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Let’s Stop Calling Food Junk

I’ve heard the term “junk food” so often that I’ve never thought much about it, except to feel antipathy toward its pejorative slant. Therefore, I was interested to read an article in ConscienHealth entitled “Junk Food, Junk Diets, and Junk Policy for Obesity” ( based on some reviews in the International Journal of Obesity about the term.
The Journal article (as described in ConscienHealth) asks, ”Is smoked salmon junk food? Its fat and salt content might meet the WHO [World Health Organization] definition. Is a rich meal at an expensive restaurant junk food? Or are we more comfortable calling a cheap meal at McDonald’s junk food?”
Gregorio Milani, author of the Journal article, says: “Each food can be just a player in the field of unhealthy nutrition. No single category of food can be identified as the main guilty factor. Consequently, in addressing obesity and obesity-related diseases, we think that the term “junk food” is likely to be pointless, and should be replaced by the concept of “junk dietary pattern,” to be considered along with individual genetics and lifestyle.”
Why do we need to use the term at all? Online dictionaries define junk as trash, clutter, useless, worthless, or poor quality. Ouch! Using the term is like calling food “bad.” These are moralistic terms that make us feel immoral when we eat so-called “junk food.” Of course, I understand how this usage came about: From our idea that food that has little nutritional value should be considered a bad choice for us. The problem is that when we eat food we think of as “bad,” we mistakenly start to think of ourselves as bad.
Why not simply call foods high or low in nutrition, or nutritionally dense or empty? I know these terms don’t roll off the tongue as does “junk food,” but at least they attach no judgmental connotation attached to them. How do you feel when you crave or think about having eaten “junk food”? You feel like junk! But are you? Of course not.
I don’t want to sound like a ninny and be accused of splitting hairs about language, but sometimes we need to take heed about what we say in order to make sure that it’s enhancing “normal” eating and not promoting a bad/good view of food or ourselves. The fact is that being a “normal” eater includes occasionally eating low-nutrition food which should not make us ashamed, so why call it “junk”? I can live without the term “junk food,” but I wouldn’t be all that pleased about forgoing non-nutritional foods once in a while.