What’s an empty calorie?

Many of us have heard that weight loss and maintenance is about a balance between calories in (those we eat) and calories out (those we burn by being active). So when we hear the term empty calorie, we may wonder what exactly does that mean?

Empty Calories are calories from solid fats and added sugars in foods and beverages. These two ingredients add to the total calories in an item, but provide little to no vitamins or minerals. Because of this, these calories are called empty.

To help us better identify solid fats, they are the fats that are solid at room temperature, like butter, beef fat and shortening. Some solid fats are found naturally in foods, but they can also be added when foods are processed by food companies or when they are prepared.

An added sugar is simply the sugar or syrup that is added when foods or beverages are processed or prepared.  In contrast, natural sugar would be the sugars found naturally in foods like fruit.

Although, solid fats and added sugars can make a food or beverage more appealing, they also add a lot of calories. Fats, in particular, are concentrated sources of calories. Being able to recognize and limit foods high in empty calories can help us reduce our calorie intake and reach our weight goal.

You can lower your intake of empty calories by eating and drinking foods with empty calories less often. You can also cut down on empty calories by choosing a smaller amount to eat or drink. Or, you can choose foods and beverages with fewer solid fats and added sugars.

Some examples of foods with “empty calories” are:

The sugars or sweeteners in soft drinks, fruit punch, candies, cakes, cookies, pies and ice cream.

The solid fats in cookies, cakes, pizza, cheese, sausages, fatty meats, butter and stick margarine.

Some foods–such as milk, yogurt, and cereals–provide important nutrients, but they can also contain some empty calories. For example, sweetened yogurt and sweetened breakfast cereals contain added sugars. Whole milk and cheese contain solid fat. Look for choices of milk, yogurt, cheese, and cereals that are low-fat, fat-free, unsweetened, or with no-added sugars.

Now and then, there is room for foods with some empty calories from added sugars or solid fats. But most daily food choices should be low in these empty calories.

Need more tips? Let us know, we want to help!

Want to learn more about empty calories? Visit: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/weight-management-calories/calories/empty-calories.html

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