Health Tips

From tips on how to lose weight effectively to ways to combat boredom eating, this collection of informative articles covers a wide range of health topics that matter to real people, like you.

Empty Calories Explained and How to Avoid Them

Fortunately, learning how to avoid empty calories does not require deprivation or restriction if you gradually begin to swap empty calories in each category of food or beverage you consume with nutrient-dense substitutions.


Have you ever succumbed to a late-night craving for cake, cookies, or chips, only to find yourself with that empty, sinking feeling in your stomach not long afterward? Chances are high that you've fallen victim to the temptations of empty calories that are prevalent in many of your favorite foods. Despite their ability to leave you feeling empty, empty calories didn't receive their label due to their influence over your emotional state, but due to their lack of nutritive value and their destructive influence over your health state. But what exactly are empty calories? Learn about what constitutes empty calories and how to avoid them.

What are Empty Calories?

Calories from solid fats and added sugars may be abundant in foods and beverages in the American diet, but the truth is that they confer little or no nutritive value. As they are "empty" of nutrition, the calories from these foods are called empty calories. Solid fats describe those fats that are solid at room temperature, such as butter, beef fat, and shortening. Certain foods naturally contain solid fats, while other solid fats are added during food processing and preparation. Similarly, added sugars refer to sugars and syrups that do not occur naturally in foods, but are added to foods or beverages. Explore more on the role of dietary sugar and it's link to obesity.

In the American diet, common foods that constitute empty calories include sweet treats like cakes, cookies, ice cream, and pies, beverages like sodas, energy drinks, fruit juice, pizza, as well as sausages, hot dogs, bacon, and ribs. All of these foods include either or both solid fats and sugars. However, there are many other empty-calorie foods that do not include significant solid fats or added sugars, like store-bought low-fat cheese and low-fat hot dogs. Some foods, such as soda or candy, comprise all empty calories, while others contain some nutritive value alongside empty calories, such as fried chicken and sugar-sweetened cereals.

How to Avoid Empty Calories

Although learning what empty calories are is beneficial, implementing this newfound knowledge through dietary changes can prove more difficult. Fortunately, learning how to avoid empty calories does not require deprivation or restriction if you gradually begin to swap empty calories in each category of food or beverage you consume with nutrient-dense substitutions.

Making Healthier Choices at Work

Forego convenience foods like packaged cakes, cookies, and candy by replacing these with whole, fresh fruits, low-fat yogurt, or desserts with a light, natural sweetener like honey. If you drink sugar-sweetened beverages like sports drinks or sweetened coffee, replace them with water, tea, tomato or other vegetable juices that quench your thirst and pack a punch of vitamins. Instead of lunch meats, choose protein-rich foods like low-fat chicken or turkey. Breads with refined flours are a common culprit in providing many empty calories in the American diet, but you can ditch the trend and indulge in a sandwich made with rye, sprouted wheat, or another whole-grain bread. And when you feel a snack attack coming on, munch on baked chips or air-popped popcorn instead of caving to cravings for chips or French fries that leave your healthy diet plan in the lurch. Check out more workplace snacking habits to ditch or improve here.

If you're tired of finding healthy alternatives to your favorite empty-calorie foods, let bistroMD's diet delivery service offer you a helping hand with fresh, wholesome, nutrient-dense snacks and meals that are chef-prepared and physician-certified help you lose weight and maintain it.

Written By Christy Zagarella, MS, RDN. Published on November 18, 2015. Updated on April 29, 2019.


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