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Much like a bag of chips, half or more of empty-calorie foods are made up of nothing; no vitamins, no antioxidants, no added value to our health. Some sources of empty calories, such as everyone’s favourite breakfast duo, cereal and whole milk, do contain important nutrients, but their calories count is through the roof. They end up doing more harm than good for our system. But, what exactly are the danger of empty calories and how can we avoid consuming them in excess?
Full Stomach, Low Nutrients
We all have had one of those days when we just could not bother to move too far from our couch or bed and ended up eating titbits like chocolates, biscuits, ice cream instead of proper food. One thing you might notice was that you did not go hungry although you were only munching ‘keropok’ all day long. This is one of the dangers and lures of empty-calorie foods.
They contain so many calories that they keep us full, thus tricking our mind into thinking that we have eaten sufficiently. Thirteen pieces of salted potato chips, for instance, have 154 calories and we all know thirteen chips are just appetizers to the main course; that is, the entire bag. An adult man, on average, should consume 2,200 calories per day while an adult woman 1,800 calories. You do the maths.
Filling up on empty calories means that there will be less space for nutritious foods that our bodies need to repair our muscles and reduce joint pains after all the miles we have run. Many empty-calorie edibles are comfort foods and they taste heavenly, but if the price is longer recovery and lowered endurance, we would be better off staying away or finding healthier alternatives. These foods are wolves in sheep clothing, or rather bacon in honey glazing.
High Fat and Sugar Content
Many empty-calorie foods are also laden with sugar and fats which explains why they could induce symptoms such as second-serving cravings. But, they are also highly effective in adding inches to your waistlines. Experts have shown that although rapid weight gain and obesity are caused by factors such as sedentary lifestyle, lack of sleep and stress, food is also a huge contributor.
Subsequently, poor weight management could lead to diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. People in Singapore are not shielded from such conditions despite our fair share of exercising (read: chasing after buses and trains). Singapore is the number two nation with the highest number of diabetic and pre-diabetic population. Come our next visit to our favourite hawker centre, we may want to refrain asking for extra gravy on the ‘hor fun’.
It is not all gloom and doom for runners. A study has found that while sugary foods can cause inflammation and increased circulation of fat in the blood stream, when the subjects stay active, such effects are reduced. More reasons to lace up for a 5K run! Also, although foods high in sugar content could wreak havoc on our health, they remain our best bet for a burst of energy in long-distance runs.
Filling up on empty calories means that there will be less space for nutritious foods that our bodies need to repair our muscles and reduce joint pains after all the miles we have run.
Ways to Avoid Empty Calories
There are ways that you can have your cake and eat it too without the worry of empty calories. Here’s what you can do.
Fruits and unsalted nuts are the new bread and butter. Raw fruits, vegetables, and nuts are nutrient-dense foods. They are packed with vitamins, minerals, protein, and heart-healthy fats. Minimal processing of the foods preserve the nutrients that may be lost in cooking. Plus, we do not have to spend a lot of time cooking (and doing the dishes). Raw food gives the convenience of fast food and the benefits of whole food.
It’s one of the most mentioned tips in weight management books and articles, because it does work wonders if done right. Taking your time to finish a meal allows the hormones in your digestive system to signal to the brain that you are full. As such, you are less likely to eat in excess and you will also stay full longer. Bye, empty calories!
A burning question pinging in your head must be, “Who has got the time to take one’s own sweet time to eat when one has two deadlines, three projects, and world crises to solve?” Eating slowly does not have to take hours. Drinking between bites can help provide natural breaks during your meal. You can also opt to eat small frequent meals instead of eating a huge portion in one sitting. So, you can eat more slowly without having to spend too much time at the dining table.
Two eggs a day keep the snacks away. Consuming a high-protein breakfast has been found to increase satiety throughout the day and reduce brain chemicals responsible for food cravings. A plate of scrambled eggs in the morning can even reduce snacking until the evening, as compared to a bowl of cereals that would keep us satisfied for a while but have us reaching for a cheese tart even before lunch. If you have been skipping breakfast all this while, worry not, studies show that it takes only three days for the body to adjust to eating early in the morning. It’s never too late to start.
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