10 Reasons To Never Eat Free Food

11/29/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Most people's eyes light up if free food is mentioned. But using "free" as an excuse to eat junk food is nothing to be proud of.

We are excited by the concept of free food because we perceive it as having value. But cheap, mass-produced food isn't worth much in health, taste or even satisfaction.

Although we believe we are getting a great deal, foods typically offered as free don't even fulfill our most basic nutritional (or emotional) needs.

Thus one of the most important lessons I've learned in my twelve years of higher education is:

Just because it's free doesn't mean you have to eat it.

On occasion someone will offer you high quality food at no cost, but these times are few and far between. More often you will find yourself wading through a sea of donuts, pizza, cookies and other junk food.

Your best bet is skipping the empty calories all together when attending meetings, seminars and other public events.

10 Reasons To Never Eat Free Food

1. It's cheap.

You may be inclined to think that cheap food is a good deal, but if you take a minute to think about what you're really getting you find it is not the value you may have thought. Cheap food means you are getting low quality, mass-produced calories made from industrial processes. Isn't that the stuff we want to avoid?

2. It's flavorless.

The right combinations of sugar, fat and salt, pretty easily deceive your brain, as these ingredients can strongly activate your neural reward pathways. But if you try and focus on the true flavor of food and eat mindfully, you quickly notice the tastelessness of industrial food.

3. It's bad for you.

Evidence is mounting that processed foods are the cause of most "diseases of civilization" such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. When you wolf down a few of those Costco brownie bites at happy hour, you are contributing directly to your likelihood of developing these chronic diseases. Is that value?

4. You aren't saving money.

You may tell yourself that this free meal will keep you from eating later, but there's a good chance you will eat again anyway. Processed foods do not satisfy you, but actually stimulate your appetite and strengthen future cravings. Also, if you factor in your future health care costs, what you save by eating that $2 slice of pizza starts to seem rather trivial.

5. You'll feel gross later.

Junk food makes you feel bad, both physically and mentally. If someone offered you a free headache, would you take it?

6. It screws up your metabolism.

Highly refined foods create rapid insulin spikes that induce insulin resistance over the next few hours, making your next meal more fattening. If you make a habit of eating cheap abundant food, this condition will become chronic and may develop into type 2 diabetes. What a bargain!

7. You'll gain weight.

With insulin resistance comes weight gain, and with time you will gain more weight eating fewer calories. Unfortunately, people aren't often giving away free plus-sized jeans.

8. You're eating empty calories.

When you submit to eating cheap food, you are also choosing not to eat nutritious food. Choosing a diet rich in vitamins and other essential nutrients may be the single biggest factor in determining your risk for disease and overall longevity. Luckily, local, seasonal foods taste way better than anything your co-workers can pour out of a plastic bag.

9. You don't need it.

Chances are you get plenty of calories in your typical day. So why do we feel like we need to eat junk food just because it is free? Healthy food does not have to be very expensive.

10. It isn't worth it.

The truth is free junk food isn't really free. Even if processed foods don't cost you money, they still cost you your health, happiness and sense of well-being.

Let us know what you think about free food and how it impacts your health.

Darya is a scientist, foodie and advocate of local, seasonal foods. For more healthy eating tips visit her blog Summer Tomato. You can also connect with Darya on Twitter @summertomato and Facebook.