Processing of food for modern mass consumption has led to the invention of the “empty calorie” and negative health effects.
“Empty calorie” has become a common term in the realm of diet and nutrition. It is often used casually to describe unhealthy foods.
However, this is an important concept to understand, particularly for those looking to maximize their health by improving their dietary habits.
An empty calorie is an amount of energy present in foods that have poor nutritional profiles. Such calories come from processed carbohydrates, fats and ethanol that lack essential nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, amino acids and dietary fiber.
Why is this important? On a basic level, it’s hard to lose weight or stay in shape when the food and drinks consumed provide no nutritional benefit, so empty calories are bad in that regard.
Having a large order of fries and a chocolate milkshake provides your body with sugar and fat but not much else, so it takes a big chunk of your daily recommended calorie intake and puts it to waste.
It’s also interesting to note that in the context of the caveman diet, empty calories are rare. The vast majority of empty calories are found in foods that came into prominence long after society had moved beyond the traditional hunter-gatherer days.
Dietary and lifestyle changes have played a major role in modern health problems in the developed world, with obesity being one of the key issues. The increase in empty calories, unknown to our ancestors, is a prime reason for that change.
As the global obesity epidemic increases, countries are becoming more aware of the problem. The United States, for example, has issued guidelines from its Department of Agriculture listing danger foods and advocating healthier options.
But cultural change is difficult, and for much of the developed world (particularly in the post-World War II era) healthy eating requires abandoning foods that have become instantly traditional, like hot dogs, ice cream and soda.
Leaving those empty calories behind isn’t easy. For one thing, it may lead to sugar withdrawal. It also requires changes in shopping habits and meal planning, more food preparation and less dining out, which can affect busy schedules.
But going back to a way of eating and living that’s really traditional—the Paleo lifestyle—leaves the human body in a much healthier state, because it is based on what humans were designed to eat.
Humanity developed in a hunter-gatherer era where “fast food” was edible plants close to the home cave. Catching a hare or a deer to put on the fire took some effort. Our bodies evolved to require nutritious food and ample exercise, real fuel to burn and not the empty calories of today.
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