You probably already know that large amounts of pop and sweets can wreak havoc on your health, but do you know one of the main reasons why? Empty calories. These are calories from solid fats and/or added sugars. These ingredients add calories to food, but contain few or no nutrients. By learning about empty calories, you can make better food and drink choices.
The Heart and Stroke Foundation reports that sugar is the top food additive, appearing in a variety of packaged foods. And according to the Canadian Sugar Institute, Canadians consume approximately 63 grams of sugar per day from prepared or packaged foods, accounting for more than 12 percent of calories a day, based on a daily consumption of 2,000 calories.
Robert D. Sheeler, MD, medical editor of the Mayo Clinic Health Letter, notes that foods and drinks containing large amounts of empty calories keep us from getting valuable vitamins, minerals and micronutrients. These nutrients, such as iodine and iron, help maximize human growth and development. Here are some foods and drinks that Dr. Sheeler recommends avoiding:
- White bread and most pasta: Most of the nutrients and fibre are processed out of these products, or sometimes artificially added back in. Opt instead for whole-wheat pasta and whole-grain bread (with at least two to four grams of fibre per slice)
- Hard candy: Usually pure sugar with zero nutrients
- Cookies and ice cream: High sugar and high fat content, with very little nutrition
- Pop (regular): Very high sugar content, zero nutrients
- Fried potatoes: Baked and roasted potatoes are good in moderation, thanks to their potassium content, but potatoes fried in oil are bad news for your body
Fortunately, Health Canada offers some healthier alternatives:
- Fruit with yogurt instead of cakes and pastries
- High-fibre muffins instead of doughnuts
- Homemade baked pitas instead of potato chips
- Water with a slice of lemon, lime or cucumber instead of pop or fruit-flavoured drinks
For more information about empty calories and how to eat your way to good health, visit Health Canada at www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/food-guide-aliment/index-eng.php or the Mayo Clinic at www.mayoclinic.com.