Empty Calories versus Nutritional Density

 Publish date: 16 April 2019


Ideally, food provides both energy and other substances called micronutrients, such as vitamins and minerals.

Sadly, much of today’s food is so processed that energy is the only provided element. This energy is called “empty calories”, precisely because of its lack of nutrients.

Sugar, highly refined flour and alcohol are typical sources. Oils and industrial fats are a close second, if the original structure was altered by processing. And when the “mass” is a mix of sugar, refined flour and industrial fats, then the defining equation is: high caloric density combined with low nutritional density. A series of industrial sodas, sweets and snacks share this shortcoming.

In addition, some components can be not only empty of nutrients, but also harmful for the metabolism, endocrine, cardiovascular system and even for the psychological wellbeing. Science has proven these effects for sugar and trans fats, and the fight with obesity and diabetes already has an enemy in these components.

The opposite is represented by nourishing foods which are nutritionally dense and provide a diversity of quality nutrients. Often, they provide a lot of energy, as in the case of seeds, quality oils, cereals, dried fruit or some dairy products.

Other times, the foods are low in calories but rich in term of useful constituents. This is the case for many fruits, lean meat, fish, salads, soups and vegetable side dishes. These foods are nutritionally dense and low in calories, placing them as the opposite of “empty” calories.

If there were an ideal food, it would certainly be nutritionally dense!


Author: Dr. Adrian Copcea, nutritionist