What Do The Phrases ‘Free Foods’ And ‘Empty Calories’ Mean?

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Question: What do the phrases 'free foods' and 'empty calories' mean in the context of a diabetic nutrition plan?

Answer: 'Empty calories' means calories that really are from foods that don't have a lot of nutritional value to them. Oftentimes, foods that fall into the 'empty calorie' category are foods that are the cakes and candies and sweets. Those foods tend to be high in fat, high in sugar, and high in calories. And so they don't offer a lot of nutritional value. Probably a much better idea to be very selective about the amount of foods that you eat that are considered 'empty calories.' It's important to be aware too that other foods that fall into that category, things like chips -- well, nuts don't really fall into that category because they do have some nutritional value to them -- but again, probably the cakes, and candies, and chips. The high fat, high sugar, high processed foods really do fall into the 'empty calorie' category. So you want to limit those.

The foods that are considered 'free foods,' that is a term that is used to describe foods that you really probably don't have to give a lot of attention to the amount that you're eating or the timing. Some examples of those foods would be -- a lot of the vegetables fall into that category. Things like celery and carrots and squash and broccoli and cauliflower, salads -- many of those fall into the free foods category. It really, again, means that you can eat those in pretty unending amounts, although, you know, you want to be sure you're really paying attention to whether or not they're a 'free food.' But they are foods that have little caloric – they don't have a lot of calories in them. And they aren't going to do a lot to raise your blood sugar. That's why they're oftentimes referred to as 'free foods.'

So they're sort of polar opposites, 'free foods' and those that have 'empty calories.' You want to pay close attention to the ones with 'empty calories' in them, eat relatively few or fewer amounts of those foods. The 'free foods' you want to be able to enjoy and consume more of those foods.


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