Definition of empty calories and suggestions about how to reduce your intake.
In order to construct a well balanced diet, it is important to understand empty calories, their effect on the body, and how to avoid them.
An empty calorie is a calorie that comes with little or no nutritional benefits. The “emptiness” is the lack of nutritional value, vitamins or minerals. With a moment’s thought, we can all think of many foods that fall into this category such as candy, raw sugar, or alcohol. All of these foods contain calories, energy for your body to use, but they do not contain other essential vitamins and minerals.
The reasons to avoid empty calories are both obvious and subtle. On the obvious side, foods full of empty calories provide additional calories to our diet without providing important minerals. Consequently, if you sustained yourself entirely upon empty calories you would be both obese and malnourished. More subtly, too many empty calories can have negative effects on your body’s metabolism.
For an example, we’ll turn to an extreme. If you ate an entire meal out of refined, granular sugar, your body would process this very quickly. Your blood sugar would spike, and in turn your body would produce extra insulin to process the sugar. The insulin quickly processes the excess sugar into fat. Also, because of the rapid digestion you end up feeling hungry sooner than you otherwise would have.
Avoiding empty calories is as simple as identifying the foods that contain them, and moderating your intake. You can often cut out many empty calories by replacing one food with a more health-friendly food. A favorite example that hits near and dear to all of us is white versus wheat bread.
White bread contains mostly refined sugars that have already been processed before they leave the store and go to your house. As a consequence, your body has less work to do by way of processing. Thus white bread is processed much more quickly, inducing the infamous “sugar spike” and insulin response. On the other hand, a whole wheat bread has fewer refined sugars and more unrefined sugars. Your body takes longer to digest it, your blood sugar more slowly and uniformly elevated. Then the sugar can be used before it is stored as fat. Additionally, you’re more likely to feel fuller for longer.
Continuing this trend, you can avoid many empty calories by selecting whole grain foods instead of those high in processed and refined sugars. You can choose bright and colorful fruits for snacks instead of candy or put together your own fruit salad instead of iced cream or pies.
Up to now we’ve dealt with identifying and reducing empty calories in our food. Now we should turn our attention to drinks, specifically alcohol. Strictly speaking, alcohol provides your body empty calories and should be eliminated. Realistically speaking, there are good ways to reduce your empty calorie intake without totally eliminating your alcohol intake. One of the large problems with a beverage like beer is that it contains more than one type of empty calorie source. Beer contains both alcohol and carbohydrates that are both empty calorie sources. Switching to a light beer helps to eliminate the carbohydrate component, reducing the overall amount of empty calories. Vodka is an alcoholic beverage low in carbohydrates. Consequently, it is a good alternative to alcohols that contain carbohydrates, creams or other empty calories sources.
In conclusion, we’ve defined an empty calorie, identified its source, and have discussed a few ways to reduce your intake. As in any other aspect of life, moderation is the key. It would be ludicrous to try to eliminate all of your empty calories (not to mention boring!) Small reductions in empty calorie intake can add up to big results quickly.