If your overall diet is healthy, “once-in-a-while” foods can be enjoyed too.
The smallest section on the “plate” model for The eatwell plate is allocated to foods containing fat and sugar, such as cakes, biscuits, sweets, and crisps. The recommendation is that these foods - sometimes categorized as “junk foods” - be eaten sparingly.
The reason for limiting their intake in a healthy diet is that while they provide plenty of calories, they are either deficient in nutritive value or they are high in unhealthy components such as saturated fat, trans fatty acids, and salt (see Sodium) - all of which are associated with increased risk of developing certain diseases.
What your body needs
Every food group contains healthy and less healthy foods, and the healthy ones should form the basis of your diet. This means choosing whole-grain products over refined varieties; lower fat sources of protein, such as fish, chicken, and pulses, rather than meats high in saturated fat; and opting for lower-fat varieties of dairy foods.
If your overall diet is healthy, you can afford to include some “once-in-a-while” foods without undue concern.
Why we like "junk foods"
Researchers have demonstrated that the worldwide popularity of junk foods is due to their ready availability, heavy advertising, and the fact that consumers find them highly palatable. Humans are born with a taste preference for sweets and fats, so sugar and fat are added to manufactured food products to make them more palatable and flavourful.
In recent years, because of growing health concerns, many foods have been reformulated to lower their fat content. However, some of these low-fat biscuits and other foods contain added sugar to improve their taste and appeal to consumers and as a result they contain an even greater amount of calories. It is important to look at the food labels on such products to check their total nutritional content, rather than relying on the health claims that are made by the manufacturers (see What do food labels mean?).
Why we love chocolate
Universally popular, chocolate combines a sweet taste with the texture of fat to create a palatable treat whose aroma is one of the most attractive to humans. It also contains substances that help us relax and improve mood - so there is a biological reason why eating chocolate makes you feel good.
Chocolate does provide some nutrients: it is a particularly good source of magnesium and calcium. It also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
On the down side, chocolate's high fat content can contribute to weight gain and raised cholesterol levels, with their associated health risks. It also contains caffeine, which should be limited (see Check your caffeine intake).
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