What are empty calories?

Empty calories are the calories obtained from food with no nutrients.

Are you trying to live a healthier lifestyle? Are you looking for healthier options for you and your family? If that sounds familiar, there is a key term that you need to know and understand: empty calories!

Empty calories are the calories obtained from food with no nutrients. These calories mostly come from solid fats and/or added sugars. Learning more about empty calories can help you make healthier food and drink choices.

Solid fats are “solid” looking at room temperature, like butter, beef fat and shortening. Some solid fats are found naturally in foods or added to products to give them flavor or consistency. Added sugars are sugars and syrups that are added when foods or beverages are processed or prepared.

The major problem with empty calories is that solid fats and added sugars can make a food or beverage more appealing, but they will add many calories to what you are drinking or eating. Frequently, you are completely unaware that you are consuming empty calories. When energy intake exceeds your energy requirements and is not used for physical activity, those extra calories are stored in your body as fat, over time; they lead to weight gain and obesity. Some examples of these food products are:

  • Cakes, cookies, pastries and donuts
  • Sodas, energy drinks, sports drinks and fruit drinks
  • Pizza
  • Ice-cream
  • Sausages, hot dogs, bacon and ribs

Becoming aware of these facts can help us make better choices. Instead of having empty calories, you can choose healthier food and beverages such as:

  • Choose water, milk or sugar-free soda instead of drinks with sugar.
  • Choose the fat-free or sugar free option, such as skim milk instead of whole milk or unsweetened cereal instead of sweetened cereals.
    • Check that the calories in these products are less than in the regular product.
  • Buy lean meat.
  • Change fried chicken for baked chicken.
  • Choose frozen yogurt instead of ice-cream.
  • Prepare and eat homemade pizza with heathier ingredients.

You can eat some of these empty calories sometimes; yet, always keep in mind that to meet your calorie and nutrient needs it is essential to be aware of empty calories and to limit the amount consumed. Balancing the calories and nutrients of what you eat is a must in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle!

Following the above tips are healthy and easy ways towards a balanced diet. If you would like to learn more about heathy lifestyles, visit U.S. Department of Agriculture’s My Plate. Michigan State University Extension offers various educational programs for adults, families and children that focus on lifestyle changes to promote healthy eating.

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