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Published on August 18, 2015

Get the heart of a healthy dietGet the heart of a healthy diet

If you are a woman between 31 and 50 years old and get no more than 30 minutes of moderate physical exercise a day, you should ideally consume no more than 1,800 calories daily.

So consider what happens when you eat just three medium fried chicken wings and a soda for lunch. You will have consumed nearly 40 percent of your entire day’s calories.

That’s only part of the story. Of those 670 calories, 574 of them are totally “empty.”

Empty means you are getting no nutritional value from what you are eating.

“Food is our energy source,” explained Cape Cod Hospital physiology therapist Jason Rose. “If you are to avoid a first or second heart attack, you need to put the best quality food in your body. We all know we shouldn’t be eating French fires, ice cream, donuts, soda and bacon.”

Rose teaches a weight management as part of a 12-week cardiac rehabilitation program for people who have recently suffered heart attacks. They attend a series of classes, as well as physical conditioning, to help them develop healthier living habits.

While they are learning to prevent a second heart attack, everyone should learn to prevent that first heart attack, says Rose.

“A calorie is a calorie when it comes to weight control,” he said. “Whether your 2,000 calories come from carbs or fats or proteins, if you eat too many and don’t burn them off by exercise, you will gain weight. If you burn more than you consume, you will lose weight.”

“So,  if I eat 2,000 calories of donuts and mashed potatoes tomorrow, I won’t gain weight,”  one of his students wondered aloud at a recent session,  half kiddingly.

“Probably not,” Rose responded with a smile. “But,  I’m certainly not recommending that. If all you ate were donuts, you’re not getting protein in your diet, you are losing muscle mass  and you can expect to pay the consequences with your health.”

It doesn’t mean you should eliminate entirely these empty calories, but place a very strict limit consuming  them if you are concerned with your weight, he said.

How to spot empty calorie foods

These are the foods we eat that contain few if any nutrientsThey are solid fats like butter, beef fat and shortening. And they feature sugars and syrups that are added when foods and beverages are processed and prepared.

The foods and beverages that provide the most empty calories include:

  • Cakes, cookies, pastries and donuts (both solid fat and added sugars)
  • Sodas, energy drinks, sports drinks and fruit drinks (added sugars)
  • Cheese (solid fat)
  • Pizza (solid fat)
  • Ice cream (both solid fat and added sugar)
  • Sausages, hot dogs, bacon and ribs (solid fat)

It makes for a potentially boring diet, but for these students, avoiding empty calories will take on a life-or-death dimension as they try to prevent greater heart disease in the future.

“A small amount of empty calories is okay,” Rose instructs. “But most people eat far more than is healthy.”

Every day, there are relatively painless ways to avoid or at least reduce empty calories in your diet, according to Rose. For example, instead of sweetened applesauce, opt for unsweetened. Instead of 75% lean ground beef, buy 95% extra lean ground beef. Replace fried chicken with a baked chicken breast. Shop for unsweetened cereals instead of those with lots of sugar.

Here are some foods with no empty calories

  • Extra lean ground beef (95%)
  • Roasted chicken breast
  • Turkey roll with light meat
  • Fat-free milk
  • Baked potato
  • Whole wheat bread

Here are some foods that are at least 50 percent empty calories.

  • Cheddar cheese
  • Fruit-flavored low-fat yogurt
  • Beef bologna
  • Vanilla ice cream
  • Fried chicken
  • Chocolate cake
  • Soda
  • Fruit-flavored drinks
  • Frozen whipped topping
  • Onion rings
  • French fries
  • Beer and distilled spirits (80 proof)

Calories per serving are listed on the Nutrition Facts label on food packages. Be sure to compare the stated serving size to the amount actually eaten. If you eat twice the serving size, you will have twice the calories.

Note: Some content copyrighted by EBSCO Information Services for Cape Cod Healthcare.

Some content from choosemyplate.gov.