It’s likely that you’ve heard the term ’empty food’ or ’empty calories’ before. What does that really mean?
Had you asked me that a few months ago, I would have talked about foods that are primarily sugar with no real nutrition in them. Candy comes to mind. As well as most cakes, cookies, confections, etc. But I recently had an experience that changed and expanded my definition of empty food.
Let me start by saying that I’m not the Food Police. Too often when I tell someone what I do, they become self-conscious and even apologetic about the food they eat. I suppose that’s good because they’re aware of their bad choices. But I’m not here to judge anyone. In fact, I make bad food choices too. I’m just on a journey that leads me to more good choices and fewer bad ones.
And it is a journey. It’s not an over night change. That would be overwhelming and NOT sustainable. But I often find that food I ate a few years ago, restaurants I frequented, I can no longer handle. Having been away from them for a while, when I go back and eat their food, I can taste the difference. Sometimes it’s the chemicals I can taste. One place where I used to eat chips & queso, the queso now has a petroleum-like after taste. YUCK!
I still love foods like pizza. And I believe that an occasional, good-quality pizza is ‘okay’ in a diet. Recently, my husband and I decided to try pizza from a place that was new to us. It’s a local franchise, but this location is owned by a friend so we tried it a few times – before the pizza. The night we had pizza, I thought it just tasted strange. For a few minutes, I couldn’t pinpoint it. Then I said to my husband: “I know this is going to sound strange. And I can’t explain it, precisely. But this pizza tastes empty.”
The more I think about that incident, the more I realize what that meant. I am more in tune with ‘real’ food than I ever was. It’s to the point that, on some level, I can sense a food that isn’t so nutritious. And no, I don’t mean just that it is pizza. It goes deeper than that, much deeper. It has more to do with all of the ingredients in that pizza.
I don’t know what the ingredients were, but I can make a few guesses. The crust was made with regular white flour – the kind that has been stripped of the bran and all of the nutrients. And likely bleached to give it the white color. (Yes, it’s probably also been ‘enriched’ but that doesn’t come close to making up for what was removed.) I also suspect that the sauce had sugar in it. But all of that is speculation.
The experience serves as a reminder that not all food is equal. Empty doesn’t refer to the calorie count. In fact, empty food is often high in calories. Empty is food that is seriously lacking in nutrient value.
What does it mean when we consume empty food?
Empty food’s impact on our body is actually negative. Not only does it not bring much in the way of nutrition, but our body has to draw from its store of minerals and nutrients just to digest that empty food! Whoa that’s a big deal. I’ll say it again: Empty food steals minerals and nutrients from our body.
So this could be a big part of the puzzle for why, as a nation, we are gaining weight. Food is the fuel that our body runs on. But if we eat empty food, then not only are we not giving our body much fuel, we are taking away from its stores of fuel! So we eat more because we don’t get the fuel we need to keep going.
Since that one experience, I’ve started to make mental notes about what I eat and when I am feeling really tired. I sometimes get so tired that I can barely tolerate it. I’m starting to see that there just may be a correlation between that and food choices I make.
Feeling tired? Perhaps it’s a result of your food choices.
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