The Myth of the Empty Calorie

As a logically thinking person who has always been interested in both science and language, I was completely mystified by the phrase “empty calories” when I heard it for the first time. That doesn’t make any sense, I thought. Calories are not tangible items that can be either full or empty. Calories are energy. It is literally impossible for a food to consist of nothing but energy – what would that even look like, an edible beam of lightning?!

Obviously, I know what people are really trying to say when they use this phrase. They want to tell you that the snack you’re eating is lacking in nutritional value because it mostly contains sugar, fat or both and doesn’t have much else to offer. I have been told that “There are no nutrients in it that our bodies really need!”

Well … I don’t know about you, but the last time I checked, fat and carbohydrate were major nutrients that my body needed. The very fact that they’re in there means that the food does have nutritional value. I might go so far as to say that all food does, or else it wouldn’t be food! It is arguable whether or not you are worse off if you consume that carbohydrate in the form of sugar, but anyone except for the admittedly still alive no-carb crowd* would agree that we do need some of it.

The motivation behind labelling food in this manner is an ingrained belief that sugar and fat are bad for us and should only be consumed in small quantities, preferably together with other things. To be honest, I do have an inkling that I, myself, am in fact eating too much sugar and that this is bad for me. However, that’s not because I believe that the sugar itself is bad – it’s because I fear I’m not getting enough protein. I can easily tell that this is the case whenever I suddenly feel like eating a ton of eggs while that bar of chocolate over there looks totally icky. I also think that I should include more fiber in my diet, but again this is not related to anything else being bad.

Another important factor that can cause many of us to question the “healthiness” of a food is the amount of vitamins and minerals in it. Of course it is true that we need them, just like we need all of the major nutrients. There is no reason to insist that they be in every single meal that we eat, though – if you’ve already had your daily fill of vitamin C, for example, any additional vitamin C will simply go to waste. I understand the urge to take a “better safe than sorry” approach, but it will do no harm to stray from that occasionally. No matter how you turn it: Food that mostly consists of major nutrients is not useless.

*If you want to live off of animal products only and can arrange that with your conscience, go ahead. On the other hand I have also heard of poor individuals who tried this and became very ill, which clearly indicates that it is not an option for everyone.

Advertisements

8 Responses to “The Myth of the Empty Calorie”

  1. Dan Says:

    Tiana, I wouldn’t recommend eating totally animal products either. I tried it for two days and it was bloody gross. I was CRAVING vegetables like you wouldn’t believe.

    Dan

  2. wriggles Says:

    That doesn’t make any sense, I thought. Calories are not tangible items that can be either full or empty

    *APPLAUSE*

    I can only commend you Tiana. Have you considered my all time fave, ‘non nutritional food’?

    The motivation behind labelling food in this manner is an ingrained belief that sugar and fat are bad for us and should only be consumed in small quantities,

    The motivation behind this is buying into a particular fairy tale of how to eat best; which is enforced by another fairy tale, ‘let’s pretend that sugar and fat are rilly, rilly, baaad, that way, you don’t want to eat them.

    Putting their case to us fairly and squarely is not an option, apparently.

    It is arguable whether or not you are worse off if you consume that carbohydrate in the form of sugar,

    Exactly, most of your food has to be turned into a form of sugar to be absorbed by the body- which is why diabetes causes problems.

    There is no reason to insist that they be in every single meal that we eat, though

    Tianna, you must have got this from a slack ‘healthy eatist’ because they insist, every bite that passes your lips includes vitamins and trace elements (and whatever else they’re banging on about).

    As someone who’s tried this way- although to be fair, under duress- all that tends to happen is at some point, you crave the ‘bad food’ and feel so bad about it, those two factors can cause any sense of rhythm and balance to eventually go out of your eating. That’s why the better safe than sorry is questionable logic, our bodies are too complex for such blunt thinking we must all meet our body’s needs as best we can, and I’m simply not sure how much ‘healthful food’ that may or may not include.

  3. Tiana Says:

    Have you considered my all time fave, ‘non nutritional food’?

    These phrases are annoying like an itch that just doesn’t want to go away. I’m all for healthy eating, but only if it actually makes sense! Some people react badly to this, some feel better if they eat more of that, it all comes down to trial and error.

  4. Dan Says:

    YOur body can use fatty acids as well as glucose. So you don’t necessarily need to eat carbs. But I think that people should eat what they want. Personally, if I am not too fussed about what I eat then I will tend to go for, what I think, is a nutritious option but I will eat ice cream if I feel like it. What do you reckon?

  5. Tiana Says:

    I think you’re doing a good job, Dan. 🙂 I don’t have much experience with intuitive eating myself because I frankly don’t have the energy to make what I really want most of the time, but I’m working on it.

  6. AnnieeMcPhee Says:

    The “empty calorie” thing is really stupid, isn’t it? There are exactly 3 ways to consume a calorie – a carbohydrate, a protein, or a lipid. That’s it. (Fiber is useful for digestion but it isn’t calories.)

    Do give the intuitive eating a try if you haven’t already (I just realized this post is old – sorry, I just found you at BL and have been reading this morning) – it’s not really as complicated as always making exactly what you want. What you could try is when you’re hungry for, pancakes and you don’t feel like making it or don’t have the stuff, it’s possible that a piece of bread with some jelly would do the trick – maybe you’re just wanting some starch and some sweet. Or, if you’re hungry for broccoli but don’t have any, maybe a cucumber would do. Or if you want ice cream and don’t have it, maybe some chocolate milk. Or if you want eggs, maybe some cheese or even some beans. Just give it a little thought about what might satisfy you at the moment. Good luck.

  7. http://Www.amigosdivebelize.com/ Says:

    If you go to My Computer, you will see that there are 2 new drives labeled Clickfree System and
    CF_Storage. A study by the Institute of Neurology at University College London has concluded that the
    earlier a second language is learnt by a child, the denser or more developed the grey
    matter is. see something you desire for yourself bless it
    and also bless its owner.

  8. ron Says:

    the craving for carbs goes away after about 3 days. i have been zero carbs for 6 months and am still healthy and energetic. sorry. but it’s true. normal blood pressure, normal cholesterol. the body is very good at using fat as energy. my diet is 80% fat, 20 % protein. all kinds of fat too. i don’t discriminate. sugar is sugar. white granules or pasta or rice or Twinkies.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: