A calorie is defined as a unit of energy. In the same way that we put fuel into vehicles to make them run, we must also put calories into our bodies to essentially “fuel” them. Maintaining a healthy weight heavily depends on the amount of calories consumed. When we consume too many calories (or too much energy) the body’s way of dealing with that is by storing extra energy as fat. On the contrary, if our bodies use more energy than what we consume, weight loss (or energy stored as fat) is reduced.
What is Energy Density?
One of the most basic concepts of healthy eating starts with “energy density.” Energy density is the idea of eating foods that will provide an abundance of important nutrients for minimal calorie intake. Fruits and vegetables are the top foods for providing this appropriate energy density. On the opposite end of the spectrum are “empty calories.” The term empty calorie is a relatively new one and it is defined as “a calorie whose source has little or no nutritional value.” Empty calories bring energy to the body in the form of calories, but with little or no nutritional value. Think soda pop, candy, baked goods and such.
In order to prevent chronic disease, control a chronic health condition, maintain a healthy weight, or to lose weight, it is important to eat nutrient dense foods, and avoid empty calories. This can be achieved by keeping these tips in mind.
Avoid Sugar-Sweetened Beverages
If you stop consuming only one thing for the betterment of your health, it should be sugar-sweetened beverages. The empty calories help pad your midsection without offering any nutritional benefit or sense of satiety. Whether it’s fructose, sucrose, or sugar, it doesn't do a body good. It keeps the body begging for more and eventually leads to metabolic syndrome where the body stores fat.
Fuel Up on Fruits and Vegetables
One of the most effective ways to avoid empty calories is by ensuring your diet is full fiber rich, low calorie fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables not only provide the body with necessary vitamins and minerals but they also contain a wide variety of other nutrients that have many different effects on the body. These nutrients include carotenoids, folate, vitamin C, flavonoids and various other phytochemicals, which play a critical role in preventing cell damage. These powerful nutrients are housed in very low calorie fruits and vegetables, making them necessary in a nutrient rich diet.
Choose Complex Carbohydrates
There are different types of carbohydrates; simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates supply the body with empty calories and are found in candy bars, soda, baked goods, while complex carbs include whole grains, fruits and beans. Complex carbohydrates will offer fiber for gastrointestinal health, slow released carbohydrates for sustained energy levels, and fuel for the brain while simple carbohydrates create a surge in blood sugar that wreaks havoc on energy levels.
Avoid Empty Calories
Fatty foods can be healthy and should be included in the diet! Of course we are not talking about cheeseburgers and French fries, which contain high amounts of saturated fat. Rather, choose foods full of healthy monounsaturated fats like avocados, extra virgin olive oil, nuts and eggs. These monounsaturated fats are full of important nutrients that help with heart and brain health.
While there is no “one size fits all” answer to a question regarding how many calories one should consume, it depends on many factors including gender, height, weight, age, activity level, health status, muscle mass and etc. Regardless of the amount of calories needed, these calories should be full of important nutrients in order to nourish the body and brain. This is made possible by eating with energy density in mind and avoiding empty calories.
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