What Makes Junk Food So Tempting


Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

If junk food is so bad for the body and bad quality overall, why is it so popular? You'd think no one would touch it.

First, let's back up and define "junk foods." It's the stuff we eat that has little to no nutritional value and is high in empty calories. Think: Candy, chips, cookies, cake, sugary soft drinks, hamburgers, hot dogs, French fries, ice cream, and most things served at fast-food restaurants.

So, why do so many people eat junk food?

Why Junk Food Is So Enticing

Here are three likely reasons why less healthy foods (especially those so-called "junk" foods) are so popular despite the fact that we know it's not the best choice for health and well-being.

It's Cheap

Junk food is popular because most of it is inexpensive. You can go to any fast food restaurant and order something off a dollar menu of some sort. If you have a few bucks in your wallet, you can buy a full meal. 

It's no different at the grocery store. Inexpensive snacks and high-sodium, high-fat meals can be found on the shelves. And healthier foods like fresh fruits and vegetables have a reputation to be pricier, though the USDA says this is not always the case.

Bags or cups of instant ramen noodles may cost less than 50 cents, but keep in mind that fresh conventional and even organic produce is starting to become more affordable. Although a lot of junk food may seem cheap to buy upfront, the argument can be made that junk foods end up being more expensive in the long run due to their negative impact on health.

It's Convenient

Junk food is lurking in vending machines and convenience stores. Even establishments that don't typically sell food items might have snacks and sodas near the cash register. And those instant meals previously mentioned? They're easy to prepare, and you can stockpile them in your kitchen cabinet for a long time. 

Of course, fast foods live up to the name. You can order a fast-food meal and then eat it a minute or two later. Or you can order your meal from your car to can save time by wolfing it down while you drive away.

That drive-thru thing isn't good, though. Not only is the food bad for your health, but dropped fries can accumulate in your car, under the seat. And that gets kind of gross.

It's Sweet, Fatty, or Salty, or All Three

Rarely do junk foods tempt you with delicate or complicated flavors. They pretty much hit you hard with sweet, fatty, and salty flavors. Simple flavors might be preferred by people who are picky eaters—it could be the slightly bitter flavor of many vegetables turns some people off, especially kids. 

But it's more than flavor. Various combinations of sugar and fat make for textures people like. Fat makes foods smooth and creamy, like ice cream and butter. Starchy potato and corn chips cooked in hot oil have a satisfying salty crunch.

That's not to say that healthy foods don't have a nice texture, but sometimes the textures of fresh fruits and vegetables take a little getting used to if you're prone to eating junk food.

It's a Habit

Because junk foods are easy to find, easy to make, and a lot of them just flat out taste good, consuming them becomes a habit. That's the real problem.

Eating a candy bar every now and then or enjoying a bag of fries on rare occasions isn't that big of a deal. But when you crave junk foods, and they make up a big part of your daily diet, you run the risk of becoming overweight and obese, plus you're not going to get enough of the nutrients and fiber your body needs for good health.

So, next time you find yourself standing in line at a burger joint or staring at a vending machine, think about how your choice could affect your health. Then walk away and find something better for you.

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4 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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