You may have heard your friends say “That meal is not good for you; it’s made up of empty calories” or “If you want to lose weight, you have to stop eating empty calories”. How can calories be empty?
What are they?
Empty calories are calories that provide no nutritional value; they are often made up of solid fats and added sugar. They lack vitamins, minerals, protein, fiber, and fatty acids, all essential elements of a balanced meal. They will still provide you with energy like other foods but will not benefit you nutritionally. Essentially, foods with empty calories add to your calorie intake while providing very little, if any nutrients.
What impact do they have on your health?
Since empty calories really only have sugar and fat, consuming them can lead to weight gain as well as chronic diseases. The body starts storing this fat if our physical activity doesn’t exceed our empty calorie intake. Naturally, our body requires certain nutrients that these foods are not able to provide thus it’s important to have a higher intake of nutrient-dense foods so our body can remain healthy. Empty calories can directly lead to weight gain and obesity, and obesity leads to several other issues such as heart diseases and type 2 Diabetes.
What you should avoid
- Packaged Food/Snacks: Candy, chips, cereal bars, chocolate, biscuits, cake, and doughnuts.
- Beverages: Sodas, energy drinks, fruit drinks, alcoholic drinks, and beer.
- Full-Fat Dairy products: Cheese and ice cream.
- Solid Fat Meat: Sausages, bacon, and ribs.
- Fast Food: Burgers, pizza, and fries.
What you should incorporate in your diet
- Fresh fruit and vegetables
- Whole grains: whole wheat bread, rice, and pasta.
- Protein: Eggs, beans, fish, and other lean meats.
- Dairy: Low fat milks, cheese, and yogurt.
Habits that will help
Read the nutrition label
The label on the back of most packaged goods can tell you a lot about the nutritional value you’re getting from a particular food. Check the serving size and calories; usually the calories are for a single serving and if you eat more than the recommended serving size, you may be consuming more calories than advisable. Generally, the higher the protein and fiber levels and lower the sugar and fat levels, the healthier the food could be. Make sure to look at the sodium levels as well; high sodium intake can lead to blood pressure.
Drink more water
Drink water before every meal and you’ll find yourself consuming fewer calories than usual. Often times, our body tricks us into thinking that we’re hungry when in reality we’re just thirsty. Drinking water can also help you feel full, which sends signals to your brain that you’re not that hungry. Similarly, replace your typical choice of beverage (juice, beer, soda, energy drinks etc.) with water and you’re automatically cutting out unnecessary calories from your diet while staying hydrated. A drink with 300 calories will not provide you with the same energy or nutrition that a meal with 300 calories will. The problem with these beverages is that they’re primarily made with a lot of added sugar which can potentially harm your antioxidant system.
Cook your meals; eat at home.
When you cook your meals, you know exactly what ingredients are going into your food. You can even control the portion size you choose to have! Opposed to restaurants, that will usually serve much more than the recommended serving size and their food can be hidden with extra fats and sugars. Check out these recipes for some quick meals that you can put together.
Mindful eating involves paying full attention to your eating experience. Eat slowly, listen to your body, and enjoy your food. When you eat while you’re distracted, you tend to over eat while also picking up unhealthy options. If you’re watching TV while eating, your attention is on the screen, and you may not pay attention to the signals your body is sending to you about being full. It takes about 20 minutes for these signals to become evident to us. They include feeling energized and alert. Mindful eating can also solve the problem of emotional eating; we tend to pick up unhealthy options when we’re emotionally. Every time you feel like eating something, ask yourself first if you’re actually hungry or if you’re bored?