Since there is such a focus on eating a low-fat diet, people often think that any food that is low in fat is inherently healthy. This is not the case. For example, soda and hard candy have no fat, but they also have no vitamins, minerals, fiber, or other healthy ingredients. What they do have is sugar, and lots of it. A lot of sugar can add up to a lot of calories.
Eating foods high in sugar and calories can lead to weight gain. Being overweight increases your risk of chronic disease, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes. Excess weight can also increase complications of other conditions you may have.
In addition, sugary foods often take the place of healthy foods, for example choosing a soda over a glass of skim milk or snacking on gummi bears instead of on an apple.
Here are a few tips to help you minimize your intake of empty-calorie foods.
Often, when food manufacturers remove fat from cookies, crackers, cakes, and other snack foods, they add sugar to make up for the flavor lost with the fat. The result is that many low-fat snacks provide the same amount of calories—or more—as the original product. So a low-fat banner on the package does not give you free reign to eat too many. It is still important to look at calories and limit snacks.
Sometimes a little bit of sugar goes a long way. Try some of these tactics:
Instead of the sugary cereal you have been eating since you were a kid, make a bowl of oatmeal and top it with some brown sugar, honey, or maple syrup.Mix ¼ cup of a sugary cereal with ¾ cup of a less sugary cereal. Check the Nutrition Facts label for the sugar content.Snack on a bowl of applesauce. If it is not sweet enough, then add raisins or brown sugar.Fruits, both fresh and dried, are sweet and may offer you the sweet fix you are looking for at 3:00 in the afternoon or after dinner. Before heading for the candy, try some fruit first and see if that satisfies your sweet tooth.Dark chocolate (made with 70% cocoa or more) has less sugar and can be rich and satisfying in small amounts.
If you just love the taste of soda and cannot imagine having popcorn or pizza with anything else, try a diet version. Or, if it is the bubbles you crave, have a glass of one of these zero calorie beverages:
Seltzer water (some are flavored)Club soda (add a splash of fruit juice for flavor)
Sugars and carbohydrates.
American Heart Association website. Available at:
http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/HealthyDietGoals/Sugars-and-Carbohydrates_UCM_303296_Article.jsp. Updated June 11, 2012. Accessed July 15, 2014.
Sugars and sweeteners.
US Department of Agriculture website. Available at:
Updated July 3, 2012. Accessed July 15, 2014.
What are empty calories? ChooseMyPlate.gov website. Available at: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/weight-management-calories/calories/empty-calories.html. Accessed July 15, 2014.
Last reviewed July 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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