Getting to the Heart of a Healthy Diet: Empty-Calorie Foods
People should limit foods that are high in calories and low in nutrition, such as soda and candy. Most people know these foods are not healthy, but many do not know why.
Fat vs. Calories
People may think that foods that are low in fat are healthy. This is not always true. Soda and hard candy have no fat, but they also have no vitamins, minerals, fiber, or other heart-healthy items. What they do have is sugar, and lots of it. Eating foods that are high in sugar and calories can lead to weight gain. This is a risk factor for heart attacks and heart disease.
Sugary foods also often take the place of healthier ones. More people should choose a glass of skim milk over a soda or an apple instead of gummi bears.
Tips to Limit Empty Calories
Here are a few tips to help you limit empty calories:
Do not be fooled by low-fat sweets. Sugar is often added to cookies, crackers, cakes, and other snacks to make up for the flavor that is lost when fat is removed. The result is that many low-fat snacks have the same calories—or more—as the original product. So a low-fat banner on a package does not mean you can eat the whole box. You should still look at calories and limit snacks.
Find other ways to satisfy your sweet tooth. A little bit of sugar can go a long way. Try some of these tips:
- Instead of sugary cereal, make a bowl of oatmeal and top it with some brown sugar, honey, or real maple syrup.
- Snack on a bowl of applesauce with raisins.
- Eat fresh or dried fruits when you are looking for a sweet fix.
Choose diet versions. People who love soda should try a diet version. People who like bubbly drinks should try one of these low calorie drinks:
- Seltzer water (some are flavored)
- Club soda (add a splash of fruit juice for flavor)
American Heart Association
Eat Right—Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Canadian Cardiovascular Society
Dietitians of Canada
Dietary guidelines for Americans 2015-2020. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion website. Available at: http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/resources/2015-2020_Dietary_Guidelines.pdf. Accessed February 10, 2020.
Dietary considerations for cardiovascular disease risk reduction. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/prevention/dietary-considerations-for-cardiovascular-disease-risk-reduction. Updated December 11, 2019. Accessed February 7, 2020.
Last reviewed November 2019 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Dianne Scheinberg Rishikof MS, RD, LDN Last Updated: 2/3/2021