Parenting, gut health

Eat well: do you like junk food? Here Are The Ingredients That Are Destroying Your Gut Health

The increase in junk food consumption, especially among children and young adults, has become a public health challenge with a global incidence of around 70%. Processed and preserved ready-to-eat junk food is rapidly replacing traditional foods, thus affecting the health status of the population.

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Junk food, used interchangeably as fast food, refers to foods that are readily available, low in nutrients, and generally inexpensive. High in calories, salt, and saturated fat, junk food is associated with many serious health problems, including diabetes, obesity, stroke, heart attack, dementia, and even cancer. In addition, the lack of iron, calcium and dietary fiber in these foods aggravates their harmful effects. Common examples of junk food can include soft drinks, chips, desserts, chocolates, canned foods, and other processed and packaged foods.

What makes junk food dangerous?

When you consume junk food, the high glycemic index of refined flour/maïda, added sweeteners and emulsifiers (especially palm oil) found in these foods floods the bloodstream with glucose without any nutrients, fiber or phytochemical.

Additionally, large amounts of acrylamides and advanced glycation end products found in baked foods can lead to increased tissue glycoproteins.

The harmful effects of junk food are attributed to the common ingredients used to prepare processed foods as well as junk food and how they affect the gut microbiota.

Microbiota refers to the community of trillions of microorganisms (most of them bacteria) and viruses, fungi and protozoa (in small proportions) that inhabit the human gastrointestinal tract in a ratio or proportion defined. Gut microbiota or flora balance is important because it helps maintain digestive health and regulate the immune system. Furthermore, any disturbance in the gut microbiota can lead to multiple health issues such as luminal diseases, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease, allergic diseases, metabolic diseases (such as obesity and diabetes) and neurodevelopmental diseases.

Now let’s see how the common ingredients found in junk food can individually contribute to disrupting our gut health.

White flour

Studies suggest that replacing refined grain flour with whole grain flour has positive effects on gut microbiota and acute innate immune response, among other benefits. This is because refined wheat flour loses all of its fiber, vitamins and minerals during processing, which is associated with an increased prevalence of constipation and nutritional and digestive disorders.

Additionally, the high glycemic index, high refined carbohydrate content, and low grain fiber content found in refined flour or maida are strongly linked to the prevalence of metabolic syndrome.

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)

Introduced in 1970, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is America’s worst gift to the world. A widely used sucrose substitute in packaged products and processed foods soft drinks, fruit drinks, canned fruits, baked goods, jams and jellies, and even in dairy products, HFCS has found favor with manufacturers for its higher sweetness and low price.

But unfortunately, HFCS is an unhealthy alternative associated with cardiovascular disease and gut health issues. Speaking of gut health, excessive consumption of fructose (particularly in refined sugars and fruit juices) alters the composition of the gut microbiota and impairs the functioning of gut barriers through a series of inflammatory reactions. Inflammatory reactions triggered by high-dose fructose intake also have a significant impact on the formation and maintenance of intestinal flora homeostasis. This is a concern as gut barrier disruption caused by dysbiosis or altered microbiota is associated with an increased risk of diseases related to gut health and autoimmunity.


A top salt a diet such as junk food can lead to decreased excretion of digestive enzymes from the host. It can not only alter cellular components, biological processes, and molecular function of duodenal contents, but also alter the composition of gut microbiota. This, in turn, can lead to a higher abundance of Ruminococcus and Lachnospiraceae, but a lower abundance of Lactobacillus.

The decrease in the abundance of Lactobacillus spp. due to HSD intake is important because it is associated with different inflammatory diseases due to compromised intestinal permeability and immune homeostasis.

Palm oil

Palm oil is the preferred choice of almost all processed food manufacturers because it is saturated and foods processed with saturated fats have a longer shelf life. Palm oil is popular among processed food manufacturers because it is saturated fat and the reason that foods processed using saturated fat have a longer shelf life.

However, it also has a dark side in terms of health risks. The researchers found that higher saturation fatty acids present in palm oil make it an unhealthy choice because excessive consumption of these fats is known to have a detrimental effect on the gut microbiota.

This is an important finding because the gut microbiome is also implicated in modulating the risk of several chronic diseases, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, cardiovascular disease and the cancer.


With no nutrition and multiple health risks to offer, junk food ask for a complete rejection, especially for children of growing age. Taste is a trap when it comes to junk food. And, the increase in junk food consumption reflects the increasing prevalence of different metabolic disorders. Remember that there is no alternative to fresh homemade food. So, try to avoid junk food as much as possible as some results are irreversible.

Manjari Chandra is Consultant in Functional Nutrition and Nutritional Medicine, Manjari Wellness, New Delhi. His column appears fortnightly.

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