Boston University Sargent Choice Nutrition Center

Making the Most of Elective Calories

Sometimes a plate of French fries or brownie sundae is exactly what you want.  It may not be nutritious, but it gives you something else that you need.  100% pure pleasure.  That’s what elective calories should be for you.  A real treat.

Why is thoughtful eating so important here?  Because today’s food environment provides endless opportunities for elective calories.  And they don’t always provide the 100% pure pleasure they should.  Think about foods that you eat that contain a high proportion of added sugar or solid fats such as trans-fats (margarine, vegetable shortening, partially hydrogenated oils, deep-fried foods and commercially baked cookies, cakes, muffins and pastries) and saturated fats (red meats, poultry skin and dark meat, butter, cream cheese, cream, whole and 2% milk, palm oil, palm kernel oil and coconut oil).

An easy way to eat better is to practice thoughtful eating.  Next time someone offers you a food that is not nutritious, ask yourself these questions:

Is this really what I want? If not, practice saying “no thank you” and seek out a treat that you really do.

Do I want this right now? How often are you offered a treat at a time when you don’t really need it? Save it for later when you can fully enjoy it.

How sweet or rich does this treat need to be for me? Processed foods are often sweeter and richer than you need them to be.  Ask for less cream cheese on your bagel or less chocolate syrup in your mocha.

Can I increase the nutrition and filling power of this treat by adding fruits or vegetables? Have a piece of fruit with your cookies or cut vegetables with your chips.  If you want more cookies or chips, have more fruit and vegetable too.

Am I enjoying every bite or sip? You deserve to say “Mmmm” with every inch of your body with every single bite!  When the good taste in your mouth is no longer a full-body experience, stop.

You’ll probably notice that many of the treats you consider don’t pass the test.  But when you find one that does, savor it! And don’t feel a bit guilty afterward.

Here’s a chart of some elective choice foods with their calorie counts.