Processed meats

As a kid I used to love sausages, meat pies, sausage rolls, pate, salami, you name it. When I studied to become a personal trainer I started reading up on nutrition in a lot of depth, and discovered a few things that made me not want to eat processed meats ever again.

Your chances of premature death are dramatically increased if you eat processed meats on a regular basis. There was a recent study of 500,000 people (BMC Medicine journal, 2013) conducted by Professor Sabine Rohrmann (University of Zurich, Switzerland), which showed increased incidence of heart disease and cancer in people who ate processed meat regularly. The study emphasized that eating fresh unprocessed meat is good for you in moderation.

One of my personal training clients in Holland Park used to eat a lot of sausage rolls as snacks between meals, and when she stopped eating them, and ate vegetable sticks and nuts instead, her weight started dropping off. Surprise surprise!

Breakfast cereals

Beware cereals in boxes with bright colours and enticing messages. They’re probably full of sugar. The same goes for cereal bars, advertised for people on the go who need a ‘convenient and healthy breakfast.’ Avoid them like the plague.

The big brand cereal manufacturers defend the high sugar levels by saying things like “they can be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet together with regular exercise”. The truth is that a balanced diet does not mean a balance between healthy food and junk food, and regular exercise will never compensate for a diet of junk food. Nice try, Big Food.

Junk carbs

White bread, white rice, noodles, refined pasta, they all count as junk carbs. Early on in my personal training career a client in west London gave me a book: ‘Food: A History’ by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto (Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London).

In this book, the author warned of the dangers of large-scale industrialised food, and its effect on populations. Here’s an extract:

“Industrialised eating is bad for health. Poor people in the west, deluded into over-spending on the fat-rich, starch-heavy, quick-energy fixes supplied by the junk food industry, suffer from a modern form of malnutrition.”

He goes on to say: “mass-produced food is bad food: taste is bred out, then chemically re-injected.” He warns of the hidden cost of cheap food, the cost to our long term health and wellbeing.

The myth that junk food is more tasty

As soon as you wean yourself off junk food, and learn to cook yourself really healthy and tasty food, you’ll realize that you’ve been conned by the junk food industry.

One of my most successful personal training clients (a woman in South Kensington) put her weight-loss down to ditching the junk food (mainly takeaways and ready-meals) and cooking for herself. Just like any skill, the more you do it, the more efficient you become, so it’s only time-consuming at the beginning.

There’s nothing like freshly cooked food, made with fresh ingredients. To add flavour there are dozens of things you can use: herbs, spices, garlic, chilli, pepper, olive oil, red wine vinegar, ginger, the list goes on.

If time is really short, whip up an omelette with a fresh green leaf salad on the side. Or try a salmon fillet wrapped in tin foil and cooked in the oven at 200c for 12 minutes, with some roasted vegetables and new potatoes.

Ditching the junk food and eating real food instead is one of the best things you can do for your health. You’ll look better, feel better, and enjoy your food more.

Dominic Londesborough is a personal trainer in London with over 12 years’ experience.