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, joint problems, 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.
Do Not Be Fooled by Low-Fat Sweets
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.
Find Other Ways to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth
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.
Choose Diet Versions
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)
Eat Right—Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
US Department of Agriculture
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 29, 2015. Accessed May 12, 2016.
Sugars and sweeteners. US Department of Agriculture website. Available at: http://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/crops/sugar-sweeteners.aspx. Updated June 4, 2015. Accessed May 12, 2016.
What are empty calories? ChooseMyPlate.gov website. Available at: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/weight-management-calories/calories/empty-calories.html. Updated September 2, 2015. Accessed May 12, 2016.
Last reviewed May 2016 by Michael Woods, MD Last Updated: 7/15/2014