Energy Density, Light Beer, and Healthy Cereals

Q: What does energy density mean?
Q: Is light beer a more healthful choice than regular beer?
Q: How do you suggest choosing a healthful cereal from among so many choices?

Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q: What does energy density mean?
A: Food’s energy content is measured in calories. Energy density refers to how many calories a food contains for a certain weight. For an equal number of calories, foods low in energy density will provide a larger portion and thus, satisfy hunger more than foods high in energy density. Studies show that creating a diet low in energy density such as with fruits and vegetables can help weight control. When you choose foods only on the basis of low calorie content, your hunger may not be fully satisfied. If you ate primarily refined grains, sweets or drinks, you may get hungry soon after eating. By filling up on foods low in energy density and including some lean protein sources, you can feel comfortably full on relatively few calories.

Q: Is light beer a more healthful choice than regular beer?
A: Beer’s impact on health relates to both its calorie and alcohol content. When it comes to weight control and calorie content, a 12-ounce regular beer runs about 140 to 150 calories, whereas light beers contain approximately 95 to 115 calories. Non-alcoholic beers run about 45 to 75 calories for the same portion. Excess alcohol, on the other hand, may raise cancer risk. In most cases, the alcohol content of light beer is only slightly lower than that of regular beer. (The decreased calories are due to lower carbohydrate content.) Overall, the impact of alcohol-containing beer on health and weight probably comes more from the amount of beer you drink than the type. When serving sizes grow larger or increase in number, both calories and alcohol increase. To lower risk of cancer and safeguard overall health, women should drink no more than 12 ounces of beer a day regular or light and men should drink no more than 24 ounces.

Q: How do you suggest choosing a healthful cereal from among so many choices?
A: First, look for a whole-grain cereal. The phrases on the box fronts can be misleading so check the list of ingredients; the first item should be a whole grain such as whole wheat or oats. Most Americans get only about half of the recommended amount of dietary fiber. Check the Nutrition Facts panel and choose a cereal with at least three grams of fiber per serving. If you have high blood cholesterol, you might specifically look for choices that supply more soluble fiber with such ingredients as oats or psyllium (a grain). If you’re devoted to a low-fiber favorite, try combining the cereal with a higher-fiber bran or whole-grain choice. Some high-fiber cereals are low in sugar while others contain quite a bit more. Consider how much you indulge your sweet tooth during the rest of the day before deciding how much sugar to allow in your cereal. Remember that part of the sugar content listed for cereals containing raisins and other fruit comes from natural sugar in the fruit. If you need more calcium, B-12, folate or other nutrients, you may want a cereal fortified with those nutrients. However, since you eat other foods throughout the day, there’s no reason to choose a cereal only because it has more of every vitamin and mineral. Also, check the fat and calorie content. If you’re watching your weight, be careful of cereals that pack a high calorie content in a small portion. One ounce of cereal is approximately 100 calories. For many cereals this serving measures from three-quarter to one cup, an amount no bigger than your fist. If you choose a granola or other calorie-dense cereal, then one ounce will measure only about a quarter of a cup.

Reprinted with permission from the American Institute for Cancer Research www.aicr.org

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