Seems like a bit of a contradiction, doesn’t it? Calories are supposed to give us energy, so how can they be empty? Well, an empty calorie does actually supply energy, but is not nutritionally balanced which is why it’s better to keep these at a minimum if you’re trying to maintain or lose weight.
While all foods contain nutrients and calories, it's important to favour foods with more nutrients than those with more calories. Nutrient-dense foods are beneficial for maintaining good health as they provide more of the things out bodies need, rather than just raw energy.
A high intake of empty-calorie foods may cause weight gain, especially if your intake of food exceeds your activity levels. In contrast, consumption of nutrient-dense foods helps to maintain a healthy weight in addition to supplying nutrients that protect against disease.
Most empty-calorie foods are highly processed foods that contain added fat and sugar. As you might imagine, examples include all those products that are hard to avoid such as cakes, biscuits, pies, pastries, shop-bought desserts, sweetened fruit drinks and ice cream. These empty-calorie foods also make up most of the long shelf life foods and drinks sold in vending machines. Alcoholic drinks such as beers, wines and spirits also contain high numbers of empty calories.
Although these foods may be considered convenient, readily available and perhaps cheaper than nutrient-dense counterparts, having too many of them isn’t the best thing for your health. The main issue is that if you’re consuming too much energy but not using it up through day to day activities or exercise, the extra calories are stored in the body as fat and over time, result in weight gain.
Nutrient Dense Foods
Eating a healthy, balanced diet of nutrient-dense foods provides many nutrients that are required to maintain health. Foods such as fruits, vegetables and plant based proteins are not only really healthy, but taste great too! Although they might provide fewer calories, they more than make up for it by being excellent sources of nutrients such as B-vitamins, vitamins A, C, D and E, protein, calcium, iron, potassium, zinc and fibre. Having these instead will keep you fuller for longer and are much better for you in the long run.
It's okay to enjoy empty calorie foods every now and then, but excessive intake can increase your weight and lead to other health problems. This is especially important if you have little ones! According to the National Institutes of Health, a 2010 study revealed that almost 40 percent of the calories consumed by 2- to 18-year-olds are empty
Most doctors recommend that children obtain 8 to 20 percent of their calories from empty calorie sources. Adults and children can improve overall health and decrease empty calorie intake by limiting portion sizes and eating high-nutrient foods throughout the day. Keep in mind that beverages can be a source of empty calories, too. Avoid beverages with added sugars and stick to water.
Making the Right Choice
All good dietary guidelines encourage a diet comprising of nutrient-dense foods while avoiding foods that contain sugar, refined carbohydrates, fats and salt. A plate of colourful vegetables and proteins instead of plate full of processed equivalents is the simplest way to ensure you are not eating empty calories.
Looking for healthy snacks?
If you’re after something healthy, low fat and natural which counts towards your 5 a day, why not try these yummy snacks from our range:
- TREK Protein flapjacks are a great way to feel fuller for longer with up to 9-10 grams of protein each one to give you bags of long lasting energy. All with 100% natural goodness in a variety of different flavours.
- Try our Nakd Strawberry Crunch bars packed with fruits, nuts and protein crunchies, free from any added sugars and preservatives, and filled with 100% natural delicious flavour.
- Mixed boxes are packed with delicious healthy snacks and are all gluten, dairy free in a variety of different flavours.