Written by Angela Hinkle, EFNEP Extension Agent at UF/IFAS Escambia County
Reviewed by Karla P. Shelnutt, Ph.D., RD, LD/N, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, University of Florida, and Linda B. Bobroff, Ph.D., RD, LD/N, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, University of Florida
Wait–we eat too many what?! Well, I don’t mean the kind of sofa we sit on. In nutrition terms, “SoFAS” actually stands for “Solid Fats and Added Sugars.” Even though the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that we get no more than 15% of our daily calories from SoFAS, Americans of both sexes and all ages get closer to 35% of their daily calories from SoFAS. This adds up to nearly 800 calories a day.
This isn’t a big surprise when you consider the top food sources of SoFAS: pies, cakes, cookies, and donuts; fruit drinks, energy drinks, and sports drinks; pizza; ice cream; and sausages, hot dogs, bacon, and ribs. These foods and drinks are not strangers to most Americans! In fact, each of these groups of foods adds about 100-150 calories, on average, to the daily diet of Americans.
Solid fats are saturated or trans-fats that are solid at room temperature. They include butter, stick margarine, vegetable shortening, and lard. Added sugars are those that are added during processing or preparation. There are a variety of sugars added to foods, including table sugar (sucrose), glucose, fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, honey, and many more. All of these add calories with no (or very little) nutritional value.
SoFAS are also known as “empty calories” since they provide calories with few or no other nutrients. A major concern among health professionals is that so many people eat these empty-calorie foods in place of nutrient-rich foods that their bodies need. SoFAS not only provide little or no nutritional value, they can contribute to health problems like tooth decay, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
Nutrient-dense foods, on the other hand, provide key nutrients along with their calorie content. Nutrients build, repair, and maintain body tissues, regulate body processes, and give the body fuel for an active lifestyle. Nutrient-rich food choices fill you up, so there’s little room left for the empty calories from SoFAS that offer few nutrients.
To see how many empty calories are in some popular foods, check out How Do I Count Empty Calories?, from the USDA. You can calculate your exact calorie needs on the ChooseMyPlate Super Tracker site. You don’t have to count calories, but it’s a good idea to cut back on empty calories. To get help with this, read the Nutrition Facts panel and ingredient list on food packages. Choose foods that are lower in solid fats and total sugars.
And when you make your food choices, pick foods from all the food groups, and focus on those rich in nutrients like vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber, lean protein, and healthy fats. Include only small portions of foods that contain SoFAS, and only on occasion.
It’s time to get off the SoFAS—and it’s not a bad idea of get off the real sofa too, for a healthier lifestyle all around.
For more information about SoFAS, contact your local UF/IFAS Extension office.
(Image credit: UF/IFAS file photo.)