Junk food, junk food, everywhere!

It’s everywhere you look, in supermarkets, on billboards, on the telly, even in our cupboards – there is just no escaping the lure of ‘junk’ food. We know it’s bad for us, so why do we still eat it?

Recent statistics released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed that Australians obtain 35% of their energy needs from junk or discretionary foods and speaking earlier this year Jane Martin, executive director of Obesity Policy Coalition said that ‘children are consuming way too much excess discretionary food, two to four times the recommended limit in Australia’. These are worrying statistics. In addition, too many of us are overweight, have high blood pressure or are facing chronic diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers and obesity.

But what puts the ‘junk’ in junk foods? Well, these foods, potato chips, lollies, chocolate bars, pies, cakes etc. are low in nutrients but high in salt, sugar or saturated fat. Salt, sugar and saturated fat are all energy dense, so even a small amount can be very high in kilojoules. For example, fat contains twice the amount of kilojoules per gram (37kJ) as protein (17kJ).

Australians obtain 35% if their energy needs from junk foods. In order to stay at a healthy weight our bodies need to burn the same amount of kilojoules we consume. A diet full of high kilojoule foods, especially junk foods, compiled with less active lifestyles will lead to weight gain.

The problem is that these cheap, energy-dense, highly marketed foods are abundant. In 2009 $402 million was spent on advertising food (junk food included) alone with a large proportion of this heading straight for our kid’s eyes.

But what does this mean for parents?

As parent and carers we need to make more considered choices around our family’s intake of food, ensuring we make careful dietary choices to reduce our risk of chronic disease and obesity. We need to make sure that our main source of energy comes from nutrient rich and healthy foods. Ideally 90% of our daily diet should be made up of fresh and healthy meals and snacks.

We already know that getting kids to eat their fruit and vegetables can be difficult, as adults, we also know it can be all too easy to ignore our intake as well. As a family why not try cooking meals together using a wide variety of vegetables and lean proteins, walking to school once a week, aiming for your 2 and 5 a day and swapping soft drinks for water or milk? On our parent hub we have already shared some recipes with you that are perfect for both child and adult lunchboxes and some great family meals perfect to get your kids in the kitchen! Even better, these foods are fun and taste great as well as being healthy.

Of course, discretionary foods can still be eaten sometimes (maybe even describe them to your kids as ‘sometimes foods’). At Life Education, we follow the Australian Dietary Guidelines which suggest that small amounts of ‘sometimes foods’ can make up part of a balanced diet – that means the odd slice of cake or a lolly or two a week is ok for the whole family.

90% of our daily diet should be made up of fresh and healthy meals and snacks.

Try talking to your children about snacks and healthy choices, you could even make a game of it and try and find all the high sugar and salt foods in your cupboards! Explain to your child the importance of an active lifestyle and how our body uses the energy from food and what happens if we don’t burn it off. You could also download our brand new Ready, Set, All System’s Go App and play games to explore how the body systems work on an exciting race to be a healthy champion.