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 health-promoting 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 the whole box. 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:
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:
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
US Department of Agriculture
Dietitians of Canada
Food and Nutrition
The American Dietetic Association's Complete Food and Nutrition Guide. Chronimed Publishing; 1998
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 August 1, 2012.
Sugars and sweeteners. US Department of Agriculture website. Available at: http://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/crops/sugar-sweeteners.aspx. Updated July 3, 2012. Accessed August 1, 2012.
What are empty calories? ChooseMyPlate.gov website. Available at: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/weight-management-calories/calories/empty-calories.html. Accessed August 7, 2012.
Last reviewed August 2012 by Brian Randall, 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.