Hidden Calories – Spotting Them So You Can Avoid Them

February 18, 2021

After filling their dinner plates with too much food, people are often quick to confess that their eyes were bigger than their stomaches. However, problems lie not only in our perception of portion sizes, but also in what our eyes don’t always see – hidden calories in foods and beverages. These are seemingly negligible bites and sips consumed throughout the day that can add up to hundreds of excess calories. Over time, hidden calories can add up to several pounds and have a serious impact on health. Now, in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, as our schedules and eating habits have been irregular for months, being aware of hidden calories is even more important. Here are some of the most common sources of hidden calories, many of which can be avoided or replaced with lower-calorie alternatives.

  • Gourmet Coffee Drinks – When you’re looking for a reason to get out of the house and decide to make a coffee run, that caramel latte might be slowly emptying your wallet and adding onto your waistline. Unless you request otherwise, coffee shop beverages are typically made with whole milk. In addition, people often forget to take into consideration the addition of flavored syrups – just one pump of flavored syrup packs approximately 20 calories and five grams of sugar! If you can’t fathom giving up your coffee indulgence, opt for a smaller serving size, low- or no-fat milk, and ask for sugar-free syrups. You might even consider taking sweetening into your own hands by grabbing some packets of low-calorie sweeteners as you head out the door!
  • Snacks to “Hold You Over” – It’s 4 o’clock. You had a salad for lunch and your stomach feels empty, but you still need to power through several more hours of work. We’ve all been there and snacking is even more of a trend for people who are working from home, steps away from the kitchen. The problem is, while those snacks you reach for to “hold you over” until dinner seem harmless, they can pack in as many calories as a small meal. Many protein bars contain more than 250 calories, and 4 ounces (i.e., handful) of trail mix adds about 260 calories. Thankfully, there are many convenient snacks that pack in the protein and fiber necessary to keep you going until your next meal, but don’t contain too many calories. Look for ingredients like allulose, which is considered a “rare sugar” because it provides the sweet taste and texture that sugar does, but without all of the calories and carbohydrates. For this reason, allulose is used in low-carb performance bars. Stock your kitchen “just in case” and you’ll be thankful.
  • Smoothies – While some smoothies contain mostly fruit and water or juice, most include additional syrups or sweeteners. If you’re out, consider whether the large amount of liquid calories will actually keep you full and opt for a sugar-free drink or water to control your calorie intake. Better yet, if it’s specifically a smoothie you’re craving, try making one at home. Many of us own blenders, and it’s easy to purchase calorie-free sweeteners and syrups online and in some stores.
  • Sauces – When counting calories, people usually look at the core components of what is on their plates. They don’t usually take into consideration the hefty squeeze from the ketchup bottle on the table or the extra side of barbecue sauce that takes grilled meats from good to great. It’s important to realize that these condiments contribute calories, as well. At the same time, recognize that the key to maintaining a balanced diet isn’t just about controlling calories; it’s also about enjoying the foods you eat and how they make you feel. If you want to lay on your favorite sauce, go for it. Just look for ways to save calories elsewhere, such as low- or no-calorie beverages, smaller portion sizes or skipping dessert.
faq2Do you have questions about low-calorie sweeteners? Want to learn more about maintaining a healthy lifestyle? You asked and we listened. Our resident Registered Dietitians answered the most popular questions about low-calorie sweeteners.