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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
Total Calories
Empty Calories
1% milk (low fat)1 cup10218
2% milk (reduced fat)1 cup12237
Whole milk1 cup14963
Low-fat chocolate milk1 cup15864
Cheddar cheese1½ oz.172113
Whole Milk
Mozzarella Cheese
1½ oz.12876
Fruit flavored
low-fat yogurt
1 cup (8 fl. oz.)250152
Frozen yogurt1 cup224119
Ice cream, vanilla1 cup275210
Cheese sauce¼ cup12064
Protein Foods
Total Calories
Empty Calories
Regular ground beef
80% lean
3 oz. Cooked22964
Roasted chicken
thigh with skin
3 oz. cooked20947
Fried chicken
with skin and batter
3 medium wings478382
Beef sausage
3 oz. cooked345172
Pork sausage2 patties (2 oz.)20496
Beef bologna3 slices
(1 oz. each)
Total Calories
Empty Calories
Blueberry muffin1 small muffin
(2 oz.)
Croissant1 medium (2 oz.)231111
Biscuit, plain1 medium
(2½” diameter)
Cornbread1 piece
(2½” x 2½” x 1¼”)
Corn flakes cereal1 cup908
Frosted corn flakes
1 cup14756
Graham crackers2 large pieces11854
Whole wheat
5 crackers8525
Round snack
7 crackers10642
Chocolate chip
2 large161109
Chocolate cake1 slice of
two-layer cake
Glazed doughnut,
yeast type
1 medium,
3¾” diameter
Cinnamon sweet roll1 medium roll223137
Fruit and Vegetables
Total Calories
Empty Calories
1 cup17368
French fries1 medium order431185
Onion rings1 order
(8 to 9 rings)
Miscellaneous Foods
Total Calories
Empty Calories
Pepperoni pizza1 slice 14″ pizza,
regular crust
Regular soda1 can
(12 fl. oz.)
Regular soda1 bottle
(19.9 fl. oz.)
Fruit-flavored drink1 cup128128
Butter1 teaspoon3633
Stick margarine1 teaspoon3632
Cream cheese1 Tablespoon4136
Heavy (whipping)
1 Tablespoon5145
Frozen whipped
topping (Non dairy)
¼ cup6055
Alcoholic Beverages
Total Calories
Empty Calories
Table wine1 glass (5 fl. oz.)121121
Beer (regular)1 can ( 12 fl. oz.)155155
Beer (light)1 can (12 fl. oz.)104104
Distilled spirits
(80 proof)
1 standard drink
(1½ fluid oz.)

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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