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What are Empty Calories?
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Empty Calories

MyPlate – Empty Calories

Enjoy your food, but eat less and avoid over-sized portions. Drink water instead of sugary drinks. Avoid calories from added sugar and/or solid fats.

What are Empty Calories?

Today, there are a number of foods and beverages in American diets that contain empty calories – calories from added sugars and/or solid fats, but with little if any nutrient value. Because of this, calories from added sugars and solid fats in food are referred to as empty calories. Knowing what constitute empty calories can be assistive in making better food choices.

Foods and beverages that add the emptiest calories include, but are not limited to:

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

Empty Calories from Added Sugar

Added sugars are syrups and sugars added to beverages and food when they are prepared or processed. Added sugars and solid fats can make food seem more appealing and even tastier to some; however, they also add a significant number of calories. For example, in most sodas and candies all the calories are empty calories. Avoid these “empty calorie foods” as they are bad for you health and don’t provide your body with nutrients.

Choose food products without added sugar. Reading nutrition facts labels on the products purchased, particularly processed foods, can help in the identification of added sugars. There are a number of ways that manufacturers list added sugars including:

  • white granulated sugar
  • sugar
  • sucrose
  • raw sugar
  • pancake syrup
  • maltose
  • invert sugar
  • high-fructose corn syrup
  • confectioner’s powdered sugar
  • brown sugar
  • anhydrous dextrose

Empty Calories from Solid Fats

Solid fats are fats that are solid when at room temperature such as shortening, beef fat, and butter. Foods that contain unhealthy solid fats are: most desserts, cakes, ice cream, pizza, hot dogs, bacon, ribs, French fries, ground beef with visible fat, fried chicken with the skin. Solid fats contain saturated fats and/or trans fats. These unhealthy fats raise bad (LDL) cholesterol levels in the blood, leading to increased risk for heart disease. This is why you should limit foods containing solid fats: saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol.

There are some solid fats that can be found in natural foods. They can also be added by processing through companies or when they are prepared.

The list of solid fats includes:

  • Pork fat or lard
  • Chicken fat
  • Butter
  • Stick margarine
  • Shortening
  • Cream
  • Milk fat
  • Palm and kernel oils
  • Coconut oil
  • Partially and hydrogenated oils

Note: Palm, kernel and coconut and hydrogenated oils are considered to be solid fats because they are high in the unhealthy saturated or trans fatty acids.

Remember that solid fats and oils provide the same number of calories per gram, but oils are much healthier alternative because they contain less saturated fats and/or trans fats. Furthermore, the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in vegetable oils do not raise bad LDL cholesterol levels in the blood; thus better for you health.

How do I count Empty Calories?

Fats have been determined to be concentrated sources of calories and eating them in even small amounts can help you exceed your empty calorie limit. Some beverages and foods with added sugars such as soda are often served in large quantities, which are also capable of easily sending you over the recommended empty calorie limit.

For example, 1 cup of vanilla ice cream contains a lot of empty calories: 250 empty calories to be exact. If you choose 1 cup of frozen yoghurt instead, you will consume less calories: 119 empty calories. With low fat chocolate milk you will get away with only 64 empty calories! Always select foods from each food group with low fat and no-sugar added. Limit empty calories to the amount that fits your calorie and nutrient needs.

It is important if you are trying to maintain a healthy well balanced diet, to limit the number of empty calories by either choosing smaller quantities or making better choices in the foods you consume. MyPlate recommends that you drink water versus sugary drinks, avoid big portions and enjoy what you eat but eat less.

How many Calories / Empty Calories can I have?

Your body needs a certain amount of calories in order to function and provide energy for physical activities. The recommended limit for empty calories is based on the individual calories needs of each person contingent upon age, gender, and level of physical activity they regularly engage in. Naturally, the more physically active a person is; the more calories they need and have an increased limit for empty calories.

As a bench mark, females who exercise less than 30 minutes a day and are 19-30 years old need about 2000 calories (260 empty calories), 31-50 years: 1800 calories (160 empty calories), 51+ years: 1600 calories (120 empty calories).

As a bench mark, men who exercise less than 30 minutes a day and are 19-30 years old need about 2400 calories (330 empty calories), 31-50 years: 2200 calories (265 empty calories), 51+ years: 2000 (260 empty calories).



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