Empty calories are an achilles heel to dieters everywhere. They that have no significant value from a nutritional standpoint. Ditching empty calories and replacing them with nutrient-dense foods can help you lose weight or maintain your current weight.
Spotting empty calories is easy. Look at any nutrition label and where you see lots of fat and sugar, you’ve likely found an empty food. Foods containing empty calories often taste good because they’re loaded with fat and sugar, but they don’t give your body any of the good things it needs, such as fiber, phytonutrients and vitamins.
A serving of potato chips or a slice of cake, for example, provide very little by way of sustenance for the body, since they are filled with empty calories, but they do a good job of helping you pack on the pounds.
Convenience foods are notorious for their empty calorie content. Foods that are highly processed and contain a lot of preservatives may also contain excessive amounts of empty calories that can sabotage your weight loss or maintenance efforts, since the body stores excess calories as fat. By contrast, nutrient-dense foods give your body the fuel it needs for energy while you work to reach or maintain your goal weight.
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Simple Food Swaps
Knowing some of the most common sources of empty calories can make it easier to choose better alternatives. Some top offenders include:
• Soda, sweetened coffee drinks and energy drinks. Better alternatives include plain water and unsweetened coffee or tea.
• High-fat meats, including sausage and lunch meats. Opt for skinless chicken, turkey breast or low-fat ground beef instead.
• Chips, French fries and crackers. Go for more nutrient-dense options, including whole-grain crackers, air-popped popcorn and baked chip varieties.
• White bread. Choose whole-grain bread for a greater nutrient density. Sprouted wheat, rye and whole wheat breads are all healthier choices.
• Cookies, candies and cake. Ditch these sugary treats and go for low-fat yogurt or fruit as an alternative.
• Dairy food products made with whole milk. Switch to low-fat dairy products made with 1 percent or fat-free milk.
Nutrient-Dense Food Choices
Nutrient-dense foods satisfy hunger and are a more efficient use of calories. By choosing nutrient-dense foods, you can meet all of your body’s nutrient needs without packing on weight.
Look for filling foods that are high in fiber, such as peas, beans, nuts, whole grains, vegetables and fruit. (If you are a paleo follower, this article doesn’t really apply to you, because sweets are already a no-no. But you of course would steer clear of legumes/beans.)
Foods that are rich in potassium, including potatoes and bananas, are also good, nutrient-dense options. Leafy green veggies, milk and dairy products such as cheese and yogurt provide you with calcium, while liver, egg yolks and certain saltwater fish are good sources of vitamin D.
It can be hard to avoid foods that contain empty calories completely, but you don’t have to swear off these treats altogether. An occasional calorie-laden treat as an indulgence is perfectly acceptable, nutrition experts say, as long as you eat nutrient-rich foods most of the time.