What are Empty Calories?

Everybody knows that the foods and drinks that we consume each day contain calories. It is also true to say that calories are essential for you to carry out your daily routine, but perhaps more importantly eating too many will cause weight gain. But what are empty calories, and where do they fit into the equation? This article is going to explain this for you so that you have a clear understanding as to exactly what an empty calories are, and the type of foods that they can be found in.

If you would like more information on what calories are in general, please click here.

Empty calories definition

Empty calories are found in solid fats and added sugars. These are components of foods that add calories but have minimal, or non-existent nutritional value. In other words they do absolutely nothing for you in terms of goodness.

If you think about it from a health perspective, if consuming calories is unavoidable then it makes sense to make a conscious effort to go for those which provide you with nutrients, than those that don't right?

The problem is that most people in America and the UK do not take this into consideration, and the result is that the average person consumes far too many empty calories than they should.

Which foods contain empty calories?

If you are aware of exactly which foods contain added sugars and solid fats, you are going to be able to make better dietary choices, as these should be avoided in favor of foods and beverages that have a higher nutritional content. Consuming calories in your diet is unavoidable, but it is well within your means to easily avoid empty calories.

The problem with empty calories is that they are found in the foods and drinks that people in places like America and Europe find so tempting. These are processed, high calorie foods such as fast foods and fizzy drinks.

Here are some empty calorie foods:

  • Candy
  • Chips
  • Cakes
  • Cookies
  • Donuts
  • Pastries
  • Muffins
  • Chocolate cake
  • Biscuits
  • Cornbread
  • Some cereals
  • Pancake syrup
  • Some cereal bars
  • Sodas
  • Energy/sports drinks
  • Fruit flavored drinks
  • Iced tea
  • Fancy coffee and tea drinks
  • Pizza
  • Cheese
  • Cheese sauce
  • Milk
  • Chocolate milk
  • Ice cream
  • Frozen yogurt
  • Bacon
  • Sausages
  • Hot dogs
  • Ribs
  • Chips/fries
  • Onion rings
  • Condiments such as apple sauce

Calories in alcohol also count against your limit of empty calories, despite the fact it is not a solid fat or added sugar.

A few empty calories are not going to do you any harm, but primarily eating foods and beverages that have lots of them in is not good for you at all. It is down to you and your dietary choices as to how many that you do consume, but the sensible option is to minimize any foods that feature on the above list in favor for healthier options.

What are added sugars and solid fats?

So what are solid fats and added sugars? Well just to be clear here are a couple of straight forward definitions for you:

A solid fat is something that solidify at room temperature, such as butter and beef fat. These can be found naturally in foods, and are often added to processed foods.

Added sugars are extra sugars and syrups that are added to processed foods, in addition to those that come naturally in other ingredients used.

How many empty calories should you be consuming?

Just like the total number of calories in general, there is a limit to the number of empty calories that you should be consuming in a day. This varies due to your age, gender, and activity level.

  • Children aged 2-3 - 135
  • Children aged 4-8 - 120
  • Boys 9-13 - 160
  • Girls 9-13 - 120
  • Boys 14-18 - 265
  • Girls 14-18 - 160
  • Men 19-30 - 330
  • Women 19-30 - 260
  • Men 31-50 - 265
  • Women 31-50 - 160
  • Men over 51 - 260
  • Women over 51 - 120

These numbers are based on people who get less than half an hours physical activity a day. More physical activity increases your demand for calories, and therefore increases the limit of empty calories allowed in your diet.

The reason that children aged 2 to 3 is higher than other ages is because younger children have a lower nutritional need, so it does not matter if more of the calories that they consume are empty.

We credit the information in this section to: www.choosemyplate.gov

How to avoid empty calories in your diet?

What and how much of any food that you eat, is down to you. Now that you know what empty calories are, and which foods that they can be found in, you have a better idea as to what to cut down on, or even out of your diet. There are other alternatives though, in versions of foods that are unsweetened or low in fat.

Check the nutritional details on the labels of foods and drinks that you are thinking about buying. If they are processed foods that are high in fat and sugar, then you are going to be consuming lots of empty calories. Go for healthy and nutritious options such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, all of which contain the vitamins and minerals that your body needs, and that empty calories do not provide.

A couple of dietary swap ideas:

  • Drink fat-free milk instead of whole milk.
  • Go for an unsweetened sauce as opposed to a sweetened one.
  • Pick out extra lean meats over regular ground meats.
  • Unsweetened cereals over the sweetened varieties.
  • Water over sodas.

A little bit of effort can see you easily avoid or reduce empty calorie foods.

Related pages

Here are some other pages on our site that you may find helpful:

Make the right choices

It is all too easy to go for foods that contain empty calories, but you have it within you to recognise and make the right choices as far as your diet is concerned. Cut out the processed and junk foods and replace them with foods that have high nutritional values such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and grains. In the long run your body is going to thank you for it.

We have information on the nutritional and calorific content of hundreds of the everyday foods and beverages that make up your diet listed on this site, all of which can be found via the menus on the left hand side of the page.

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