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Features

When snacking, reach for 'empty calorie' foods

Tomatoes only have 21 calories per 3 1/2 ounces, but it also contains 10 milligrams of vitamin C and 623 international units of vitamin A, making them a good snacking choice.
Tomatoes only have 21 calories per 3 1/2 ounces, but it also contains 10 milligrams of vitamin C and 623 international units of vitamin A, making them a good snacking choice.

Many of us are familiar with the term "empty calories."

This usually applies to foods high in calories and with little to no nutritional value. Some people call these foods "junk foods." Others call them "favorite foods."

On the other hand, the real "empty calorie" foods actually very little calories. They may also be dense in nutrients and fiber, so they fill you up and keep you full without necessarily filling you out.

Here are some of my favorites. For the nutritional value, I turned to "The Wellness Encyclopedia of Food and Nutrition" by Dr. Sheldon Margen and the University of California at Berkeley, my favorite food "bible" for nearly 20 years.

• Cucumber – I generally eat half of one a day, with breakfast. That's not as strange as it sounds. Although cucumbers are a type of gourd and not part of the melon family (as some people think), they do have a mild melon flavor and and make a refreshing end to the meal.

One cup of sliced raw cucumber has just 13 calories, less than a gram of fat and only two milligrams of sodium.

• Lettuce – Almost any variety of lettuce (except romaine, yes, I'm spooked by all the recalls), is my favorite mid-morning snack, without dressing. My favorites are red and green leaf, red and green oak leaf, Boston, Bibb and butter.

Two cups of any of these varieties have less than 20 calories and, in the case of Bibb and Boston, less than 15. They also contain small amounts of calcium: 68 milligrams (leaf) and 35 (Bibb and Boston).

• Broccoli – This, along with either baby kale or raw cabbage, is my go-to afternoon snack.Yes, we're still talking raw. One cup of chopped raw broccoli has just 28 calories, 93 milligrams of vitamin C, 1542 international units of vitamin A and 325 milligrams of potassium.

A cup and a half of raw cabbage has 24 calories and 47 milligrams of vitamin C. The same of raw kale has 50 calories 120 milligrams of vitamin C, 8,9000 international units of vitamin A and 447 milligrams of potassium.

Granted, raw vegetables don't have the same appeal, even for me, as, say, a square (large square) of dark chocolate.

But even dark chocolate has benefits. The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health says dark chocolate is rich in iron, copper, magnesium, zinc, phosphorus and flavanols.

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