Empty Calories

Heather Reese Health Guide
  • I drink regular soda but want to replace it with something healthier, should I drink fruit juice instead?

    Sugared soft drinks and other types of sugar-sweetened beverages provide “empty calories” which means that you consume a lot of calories without getting any nutritional benefit. While fruit juice will give you vitamins and nutrients, it is still high in calories.

    Portion control can be a big problem for people who drink fruit juice – it is easy to consume hundreds of calories from these products. One serving of fruit juice is only four ounces; if you look at the bottles that you buy from vending machines or convenience stores they are usually at least three servings.
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    While I would not classify fruit juice as something that provides “empty calories” since it does contain vitamins and nutrients – I would caution you not to replace sugar sweetened soft drinks with juice, which provides just as many calories. Whole fruit provides the same nutrients that you get from juice along with fiber, which is more filling. In fact, the 2005 Dietary Guidelines do not recommend using fruit juice as a substitute for whole fruit. Instead of fruit juice consider replacing your sugary soft drinks with water, diet soft drinks and other calorie free beverages.


    I really enjoy walking for exercise and I do so daily. I don’t like to run but I wonder if I should force myself to. Will I burn more calories if I run instead of walk?

    If you compare calories burned by running and calories burned by walking based on distance, then the two are equal. You will burn about the same number of calories walking a mile as you would running a mile, it will just take you longer to walk the mile. If you compare the number of calories burned by each based on time, then running wins. You will burn more calories running for an hour than you would walking for the same amount of time. And considering that most people exercise based on time not distance, you would burn more calories running. However, calories are not the only thing to consider when choosing between these two forms of exercise.

    Running is a higher intensity and a higher impact activity, which increases your risk of injury. Shin splints, knee injuries and back pain are all associated with high intensity and impact activities. Walking will give you all the same benefits of running but with less risk of injury.

    You also need to take into consideration that you prefer walking to running. While you will burn more calories running for an hour than you would walking, you actually have to run to burn those calories. And if you don’t like running, you may be less likely to exercise if you know you’re going to be running. It’s great to say that you’re going to run for exercise, but if the thought of getting up to run makes you hit the snooze button and go back to bed, then your new running program isn’t doing you much good.

    You should tailor your exercise regimen to yourself – engage in activities that are safe you for to do and that you like to do and will do. If you really want to transition into running, than try mixing up the two. You could walk and run on the same day and change your walking program into an interval workout. Or you could alternate days walking and running, which will add variety and flexibility to your workout schedule.

  • I do a lot of traveling and sometimes fast food is unavoidable, what is the healthiest option if I have to eat at a fast food restaurant?
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    When dining out you should consider two things: what items are lowest in calories and fat, and which of these items will be the most filling. You don’t want to choose something that is low in calories and fat but will leave you hungry and susceptible to snacking later.

    Most fast food restaurants offer a variety of salad selections and these would be a healthy option because the vegetables are rich in vitamins and fiber. The key to keeping your salad low in calories and fat is to keep the dressing to a minimum. You can also choose a low-fat or fat-free dressing.

    A small hamburger is another fast food option that helps you keep calories and fat down. Pairing this hamburger with a side salad, baked potato or fruit instead of french fries provides a filling meal without the calories and fat of a typical fast food meal.

    If you don’t want a hamburger, choose a grilled chicken sandwich over the fried version. But make sure to order the sandwich without the mayonnaise, which can add at least an additional 100 calories. Choosing a diet soft drink or water over a sugar-sweetened soft drink can also save you hundreds of calories.

Published On: September 19, 2006