Empty calories. Why you should avoid them and how.

Empty calories. Why you should avoid them and how.
  • PublishedJune 12, 2020

This blog post talks about empty calories. Our bodies need fuel to run the day to day activities. This is the energy in the form of calories that we get from the food we eat.

Everybody needs a certain number of calories depending on weight, age, sex, gender, and physical activities.

Calories refer to the energy we get from the food we eat. That said, not all calories are equal. Different foods provide different calories and nutritional values.

And likewise, some foods contain zero nutritional value. These are what we call empty calories since they provide energy with little or no nutritional value.

What are empty calories?

Empty calories are those that come from foods that provide little or no essential nutrients or minerals. In other words, these foods provide only calories that can cause weight gain. 

Unlike nutrient-dense foods, empty calories contain more calories than nutrients.

Essential nutrients such as carbs, protein, fat, vitamins, and water are always minimal when it comes to empty calories.

We can easily identify foods containing empty calories by reading the labels. They usually contain added sugars and solid fats.

Added sugars are sugars that are added during food processing. They are usually in the form of syrups, honey, or concentrated fruit or vegetable juices.

Solid fats on the other hand are fats that are solid at room temperature examples include beef fat and butter.

What is the difference between calories and empty calories?

empty calories
Image by Robin Higgins from Pixabay

A calorie is the amount of energy or heat it takes to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 degree Celsius. In simple terms, calories refer to the energy we get from the food we eat. This helps our bodies can have fuel to function properly.

On the other hand, empty calories are a type of calories got from foods that provide little or no nutritional value.

In simple terms, empty calories are just a sub-category of calories. Empty calories come from added sugars and solid fats.

Are empty calories good or bad?

Empty calorie foods give no essential nutrients and they just put your body at a risk.

Major risks involved in eating empty calories.

1. Weight gain.

Foods with empty calories come along with unhealthy weight gain. Since these foods are usually high in calories and low in nutrients, they will cause unhealthy weight gain backed with nutrient deficiency.

Secondly, fructose, which is a compound in added sugars causes leptin resistance which is a hunger regulating hormone. This causes frequent hunger, cravings, and hence overeating.

2. Nutrient deficiency.

Empty calorie foods lead to the nutritional deficiency if they are the main source of calories.

The fact that you will only be consuming calories without nutritional value will cause deficiency-related diseases and conditions.

Conditions and diseases like unhealthy weight loss, loss of muscle, stunted growth, persistent hunger, and chronic diseases.

3. Increased risk of getting type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is attributed to many reasons and one of the major causes is obesity. Obesity is often linked to the intake of too much sugar that is associated with empty calorie foods.

The consumption of empty calories also leads to resistance of insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels in the body. This resistance raises sugar levels and increases the risk of diabetes.

4. Risk of heart disease.

Empty calorie foods increase the risk of heart disease. They increase the chances of obesity, inflammation, and high blood pressure which are major risks for heart disease.

Empty calorie foods especially sugary foods are linked to atherosclerosis.  This refers to the buildup of fats, cholesterol, and other substances in and on your artery walls (plaque), which can restrict blood flow.  When the arteries are blocked, blood flow will be disturbed causing heart disease and related conditions.

5. Empty calorie foods can accelerate skin aging.

High consumption of empty calorie foods especially sugary foods accelerates premature skin aging.

Advanced glycation end products damage collagen and elastin which are proteins responsible for skin elasticity.

6. Increased risk of certain diseases.

Empty calorie foods usually have a high content of added sugars that increase the risk of certain cancers.

These kinds of foods increase the chances of inflammation and insulin resistance which are both linked to a higher risk of cancer.

Cancers such as esophageal cancer, pleural cancer, and cancer of the small intestines are very common to people who eat empty calorie foods in large numbers.

7. Depression.

Healthy diets are associated with healthy living and improved moods while empty calorie foods increase the chances of depression.

To summarize: empty-calorie foods are not healthy and choosing healthy foods can save you from associated risks. 

Do empty calories make you fat?

Have you realized that what is referred to as junk food is in fact foods with empty calories?

People who eat these types of foods tend to gain weight due to the many calories present in such foods.

Empty calorie foods are usually foods that are highly processed, high in added sugars and solid fat. They are linked to weight gain and a high risk of overweight and obesity.

How do empty calorie foods cause weight gain?

  • Too many calories

Empty calorie foods are usually high in calories of which you may not fully burn through metabolism and physical activities. Calories that aren’t burned are stored in the body as reserve energy in the form of fat. High-fat accumulation can lead to overweight, obesity, and related conditions.

  • Added sugars.

Another way empty calorie food can cause weight gain is through added sugars got from foods like pastries, ice cream, and other sugary foods.

These types of food increase hunger and cravings. Compound fructose that is present in added sugars reduces leptin resistance which is the hunger regulating hormone that signals your body to stop eating.

This increases calorie intake since they can’t curb hunger and just increase appetite leading to a high-calorie intake thus weight gain.

Examples of empty calorie foods.

empty calories

Empty calorie foods are foods made from highly processed ingredients, high added sugar content, and solid fats. Examples of such foods include;

  • Pastries such as Cakes, cookies, biscuits, muffins, donuts, and white bread.
  • Sugary beverages like soda, energy and sports drinks, fruit drinks that contain added sugars.
  • Processed oils such as soybean and canola oil.
  • Some dairy products such as butter, shortening, cheese, ice cream.
  • Meats like sausages, hot dogs, bacon, and all meats that contain solid fats.
  • Most fast foods such as pizzas, burgers, wraps French fries, and other foods that contain added sugars and solid fat.
  • Candy bars, hard candies, and chocolates
  • Condiments such as ketchup and barbecue sauce.
  • Alcohol.

 Is water an empty calorie?

To begin with, empty-calorie foods are those foods that are full of calories with no nutritional values.

Water on the other hand has no calories and it is essential for the body to fully function. Water is not an empty calorie.

Unlike empty calorie foods that come with many health risks, water has many benefits to the body.

The benefits associated with drinking water include; digestion, joint lubrication, boosting skin health, regulating body temperature, and many others.

Another benefit of drinking water is weight loss. To learn more about how water can aid weight loss, read the associated article here.

What happens if you eat too many empty calories?

Don’t expect a positive answer because empty calories are never healthy for your body but rather exposes it to health risks.

Foods containing empty calories may be hard to do without for example cakes, pizzas, donuts, and many others. However, eating these foods once in a while can be okay unless eaten more often.

Eating empty calorie foods can cause weight gain and obesity since they contain lots of calories and added sugars.

Many empty calorie foods contain added sugars and their related health risks. To learn all the health risks associated with added sugars, read the article here that will teach you Health risks associated with added sugars and how to overcome them

How do I reduce empty calories?

empty calories

Cutting empty calories from your diet can be a little hard since these types of food are delicious and very common in our lives. Take the example of pizzas, pastries, hot dogs, and other junk foods.

However, you shouldn’t make an excuse to eat them more often but rather find means of cutting the empty calorie foods from your diet.

  • Cut on your alcohol intake.
  • Plan your meals to avoid making last-minute decisions of which most of them will be (fast foods) empty calorie foods.
  • Have nutritious and healthy snacks around you. In most cases, we choose empty calorie foods if we have them in our fridges or kitchens. Therefore, stocking your kitchen with healthy snacks can help you cut unhealthy empty calorie foods.
  • Avoid foods with labels such as added sugars and solid fats. I have not been able to list all foods with empty calories but when you read on the label and the food has added sugars and solid fat, avoid it.
  • Learn and know healthy foods. With such knowledge, it will be easier for you to choose healthy foods. I wrote an article about healthy foods you can eat; the article will list you a list of healthy weight loss-friendly foods. (breakfast, lunch, dinner).
  • Substitute sweetened food activities with fruits instead. For example, we can substitute strawberries with honey or syrup in yogurt.
  • Stay away from sugar -loaded desserts like ice cream, cakes, and substitute them with healthy fruits and vegetables.
  • Eat whole foods while avoiding those that are processed or refined. For instance, choose whole grains over refined flour.
The bottom line;

We find empty calories in most junk foods and sugary drinks. To avoid them, stay away from such foods no matter how much they are tempting. It is safe to eat these foods once in a while.

It wouldn’t hurt to eat a slice of pizza or cake once in a while. Just avoid making it a habit

Since empty calories have no nutritional values, whenever you eat them, include dense nutrient foods in your meal.

Nutrient-dense foods are foods that contain more nutrients than calories. In most cases, weight loss-friendly foods are healthy foods and we may call them nutrient-dense foods.


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