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Avoiding empty calories and choosing nutritious alternatives

By nutritionist Kathryn Picking

How healthy are your choices?
How healthy are your choices?

There are so many diets from keto to calorie counting. As a nutritionist, I personally don't encourage restrictive diets. Cutting foods out can reduce nutrients and also cause stress to the body. Long term weight loss occurs when you nourish your body with all the important vitamins and minerals it needs.

Empty calories

Calories give us energy, but ‘empty calories’ are foods which supply energy, but with little or no nutritional value. In order to maintain good health and a healthy weight, or indeed to lose weight, it is important to eat nutrient dense foods. This is especially important if you have children. According to the National Institute of Health, a 2010 study revealed that almost 40 per cent of the calories consumed by 2 to 18 year olds are empty. That’s certainly food for thought.

Many empty calorie foods are highly processed and contain added fat and sugar. Examples include cakes, biscuits, pies, pastries, some pre-packaged foods, sweetened fruit drinks and ice cream. Alcoholic drinks such as beers, wines and spirits also contain high numbers of empty calories. It's OK to enjoy these foods every now and then, but where possible try to avoid excessive intake.

Kathryn Picking (7062425)
Kathryn Picking (7062425)

Nutrient dense foods

Rather than focusing on numbers, calorie counting or fad diets, try to aim for an eating plan which includes lots of nutrient-rich foods. Instead of restricting, it’s better to think about the healthy options you can add. These provide more of the things our bodies need, such as essential vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants, and mean we don’t feel hungry or deprived. They help build strong bones and teeth, regulate metabolism and support the immune system.

So ensure your diet is full of fibre-rich fruits and vegetables. Choose a range of colourful vegetables including leafy greens, broccoli, kale, cabbage, watercress, peppers, beetroot, tomatoes, squash and sweet potatoes. Lentils and beans are good choices for protein, as well as eggs, poultry, fish and occasional meat. Try to swap white bread and pasta for wholegrain or higher fibre alternatives. Wild rice, couscous, quinoa and oats are all great options. Good fats, found in olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, nuts and salmon, are also beneficial. And of course, sufficient hydration and exercise are important factors too.

Taking all of this on board, remember, that if you want a treat, opt for dark chocolate as it has extra antioxidants and minerals!

There may of course be other reasons why people may find it hard to lose weight, including poor digestion, underactive thyroid or a sluggish liver. But by making simple swaps and additions to your diet, you can certainly boost your health, energy levels and mood.

Read more of Kathryn’s advice at routestonutrition.co.uk

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