Bright Papers: What the Heck is Junk Food?

"Don't eat too much junk food!" Bet you've heard that a million times. But did you ever wonder exactly what "junk food" is? As you'll see, there are different ideas about how to define it.

The dictionary says junk food is "food having little nutritional value in relation to its caloric content." That means the food gives you lots of calories, but very few vitamins, minerals, or other nutrients your body needs to stay healthy.

Sometimes, things that don't have much "nutritional value" and don't have many calories (like a freeze pop or a marshmallow) are called junk food.

Then, to make it even more confusing, things like pizza that do contain nutrients, but sometimes lots of calories, are called junk food, too!

On the flip side, there are foods called "nutrient dense"–foods like fruits and veggies, which are loaded with vitamins and minerals, but don't have many calories.

You can enjoy what some would call junk food once in a while when you eat a healthy, balanced diet and get plenty of exercise most of the time. MyPyramid says it's important to eat lots of different foods from all its food groups in the right amounts. After that, it's OK to enjoy some favorite treats as long as they make up the smallest part of your diet.

What's your favorite? Cheeseburgers, French fries, onion rings, chips, cookies, cake, candy, ice cream, and soft drinks are sometimes called junk food. But just because a food you like is called "junk" doesn't mean you should never eat it or that you won't be healthy if you do. You just have to be smart about how much of them you eat and how often, just like MyPyramid says.

See how all foods can be part of healthy eating:

Conquering MyPyramid for Kids!

MyPyramid for Kids!  The Food Group Grand Tour

What do a pancake and a CD have in common? Check out the Portion Size Guide at Portion Distortion–It's How Much You Eat that Counts

Burn off some calories:

Five Fun Ways To Get Physical