Empty Calories: What They Are and How to Avoid Them

empty calories
The term empty calories applies to food that is rich in food energy, but has little or no nutritional value as it lacks nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants and amino acids. Eating foods that are rich in empty calories leads to excess body weight and increased risk of some chronic diseases such as hypertension, type 2 diabetes, depression and many more. The empty calories come from two sources – solid fats and added sugars.

Solid fats are mainly found in foods such as:

  • Animal fats, including milk fat, chicken fat, beef fat, cream and pork fat;
  • Hydrogenated vegetable oils such as stick margarine, coconut oil, palm oil, etc.;
  • Foods like cakes, cookies, donuts, pastries, croissants;
  • Cheeses and foods containing cheese (pizza);
  • Sausages, bacon and hot dogs;
  • Ice cream and other dairy desserts;
  • French Fries and fried chicken;
  • Chicken dishes with the skin.

Added sugars are mostly found in the following foods and drinks: 

  • Applesauce and canned fruits;
  • Fruit snacks, candy and cookies;
  • Sports drinks;
  • Flavored coffee and tea drinks;
  • Sugar-sweetened cereals;
  • Sweetened alcoholic drinks.

Tips to minimize empty calories intake

  • Replace greasy meats with low fat alternatives – choose low fat cheese; eat chicken or turkey lean meat without the skin; choose water, milk or unsweetened fresh juices instead of soda.
  • Read product labels – check nutrition information on product labels and pay special attention to the amount of saturated fat, sugar and sodium as percent of Recommended Daily Value (% of RDV) that you consume.
  • Increase intake of nutrient dense foods - eating a small amount of empty calories is nothing to worry about, but be sure to eat high nutrition foods as well. Take control over your meal size and try to reduce the percentage of unhealthy foods and drinks to a minimum.

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