Are Empty Calorie Foods Undermining Nutrition?

Photo Credit: LittleGun  CC-BY-SA-3.0 2011
When you consume food, you expect it to provide energy and nutrition. The energy content of food is measured in calories. Some foods are high in energy, but low in nutrition. Low nutritional value but high calorie foods are said to contain empty calories. Foods and snacks that are high in fat and sugar provide energy, but do not provide the vitamins and minerals your body needs to stay healthy. Most of the processed foods and drinks in the American diet contain empty calories. Solid fats and added sugars increase the caloric content of foods without adding any nutritional value. People who consume too many empty calories and who do not exercise regularly may be overweight and still suffer vitamin or mineral deficiencies in their diet. Even if a person is exercising and burning as many or more calories than they consume, they may appear lean and healthy but still be at risk for vitamin and mineral deficiency-related illness. Always eat a balanced diet that includes fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, plant protein and lean meats and fish. 
Foods that have low nutritional value but high calories include butter, animal fats and shortening. Processed foods that contain these solid fats have a higher calorie to nutrient ratio than fresh foods. Foods with added sugars are also higher in calories than they are in nutrients. Foods that contain the most empty calories include cakes, donuts, cookies, pies and other pastries. Sweet snacks and deserts usually have both added sugars and solid fats. Sodas, fruit drinks that are not 100% natural juice and energy drinks often contain added sugar.  Processed meats, such as hot dogs, sausage and ground beef are high in calories due to the solid fats contained in the food. Bacon is mostly solid fat. Even some ice cream has solid fat added to make it creamy. White bread and margarine contain highly processed ingredients and more calories than nutrients. Get the most from your calories by eating foods that are also nutritious.

For more information about calories and balancing your caloric intake, see:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Balancing Calories

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