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Beware These Empty Calories!

10 foods that can pile on the pounds

The Next Culprit Culprit #2: Anything with Lots of Fat and Oil

Although some fats and oils contain vitamins and important fatty acids such as omega-3 fatty acids and monounsaturated fats, foods loaded with fats and oils are often empty-calorie culprits. This is particularly true when the food is full of trans fats and saturated fats; deep-fried French fries, potato chips, popcorn chicken that has more fried crumb topping than chicken, and high-fat crackers made with white flour are all examples.

Since we're talking about empty calories, it's important to note that gram for gram, fat has more than two times the calories of carbs or protein. In other words, a gram of fat has around 9 calories, while a gram of protein or carbohydrate has 4 calories. When foods have lots of added fats and oils, the calories can go through the roof pretty quickly.

One of our biggest fat traps is fast food. That's mainly because so many fast food items, such as French fries, onion rings, taco shells, chicken strips and fish filets; dressed in high-fat sauces such as mayonnaise; are either deep fried or garnished with fatty meats such as bacon or sausage.

A new survey from the Agricultural Research Service and Harvard University found a link between fast-food consumption by kids in the U.S. and increased calories and poor nutrition. Children who ate fast food on the two days surveyed took in more total calories, more calories per gram of food, and more total saturated fat than children who didn't eat fast food. The fast-food-eaters also took in more added sugars and sugar-sweetened beverages, and less milk, fiber, and fruit. Even children who ate fast food on just one out of the two days surveyed showed similar dietary problems on the day they ate fast food.

So here are my nominees for the top five high-fat, empty-calorie culprits:

Fast food. Swearing off fast food isn't the only answer. We can make better choices at fast food chains, such as ordering charbroiled chicken sandwiches (hold the mayonnaise), bean burritos, and pizza with extra tomato sauce and vegetable toppings. And we can eat fast food less often --- maybe once a week instead of every day.

Mayonnaise. Mayonnaise is basically made up of three ingredients: vegetable oil, egg yolks, and vinegar (it's not the vinegar that I'm worried about). Mayonnaise makes this list because it is loaded with calories and fat grams. Many people slather around 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise or mayonnaise-based sauces on their sandwich. This adds up to 198 calories and 22 grams of fat. See what I mean?

Chips and microwave popcorn. Although the potato and corn kernels that go into making these popular snack items have some nutritional value, once you coat them in partially hydrogenated oil, they top the charts in calories and fat grams. A 2-ounce bag of potato chips contains around 303 calories and 20 grams of fat. A bag of microwave popping corn (not the light kind) totals 435 calories and 25 grams of fat.

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