By Joy Saudargas, RD, LDN, Clinical Nutritionist within the Crozer Keystone Health System
The old adage “calories in versus calories out” used to be the best advice when it came to losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight. And while it’s true that, in order to lose weight, you must burn more calories than you eat, it’s important that you know that not all calories are created equal.
There are tons of low calorie, low fat, low-sugar foods being marketed out there for the purpose of helping people lose weight. But a 100-calorie breakfast bar doesn’t hold the same weight as 100 calories of raw almonds.
First of all, do you know what calories are? According to Department of Agriculture, calories measure the energy a food or beverage provides from the carbohydrates, fat, protein and alcohol it contains.
Calories fuel your body for work and play. In fact, you even need calories to rest and sleep. All food and beverages have a varying amount of calories and nutrients.
Whether your goal is to lose weight or to simply eat healthier, there are some foods out there that offer you a bigger bang for your bite, meaning that not only are they low in calories, but they also contain a healthy dose of essential nutrients your body craves.
Many of the food and drinks Americans consume contain empty calories, which are calories from solid fats and/or added sugars. While solid fats and added sugars add calories to food, they contain few or no nutrients. What it comes down to is getting the right mix of nutrients without too many calories.
The best and most simple food sources that are low in calories but high in nutrients are fruits and vegetables.
Most fruits and vegetables are naturally low in fat, sodium and calories while serving as sources of essential nutrients such as potassium, dietary fiber, vitamin C, vitamin A and folate.
Eating a diet rich in potassium may help you maintain a healthy blood pressure. Fruits rich in potassium include bananas, prunes and prune juice, cantaloupe and honeydew melon. Vegetables high in potassium include sweet potatoes, white potatoes, white beans, beet greens, soybeans, lima beans, spinach, lentils,and kidney beans.
Dietary fiber from fruits and vegetables can help reduce blood cholesterol levels, lower the risk of heart disease and is essential for proper bowel function. Fruits high in fiber include apples, bananas, oranges, strawberries, raspberries as well as exotic fruits like mangos, persimmons and guavas. When it comes to high-fiber veggies, take a look at their color – in general, the darker the color, the higher the fiber content. That means you should be on the lookout for carrots, beets, broccoli, collard greens, Swiss chard, spinach and artichokes. Russet, red and sweet potatoes are also high in fiber, but make sure you eat the skin too! The other benefit of high fiber fruits and vegetables? They help you feel full longer with fewer calories.
Folate and folic acid help your body form red blood cells and, for pregnant women, reduce the risk of birth defects. Citrus fruits, especially oranges, contain a high amount of folate, in addition to strawberries, papaya and grapefruit. Dark leafy vegetables like spinach are high in folate as well as Brussel sprouts, asparagus, avocados, celery and squash.
Vitamin A keeps your eyes and skin healthy, protecting you from infections. Get your vitamin A fix from tomatoes, watermelon, fresh or dried apricots, cabbage, plums and romaine lettuce.
And vitamin C helps heal cuts and wounds, keeps your teeth and gums healthy and aids in iron absorption. Get vitamin C from cauliflower, kiwi, bell peppers, blackberries, radishes, oranges, pineapples and onions.