With a basic understanding of calories and macros, you can now focus on the specific sources of calories you consume each day. It would be easier for us to eat well if all calories were the same, but unfortunately, they aren’t. For example, calories that come from high-fat, fried foods with lots of excess sugar and salt are not as healthy for our bodies as those that come from whole foods that are fresh or raw.
Food isn’t just a source of energy but also of vital compounds and elements that organs and cells use to keep us healthy. Foods that are high in calories but low in nutrition are often referred to as empty calories. These foods lack the dietary fiber, antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, and amino acids our systems need from food to function correctly. In the modern, Western diet, most empty calories come from either added sugars or solid fats. Added sugars are simple carbohydrates found in sweeteners added to processed foods and drinks. They are very high in calories but lack any other nutritional benefit. Not only are these added sugars found in sugary drinks like soda and desserts, but they are also added to nearly all processed and packaged foods. If you look carefully at the ingredient list, you will frequently find some form of added sugar among the top ingredients for any given product.
Solid fats are commonly added to processed and packaged foods to enhance the texture and flavor of foods. While butter is one common solid fat, others with more detrimental health effects include hydrogenated oils, which are harmful to your heart. The addition of sugars and fats to processed, packaged, and fast foods makes them taste better, but you are sacrificing nutritional density for quick sources of energy. Other common sources of empty calories in the Standard American Diet (SAD) include alcohol and refined carbohydrates, like those found in baked goods, pasta, and bread.
Calories From Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are found in sugars, starches, and fiber. Sugars are the simplest forms of carbohydrates and require very little energy to break down in the body. Starches are a more complex form of carbohydrates, but they are essentially sugars that have bonded together. It takes a little more energy to break these down, and they provide fuel for your body.
Fiber is the most complex form of carbohydrate, and your body actually cannot entirely break down this type of carb. Fiber ends up traveling all the way through your system and being eliminated as waste. But, along its journey, fiber helps clean up other wastes and toxins, removing them from your digestive tract.
Carbohydrates that break down quickly raise your blood sugar level, which can cause health problems such as insulin resistance and diabetes. Carbs that take longer to break down do not have this same effect on blood sugar and provide a steadier source of energy for your body.