By Neva Cochran, MS, RDN, LD
You will often hear that controlling your weight is simply a matter of “calories in vs. calories out.” Technically this is true: to create a calorie shortfall to lose weight, your body needs to use or “burn” more calories than you consume. Therefore, you must decrease your food intake, increase your physical activity or both. You can also simply maintain your weight by balancing calorie input with calorie expenditure.
However, one fact the “calories in vs. calories out” phrase does not take into account is that the types of foods that make up the calories consumed matters. You can reduce calories in a variety of ways – some healthy and some not so healthy – and still lose weight. While managing your weight is one consideration, just as important is obtaining all the nutrients you need for good health like protein, carbohydrate, fat, fiber, vitamins and minerals. To ensure that you consume all these nutrients, eating more “nutrient rich” foods and fewer “empty calorie” foods is the key.
So, let’s take a closer look at these two terms.
Nutrient rich foods are high in nutrients but relatively low in calories. They are packed with vitamins, minerals, complex carbohydrates, lean protein and/or healthy fats. Examples include fruits, vegetables, lean meats, low-fat dairy, nuts and seeds and whole grains.
On the other hand, empty calorie foods are higher in calories – usually from added fats and sugars – but deliver fewer nutrients, just the opposite of nutrient rich foods. Examples include sugar-sweetened beverages, fruit punch, chips, candy, cake, cookies, pastries and fried foods.
Why eat more nutrient rich foods?
Nutrient rich foods are filled with nutrients, which help your body perform at its best to keep you fit and healthy. Fruits and vegetables are brimming with vitamins, minerals and fiber. Complex carbohydrates provide long lasting energy, B vitamins and fiber. Lean meats are packed with protein for building and maintaining muscle without excess fat. And low fat dairy furnishes protein and calcium for strong bones and muscles. Choosing nutrient rich foods over empty calorie ones still supplies the body with calories, but from foods that also offer important nutrients for optimal health.
Why limit intake of empty calorie foods?
Consuming too many empty calorie foods may prevent you from reaching your daily nutrient goals. Foods and beverages high in sugar and fat often contribute too many calories without necessary nutrients. Consuming excess calories can also lead to weight gain.
Fortunately, sweeteners like allulose are very low calorie or calorie-free. Therefore, consuming allulose-sweetened products low in calories instead of those sweetened with sugar that provide empty calories allows more room in your daily caloric allowance for nutrient rich foods. To save calories, choose fat-free, reduced fat, sugar-free and light products in place of their regular counterparts. Diet beverages or light yogurt sweetened with low-calorie sweeteners can be part of a nutrient rich diet lower in sugar and fat, which translates into fewer calories.
The calories saved by eating these products allows more room in meals for fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean meats and low-fat dairy. Replacing a sugar-sweetened, empty calorie coffee drink with a coffee sweetened with allulose is another example of a calorie saving swap. Again, this frees up calories to use for other foods so you feel more satisfied and less hungry.
Putting it all together
To conclude, it’s important to choose your calories wisely! All calories are not necessarily created equal. So pay attention to the “company” your calories are keeping. As you put together a healthy eating plan, try to eat fewer empty calorie foods. Low-calorie sweeteners like allulose can be used as a tool to save calories that you can put toward more nutrient rich foods. Choosing these foods provides your body with the vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients it needs without excess, empty calories it does not.
Neva Cochran, MS, RDN, LD is a registered dietitian nutritionist based in Dallas. She serves as a nutrition communications consultant to a variety of food and nutrition organizations, including the Calorie Control Council. She is passionate about promoting fact-based food and nutrition information to help people enjoy nutritious eating. Follow her on Twitter @NevaRDLD and check out her blog at www.NevaCochranRD.com.
A special thanks to Nicole Hawkins, recent University of Oklahoma dietetic internship and master’s degree graduate, for her assistance with this article.