What Are Good Calories?

By Erica Kannall

If you're working to improve your eating habits or lose weight, it's useful to understand which foods provide good calories. A more in-depth knowledge of why these foods have good calories will help you make wiser food choices throughout the week. Over time, this improvement in your diet will help meet your nutrient needs, may help improve your health and may reduce your risk of developing certain chronic diseases.

Empty Calories

To consume more good calories, you should start avoiding empty-calorie foods. According to ChooseMyPlate.gov, empty-calorie foods contribute a lot of calories to your daily intake without adding many beneficial nutrients. Foods high in added fats and sugars are generally categorized as empty calories. Cakes, cookies, doughnuts, candy, sodas, ice cream and chips fall into this empty-calorie category. They're also generally processed foods. One way to ensure you're eating more good calories, meaning the food provides beneficial nutrients in addition to food calories, is to choose mostly whole, minimally processed foods.

Good Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates from whole grains -- such as whole-wheat bread, brown rice, quinoa and oats, vegetables and fruits -- provide good calories. These foods contain fiber, which may improve your digestion and cholesterol level. In addition to calories, they also provide minerals, vitamins and antioxidants, as well as some contain healthy fats. B vitamins in these foods help regulate your energy level and maintain healthy red blood cells. Antioxidants may prevent the onset of chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Avoid processed forms of these foods, such as white bread, regular pasta and white rice, as they have fewer nutrients than the whole foods.

Healthy Fats

You'll also get beneficial calories from eating certain forms of healthy fat. Avoid foods high in saturated and trans fat. These include animal fats and processed fats found in foods such as red meat, poultry skin, butter, full-fat dairy and certain baked goods, fried foods and snack foods. Instead, focus on getting your fat from vegetable oils, such as olive and safflower oils, nuts and fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna and mackerel. In addition to calories, these foods provide you with healthy forms of fat such as omega-3 fatty acids, monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Lean Proteins

The other major source of good calories comes from proteins. Your body needs the amino acids in protein to build and repair cells and tissues, such as muscles, and to maintain all body fluids. Protein foods also provide you with essential vitamins and minerals. Iron is one of these minerals, which is an essential component of red blood cells as they transport oxygen from your lungs to your cells. To reduce fat intake and get the most benefit from your protein foods, choose lean meats. Low-fat dairy, boneless skinless chicken breasts, legumes, nuts and seeds are all excellent choices for high-protein foods.

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