Fast food and junk food: Is there any difference?

Coach Kannan
January 11,2023

Junk food and fast food are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same. Because of the misunderstanding around them, many people make the wrong choices when deciding what is healthy and what is not. 

For example, fast food is not always unhealthy and there are nutritious options available.

In dictionaries and online, you can find many definitions for fast food and junk food. The ones that we consider to be most pertinent are listed below:

  • Fast food is food that can be quickly cooked & ready to eat.
  • Junk food is food that has relatively little nutritional value.

The definitions provided above may help dispel some misconceptions you may have had about what fast food is and how it is different from junk food.

In this article, we will explain the difference between fast food and junk food along with many examples so that you can understand how to choose a healthy option when presented with many choices.

What is the difference between fast food and junk food?

Junk food

Foods with very poor nutritional value are included in the category of “junk food.” They have significant levels of saturated fat, added sugar, salt and are usually high-calorie. As a result, you shouldn’t include junk food in your diet often.


Junk food is also sometimes known as an “empty calories”. They have calories but are ‘empty’ in terms of nutritional value.


The most common examples of junk food are as follows:.

  • Potato chips & nachos
  • Biscuits
  • Sugary cereals
  • Chocolate & candy
  • Sweet beverages & colas
  • Fried snacks like cheese puffs

The National Health Portal of the Indian government also discusses junk food and their role in a healthy diet.

junk food in shopping trolley


All of these foods have added salt or sugars and oils and have almost no nutritional value. They contain calories but are empty in terms of nutritional value.

Fast food

Fast food is food that can be quickly and easily made and is usually served in cafes and quick-service restaurants. They essentially provide a less expensive and quicker option to home-cooked food. Fast food can, nevertheless, be heavy in calories, saturated fat, sugar, and salt yet poor in nutritional value, just like junk food.

The most common fast foods you will come across are as follows:

  • Burgers
  • Potato fries
  • Onion rings
  • Chicken nuggets
  • Instant noodles
  • Sandwiches
  • Salads
  • Burritos and tacos
  • Milkshakes


fast food


Whether a fast food is healthy or unhealthy will depend on how the food has been modified in order to have it quick to prepare.

  • If this means that oils, salt, sugar and preservatives are added then this makes fast food unhealthy. For example, battered onion rings. potato fries, deep fried burgers and milkshakes.
  • If however, the foods are minimally processed, then this should not make it unhealthy just because it is quick to prepare. For example, a salad, sandwich and a Mexican burrito are all fast food but healthy because the ingredients are minimally processed. 

It should be clear from these criteria that fast food can be both healthy and unhealthy. On the other hand, junk food is unquestionably bad for you. This is the main difference between fast food and junk food.

Fast food and junk food: Can either be healthy?

While fast food can and frequently is a healthy option, junk food is always unhealthy. Remember that junk food is food that contains ‘empty calories’.


This does not imply that you must eat at a fast food chain every day. You must examine each dish on the menus of the local eateries to decide what is healthy.


As we noted before, it’s just about looking at the quality of the ingredients. Here are some examples to help you understand this better.

  • Salad: A salad can be called a fast food because many restaurants or takeaway cafes serve it quickly. But it is healthy as it’s mostly vegetables. Avoid options with creamy salad dressings.
  • Sushi: Sushi is a fantastic choice for healthy fast food as the ingredients (rice, fish, vegetables) are minimally processed and fresh.
  • Sandwiches: Sandwiches are mainly bread and vegetables, with cheese at times. All of these are healthy ingredients and therefore make a sandwich made with them a healthy choice.
  • Mexican dishes: Many dishes in Mexican cuisine like a burrito or taco are prepared quickly for takeaway. These dishes are usually wholesome and use high quality ingredients thus making them a healthy choice.


Healthy fast food


Hence, as long as you get fast foods from the right sources that use fresh and high quality ingredients, you may easily relish the bulk of them.

Also Read: How to stop craving for junk food?

Health effects of junk food and unhealthy fast food

There are several disadvantages of such foods. As you might expect, how much of these foods you eat and how often you eat them plays a big role in how these unhealthy foods affect your health.


A diet rich in junk food and low in nutrients has been related to an increased risk of obesity, stress, digestive problems, cardiovascular disease, strokes, type 2 diabetes, cancers, and shorter life.


According to studies on the relationship between fast food consumption and cardiovascular health, eating it more than once during a week was associated with an increased risk of obesity, while consuming it more commonly (multiple times a week) was connected to a greater risk of metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.


junk food effect on body

Also Read: Effects Of Junk Food On Health

How can you make healthy food choices?

It’s critical to check the nutritional content of the foods you purchase. Reading the food label that is located on the back of every packaged good will help you with this. The ingredients, quantity of energy (calories), proteins, fat, carbs, sugars, fiber, and salt in each food item and the suggested serving size may all be found on the nutrition label.


Never believe the marketing on the front of the packaging. Always check the ingredients and nutrition information on the back.


Keep in mind that items marketed as “health foods” might really be junk food if they have high quantities of sugar, salt, or fat, like some fruit drinks and health/muesli bars. Once you start checking the ingredients and labels, you will be able to tell the difference between fast food and junk food and make healthier food choices.

Also Read: Fast Food And Junk Food List


Junk food is any type of food with a low nutritional content, while fast food is any variety of readily available rapid meals provided at fast-food outlets. This is the major distinction between junk food and fast food. Contrary to junk food, which is generally regarded as unhealthy, modern fast-food establishments also provide nutritious fast food alternatives such as salads, sandwiches, burritos and vegetable & fruit rich smoothies. Use the examples and guidelines provided in this article to make healthy food choices. This will help you with eating a healthy diet, weight loss and weight maintenance.

About the Author

Coach Kannan
Kannan is a Precision Nutrition & ISSA Certified Nutrition Coach and a ACE-Certified Behavior Change Specialist. Kannan focuses on ideas that are scientific and also work in the real world. He is allergic to advice that is unscientific or not practical.

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