The Ultimate Junk Food, Unpacked


Dr. Pretlow writes:

We also should look at the fact that food companies make food so darn pleasurable like “the ultimate junk food” that no one can resist. How close are we to that? Would we give it to kids?

First, what are the requirements to even be considered for this dubious award? Like many other things in life, it may depend on where one lives. If you live in Great Britain, your ultimate junk food is probably chocolate, closely followed by chips and crisps, both of which are varieties of fried potato snack. Junk food has calories galore, along with a noteworthy shortage of micronutrients, and is notorious for being highly processed and refined.

As Brian Fulton says of a certain class of foods,

Not only is the extraction process a multi-step process typically involving industrial chemicals in several stages, but the process involves removing 100% of the fibre, and most of the vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.

Then, after taking so much out, the manufacturer adds stuff in. One thing that many junk foods have in common is durability. Thanks to mysterious ingredients, they remain edible for a very, very long time. (So does styrofoam, which is as capable of being eaten as some kinds of junk food.) Of course, food dye is a huge factor. Some chemical additives in junk foods are accused of triggering behavioral problems like inability to concentrate, and hyperactivity.

Part of the problem can be attributed to the hardworking scientists who cunningly engineer junk food to be either figuratively or literally addictive. Is it coincidental that “umami” sounds so much like “yummy?”

Is it all in their heads?

In years of study, Dr. Pretlow has learned that none of the foods that cause our kids the biggest “can’t-quit” problems are necessary for life, and some are barely compatible with it. His Weigh2Rock website poll asked kids which treats that are most difficult to give up.

Not surprisingly, the villains include chips, chocolate, ice cream, cookies, cakes, fast food, and pizza — all of which have been nominated as the ultimate junk food by some segment of the population. Whether or not it is technically accurate according to current definitions, every one of those foods has been perceived by someone as addictive.

Other junk food tip-offs: Does it contain unpronounceable ingredients? Is the packaging metallic or fluorescent? Is a toy or other object enclosed? Are cartoon characters involved? Is it sweet, salty, creamy, crunchy, or deep-fried?

Most people would never guess what a team of scientists, more than 10 years ago, designated as the Ultimate Junk Food. Kok-Yang Tan and Francis Seow-Choen stated that:

Pure insoluble fiber is the ultimate junk food. It is neither digestible nor absorbable and therefore devoid of nutrition. People who ingest fiber are ingesting them to make feces only.

More recently, a very different group of researchers have discovered that fiber may be vital in maintaining the health of the digestive system.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Chocolate or chips — the ultimate junk food is revealed,”, 05/11/16
Source: “The Ultimate Junk Food (that you never even knew was a junk food),”, 08/30/16
Source: “Fiber and colorectal diseases: Separating fact from fiction,”, August 2007
Photo credit: Mike Licht, on Visualhunt/CC BY

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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