Healthy Children - May 2012


Replace Sodium and Empty Calories with Wholesome Foods

Grocery store shelves and restaurant menus are often crowded with foods containing solid fats, added sugars and high levels of sodium. During National Nutrition Month®, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) is helping Americans understand how to get the most nutrients they need from the foods they eat, all surrounding this year's theme: "Get Your Plate in Shape."

"When people eat foods that have added sugars and solid fats, they are consuming extra calories they don't need," says registered dietitian and Academy Spokesperson Angela Ginn. "These 'empty calories' are found in a number of foods and drinks and offer little-to-no nutritional benefits."

Foods high in solid fats (like sausage, shortening and cream) and added sugars (such as regular soda and pastries) should be considered occasional treats rather than regular options. Eating these foods on a regular basis can cause you to consume more calories than your body needs in one day.

"Replace these foods with nutritionally sound choices, like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy," Ginn says. "Eating occasional treats is okay. Just make sure to balance out those treats with healthier options and get plenty of exercise."

In addition to limiting foods high in solid fats and added sugars, consumers should also be aware of high levels of sodium in foods, especially pre-made options like frozen meals and canned soups and vegetables. Foods containing high levels of sodium are contributors to high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.

"The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend consuming only 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, which is about one teaspoon of salt," Ginn says. "While meeting this recommendation may seem hard at first, choosing foods that are lower in sodium is one big step you can take towards meeting this goal.

Tips for Healthier Options

Choose foods and drinks with little or no added sugars.
"It is smart to look for foods that have no added sugars, like unsweetened apple sauce or unsweetened whole-grain cereals," Ginn says.
Drink water throughout the day. For variety, add lemons, limes or cucumbers to your water or try carbonated water.
Choose low-fat or fat-free milk or 100-percent fruit juices.
Eat fresh fruit salad for dessert.
Eat fewer foods that are high in solid fats.
"Solid fats can increase your risk for heart disease," Ginn says. "You can reduce this risk by choosing healthier oils and lean meats."
Instead of regular ground beef, opt for extra-lean ground beef. Ground turkey and chicken are also available in lean options.
Grill, broil, bake or steam your foods instead of frying.
Cook with healthy oils like olive, canola and sunflower oils in place of hydrogenated and partially-hydrogenated oils.
Opt for fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese.
Cut back on sodium.
"Much of the sodium we eat comes from prepared meals and foods eaten away from home. This can be significantly reduced by eating fresh foods," Ginn says.
Instead of salt, use herbs and spices to season foods, and avoid salting food before tasting it.
Do not add salt when cooking pasta, rice and vegetables.
Read the Nutrition Facts Panel to compare sodium content of foods such as soups, broths, breads and frozen dinners, and choose the healthiest option.
Eat fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh meats, poultry and fish, beans and peas, unsalted nuts, eggs and low-fat or fat-free milk and yogurt.
Ginn also recommends cooking different dishes at home. "This allows you to control what you put in your meal," she says.For more information on how to “Choose Your Plate in Shape,” visit the Academy’s National Nutrition Month website for a variety of helpful tips, fun games, promotional tools and nutrition education resources.


Additional Information from ChooseMyPlate

What are empty Calories?
Currently, many of the foods and beverages Americans eat and drink contain empty calories – calories from solid fats and/or added sugars. Solid fats and added sugars add calories to the food but few or no nutrients. For this reason, the calories from solid fats and added sugars in a food are often called empty calories. Learning more about solid fats and added sugars can help you make better food and drink choices.
Solid fats
are fats that are solid at room temperature, like butter, beef fat, and shortening. Some solid fats are found naturally in foods. They can also be added when foods are processed by food companies or when they are prepared.
Added sugars
are sugars and syrups that are added when foods or beverages are processed or prepared.

Solid fats and added sugars can make a food or beverage more appealing, but they also can add a lot of calories. The foods and beverages that provide the most empty calories for Americans are:

  • Cakes, cookies, pastries, and donuts (contain both solid fat and added sugars)
  • Sodas, energy drinks, sports drinks, and fruit drinks (contain added sugars)
  • Cheese (contains solid fat)
  • Pizza (contains solid fat)
  • Ice cream (contains both solid fat and added sugars)
  • Sausages, hot dogs, bacon, and ribs (contain solid fat)


These foods and beverages are the major sources of empty calories, but many can be found in forms with less or no solid fat or added sugars. For example, low-fat cheese and low-fat hot dogs can be purchased. You can choose water, milk, or sugar-free soda instead of drinks with sugar. Check that the calories in these products are less than in the regular product. In some foods, like most candies and sodas, all the calories are empty calories. These foods are often called "empty calorie foods." However, empty calories from solid fats and added sugars can also be found in some other foods that contain important nutrients. Some examples of foods that provide nutrients, shown in forms with and without empty calories:

Food with some empty calories

  • Sweetened applesauce (contains added sugars)
  • Regular ground beef (75% lean) (contains solid fats)
  • Fried chicken (contains solid fats from frying and skin)
  • Sugar-sweetened cereals (contain added sugars)
  • Whole milk (contains solid fats)


Food with few or no empty calories

  • Unsweetened applesauce
  • Extra lean ground beef (95% or more lean)
  • Baked chicken breast without skin
  • Unsweetened cereals
  • Fat-free milk


Making better choices, like unsweetened applesauce or extra lean ground beef, can help keep your intake of added sugars and solid fats low.

A small amount of empty calories is okay, but most people eat far more than is healthy. It is important to limit empty calories to the amount that fits your calorie and nutrient needs. You can lower your intake by eating and drinking foods and beverages containing empty calories less often or by decreasing the amount you eat or drink.

Learn More

Visit the USDA sponsored ChooseMyPlate web site for information on a healthy diet. Before you eat, think about what goes on you plate or in your cup or bowl. Learn more about getting your plate in shape, visit: