What are empty calories and why should you avoid them?

Sometimes, when we feel hungry, we seek culinary gratification in the form of munchies that are mostly devoid of nutrients. When we binge-eat these packaged foods, we feel sluggish afterwards.

“Such foods are termed ‘empty calories’. These are mainly foods and drinks that have high sugar, fat or alcohol content. Regular consumption of these foods heightens the risk of cardiovascular, lifestyle, and hormonal disorders, apart from the obvious weight gain and bloating,” says Trisha Agarwal, nutritionist at PositivEats.

Empty calories are often found in the following foods:

– Carbohydrate based desserts such as muffins, cakes, pastries, etc.
– Sugary drinks including soda, energy drinks, fruit juices.
– Candy bars, chocolate bars, hard candies.
– Some meat including bacon, sausage, hot dogs.
– Some full-fat products like butter, ice cream.
– Processed oils such as soybean, canola oil.
– Condiments such as ketchup and barbeque sauce.
– Alcohol-based beverages.
– Most of the fast food and junk food like burgers, chips, pizzas.

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According to Agarwal, these foods are packed with highly-toxic amounts of sugar and fat and come in packages and tins. “You feel the need to have some more. Any real or fresh food tastes bland and boring if you regularly consume food that is being bought from the store shelves.”

The nutritionist adds that you can easily swap unhealthy food items with healthier alternatives. “Swapping empty calories with healthy ones is the best way to avoid them.”

Here’s what you can do:

* Sweetened yoghurt can be swapped with sugar free yoghurt.
* Artificially sweetened cereal should be exchanged for sugar free muesli.
* Cookies could be avoided and instead, mini gluten-free khakhra or crackers can be consumed as alternative snacks.
* Fried chicken should be avoided and you should go for grilled or baked chicken instead.
* Fried potato fingers should be swapped with air-fried sweet potato fingers.
* Alcohol + mixers should be swapped with alcohol + little soda (for the fizz) + water.
* Barbeque sauce can be swapped with Sriracha sauce.

“You should seek your nutritionist’s guidance in helping you identify the foods that you should say yes to. You should also chalk out an oral vitamin routine for yourself, for instance, lack of magnesium causes chocolate cravings,” the expert concludes.

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