Nutrition

The Meaning of Empty Calories

As we welcome autumn and the weather gets cooler, it’s hard not to reach for comfort foods. For most people comfort food also means junk food, which also means consumption of empty calories. Even if you’ve never heard of the term empty calories chances are you can guess what foods they exist in.

WHAT ARE EMPTY CALORIES?

  • They are exactly what they sound like, they are calories consumed that contain little to no nutritional value such as calories from saturated fats and/or added sugars.
  • Solid fats & added sugars add calories to food but FEW to NO nutrients.

WHAT ARE SATURATED FATS?

  • Saturated fats are solid at room temperature.
  • Some saturated fats may be naturally occurring in foods, but they can be added when foods are processed.
  • Examples: butter, beef fat, and shortening.

WHAT ARE ADDED SUGARS?

  • Sugars and syrups that are added when food or beverages are processed or prepared
  • Examples: soda/soft drinks, energy drinks, fruit drinks, cakes

WHAT FOODS CONTAIN EMPTY CALORIES?

  • Cakes, cookies, pastries, and donuts (contain both saturated fat and added sugars)
  • Sodas, energy drinks, sports drinks, and fruit drinks (contain added sugars)
  • Cheese (contains saturated fat)
  • Pizza (contains saturated fat)
  • Ice cream (contains both saturated fat and added sugars)
  • Sausages, hot dogs, bacon, and ribs (contain saturated fat)

Replace empty calorie foods with nutrient dense foods, which take longer to eat and help curb hunger.

A small order of fries is about the same amount of calories as 10 cups of spinach & a small apple & 1 ½ cups of strawberries.

  • A glazed donut is the same number of calories as a bowl of bran flakes with skim milk, blueberries, and a slice of whole-wheat toast with peanut butter.
  • One candy bar is the same number of calories and a pita stuffed with low-fat chicken salad.
  • One ounce of potato chips is the same calories as 3 ½ cups of air-popped popcorn.


A small amount of empty calories won’t wreck your diet, but remember moderation is key.

By Bailey Sweeting

Photo Source: yourskinnyjeans.blogspot.com

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