Fast Food, Junk Food...What's the difference?

Question: I want to know all about junk food, especially about what food is considered junk food.  Is food that contains lots of coconut milk considered as junk food, although it’s not fast food?  Is fast food the same as junk food?

Short Answer: Nope.  Although "fast food" and "junk food" have come to mean "unhealthy food," these terms have different definitions.

Long Answer: Great question! “Fast-food” and “junk food” are terms that we hear all the time. Although these phrases seem similar, they have slightly different meanings.  (I had to enlist help from the Merriam-Webster dictionary!)

Fast Food simply refers to the preparation and service of a food. Over time burgers, French fries, and chicken nuggets have become the icons of fast-food.  They symbolize convenience and easy availability.
Junk Food refers to the lack of healthy qualities in a food. These foods are usually high in sugar or unhealthy fat; and low in protein, fiber, whole grains, vitamins, and minerals.

Even with these definitions, the terms are hard to navigate. The confusion may be due to the fast food industry’s monopoly of the term “fast food.” Fast food restaurants are filled with sugar-loaded milkshakes and greasy hamburgers, and thus “fast food” has come to mean “junk food.” However, a closer look at Webster’s definition reminds us that “fast food” does not always mean “junk food.” A banana, an apple, a yogurt, a small bag of almonds…these foods are convenient, fast, and full of nutrients.

Now what about these fast food restaurants? Sure, they serve mostly junk food.  However many fast-food restaurants also offer not-so-junky choices.  Try to search their menus for salads (watch out for the dressings), fruit cups, baked potatoes, and grilled chicken options. Check out this nifty website, Fast Food Explorer, for calorie counts and nutrition labels for fast-foods.  You can also search for healthier choices within individual fast food restaurants. 
The Main Message: Whether you are ordering at McDonalds, browsing in the grocery store, or cooking in your kitchen, nutrition quality is what counts.
*About coconut milk.  Coconut milk is high in saturated fat, and is used in many desserts that could be considered “junk food.”  However coconut milk is also incorporated healthfully in many Southeast Asian cuisines.

If you have health or nutrition related questions, please comment or email me (  I'll try to crack the coconut for you!


Joseph said...

what's an over time burger?

Rachel said...

hmm. so far everyone I've asked doesn't know what an overtime burger is. apologies! Perhaps a reference to some sporting event burger? I'll be on the lookout.

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Disclaimer. I am not a Registered Dietitian yet. I provide nutrition information intended for the general public, not for the treatment of a specific medical condition. I try to use scientific research and reliable sources when forming my opinions and messages.
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