Steer Clear of Nutritional Zeroes

by NatureBox Health Writer, Jenilee Matz, MPH

The research is clear: having good nutrition is one of the keys to a long, healthy life. But knowing what foods are good for you- and which ones aren’t- isn’t always so cut and dry. 

The danger of empty calories

One of the simplest ways to make sure you’re eating a nutritious diet is to avoid “empty calorie” foods. We like to call empty calorie foods “nutritional zeroes” because they offer very few nutritional benefits and don’t contribute to your health. Nutritional zeroes also tend to lack staying power. This means that you’ll be hungry soon after eating them, so you’ll end up eating more calories than you need, which leads to weight gain.

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Spotting nutritional zeroes

Nutritional zeroes are foods in which most calories come from refined sugars and/or solid fats. Basically, most “junk” foods and processed snack foods fall into this category. Examples of nutritional zeroes include the following:

  • Sugary beverages, such as soda, sports drinks, and fruit drinks.
  • Fried foods, including chicken wings, French fries, and potato or tortilla chips.
  • Products made with whole milk, such as lattes and mochas.
  • Desserts like cookies, ice cream, and cupcakes.
  • Alcohol. (Alcohol contains no refined sugar or solid fats, but it has no nutritional benefits so it’s considered empty calories.)

What to eat

To stay healthy, replace nutritional zeroes with “nutritional musts”: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean sources of protein, and low-fat and nonfat dairy products. These foods are staples of a nutritious diet because they’re packed with nutrients. Eating a diet based on wholesome foods will also help you stay at a healthy weight. That’s because the fiber and protein in a well-balanced diet will keep you feeling full for a longer amount of time, so you’ll be less likely to overeat later.

Keep in mind that all foods are OK to eat in moderation. There will always be certain goodies like cupcakes for birthdays or special appetizers and dishes at major holidays and family gatherings that you can only have a few times a year. Go ahead and treat yourself to nutritional zeroes occasionally if you choose healthy foods the majority of the time.

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Jenilee Matz, MPH is a medical writer, health educator, and runner based in Charlotte, NC