Sunday, May 26, 2013

Article # 497. Empty Calorie Vs. Nutrient Dense Foods

While all foods contain nutrients, nutrient-dense foods are more beneficial for maintaining optimal health, as they provide more nutrients than calories. Unlike nutrient-dense foods, empty-calorie foods or energy-dense foods are nutritionally poor food choices, as they contain more calories than nutrients. A high intake of empty-calorie foods may cause weight gain, especially if your intake of calories exceeds their utilization. In contrast, consumption of nutrient-dense foods helps to maintain a healthy weight in addition to supplying nutrients that protect against disease.

Empty Calorie Foods

Most empty-calorie foods are highly processed foods that contain added fat and sugar. Examples include baked products such as cakes, cookies, pies and pastries as well as puddings, doughnuts, fries, jams, syrups, jelly, sweetened fruit drinks, breaded fried burgers and ice cream. Empty-calorie foods also make up most of the long shelf life foods and beverages sold in vending machines such as chips, salted snacks, candy, soda, energy and sports drinks. Although empty-calorie foods are cheaper and more readily available than nutrient-dense foods, habitual consumption of these foods can have a negative effect on health.

Health and Empty Calorie Foods

The major disadvantage of frequently consuming empty-calorie foods is that energy intake can easily exceed energy requirements. If not used for physical activity, the extra calories are stored in the body as fat, and over time, result in weight gain and obesity. Furthermore, energy-dense food intake may also increase risk of developing type 2 diabetes, In contrast, the high fiber content in nutrient-dense foods provides satiety and may decrease blood cholesterol and sugar levels.

Nutrient Dense Foods

Eating a healthy, balanced diet of nutrient-dense foods provides many nutrients that are required to maintain health. This means planning meals that include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat or fat-free milk and dairy products, nuts, beans, seeds, turkey, chicken, fish and lean cuts of meats. These foods provide fewer calories but are excellent sources of nutrients such as the B-vitamins, vitamins A, C, D and E, protein, calcium, iron, potassium, zinc, fiber and monounsaturated fatty acids. Fruits and vegetables also contain phytochemicals that may help reduce the incidence of heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

Making the Right Choice

The Dietary Guidelines emphasizes a diet comprising of nutrient-dense foods while avoiding foods that contain sugar, refined carbohydrates, fats and sodium. A plate of colorful vegetables and fruits, whole-grain foods instead of foods made with refined carbohydrates and broiled or roasted, lean meats will provide foods that are nutrient-dense. Another way of reducing intake of empty calories is controlling portion sizes of energy-dense foods and eating nutrient-dense foods in the next meal. Making the right dietary choices will help improve your health and quality of life.


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