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Diet – Empty Calorie Foods

empty calories – what are they?

Despite what the term implies, most empty calorie foods can contain an extremely high number of calories. Often known as discretionary calories,Empty Calorie Drinks 1 they produce the same amount of energy as other calories but have little, or no nutrient value whatsoever, hence the term “empty calories”.

There are many empty calorie foods but the biggest culprit, especially if trying to lose weight, are sodas, carbonated soft drinks and fruit drinks. These all contain high amounts of sugar and sweeteners. Alcohol contains no nutrients whatsoever apart from empty calories.

These are closely followed by empty calorie foods such as cakes, pastries, pies etc, although not as high as sodas and soft drinks, they can contain large amounts of sugar as well asEmpty Calorie Foods saturated fats such as butter, margarine and lard, plus the worst fats of all: trans or hydrogenated fats. Many of them also contain processed carbohydrates.

Other foods to avoid are fast and junk foods. Most of them contain unhealthy trans and hydrogenated fats, especially the likes of French fries, breaded chicken, onion rings and fish fillets, which are deep fried mostly in hydrogenated oil. Not conducive to low cholesterol and a healthy heart!

Did you know that 1 teaspoon of sugar, depending on the size of the spoon, can contain between 15 and 20 calories? Did you also know that a 12 oz. (355 ml, 3/5ths of a pint) of most fruit drinks contain 12 teaspoons of sugar? That’s a whopping 180 calories of sugar without anything else.

Sodas and soft drinks, particularly carbonated ones, run a close second with 9 teaspoons of sugar per 12 oz. serving.

Don’t be misled into believing that diet cola, sodas with no added sugars or sugar-free are the answer. They’re not! They’re sweetened with artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, which are highly acidic. Excessive use of this type of soda will lower your body’s pH which will become acidic and eventually lead to weight gain. See Posts: pH (potential of Hydrogen) – Part 1 and pH (potential of Hydrogen) – Part 2

Candy and candy bars all come into the equation with a 1 oz. (28 grams) chocolate bar having 3 teaspoons of sugar.

empty calorie foods: avoid over-Indulging

It is really important you don’t over-indulge on empty calorie foods, especially if on a weight loss diet as, apart from lacking in vitamins and minerals and many other nutrients essential to good health, over-indulgence will lead to weight gain.

It is also important that a proper body weight be maintained. This can be done by balancing food energy intake with activity.

If you engage in heavy physical activity you will need more food energy as fuel than a person who leads a sedentary life or does little or no exercise (not advisable), this can be supplied by empty calories foods in addition to balancing them with foods with essential nutrients.

The recommended adult daily calorie needs of somebody doing limited daily exercise with the maximum amount of empty calories in parentheses are as follows:

Male aged 19-30: 2400 (330); 31-50: 2200 (265); 51+ 2000 (260).

Female aged 19-30: 2000 (260); 31-50: 1800 (160); 51+ 1600 (-).

Dairy Products
Food Amount Estimated
Total Calories
Empty Calories
1% milk (low fat) 1 cup 102 18
2% milk (reduced fat) 1 cup 122 37
Whole milk 1 cup 149 63
Low-fat chocolate milk 1 cup 158 64
Cheddar cheese 1½ oz. 172 113
Whole Milk
Mozzarella Cheese
1½ oz. 128 76
Fruit flavored
low-fat yogurt
1 cup (8 fl. oz.) 250 152
Frozen yogurt 1 cup 224 119
Ice cream, vanilla 1 cup 275 210
Cheese sauce ¼ cup 120 64
Protein Foods
Food Amount Estimated
Total Calories
Empty Calories
Regular ground beef
80% lean
3 oz. Cooked 229 64
Roasted chicken
thigh with skin
3 oz. cooked 209 47
Fried chicken
with skin and batter
3 medium wings 478 382
Beef sausage
3 oz. cooked 345 172
Pork sausage 2 patties (2 oz.) 204 96
Beef bologna 3 slices
(1 oz. each)
261 150
Food Amount Estimated
Total Calories
Empty Calories
Blueberry muffin 1 small muffin
(2 oz.)
259 69
Croissant 1 medium (2 oz.) 231 111
Biscuit, plain 1 medium
(2½” diameter)
186 71
Cornbread 1 piece
(2½” x 2½” x 1¼”)
167 52
Corn flakes cereal 1 cup 90 8
Frosted corn flakes
1 cup 147 56
Graham crackers 2 large pieces 118 54
Whole wheat
5 crackers 85 25
Round snack
7 crackers 106 42
Chocolate chip
2 large 161 109
Chocolate cake 1 slice of
two-layer cake
408 315
Glazed doughnut,
yeast type
1 medium,
3¾” diameter
255 170
Cinnamon sweet roll 1 medium roll 223 137
Fruit and Vegetables
Food Amount Estimated
Total Calories
Empty Calories
1 cup 173 68
French fries 1 medium order 431 185
Onion rings 1 order
(8 to 9 rings)
275 160
Miscellaneous Foods
Food Amount Estimated
Total Calories
Empty Calories
Pepperoni pizza 1 slice 14″ pizza,
regular crust
340 139
Regular soda 1 can
(12 fl. oz.)
136 136
Regular soda 1 bottle
(19.9 fl. oz.)
192 192
Fruit-flavored drink 1 cup 128 128
Butter 1 teaspoon 36 33
Stick margarine 1 teaspoon 36 32
Cream cheese 1 Tablespoon 41 36
Heavy (whipping)
1 Tablespoon 51 45
Frozen whipped
topping (Non dairy)
¼ cup 60 55
Alcoholic Beverages
Food Amount Estimated
Total Calories
Empty Calories
Table wine 1 glass (5 fl. oz.) 121 121
Beer (regular) 1 can ( 12 fl. oz.) 155 155
Beer (light) 1 can (12 fl. oz.) 104 104
Distilled spirits
(80 proof)
1 standard drink
(1½ fluid oz.)
96 96

Calories from alcohol are not from solid fats or added sugars, but they count against your limit for empty calories.

Data provided by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). U.S. Department of Agriculture

I hope this article has given you some insight as to why empty calorie foods should be avoided in any healthy diet, be it weight loss or otherwise.

Next up, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of organic and non-organic food.

Organic or Non-Organic – Part 1

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