Are You Eating Empty Calories?

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Introduction: Good and bad calories

When people want to lose weight, they try to cut calories. They burn them up as fast as they can by exercising (lifting weights, jogging, swimming, cycling) or performing any energy consuming activities.

However, calories aren’t bad for you. Everyone needs them to live. People need calories to go to school. They need them to play sports. They even need them to watch TV and play computer games.

The choices people make about calories are what make them a problem. If you eat too many calories, you’ll gain weight. And gaining too much weight is unhealthy. Then you might have to stop eating so many calories. Or start exercising more.

And some calories are better than others. Not all calories are the same. The best calories come in foods that also have lots of vitamins and minerals. That way, the calories we’re eating are worth it. We’re staying healthy because the calories come with vitamin D, iron, potassium, and other nutrients. Calories that don’t come with any vitamins and minerals aren’t as good. Usually the not-so-good calories are found in foods that are really sugary or really salty. There might be a lot of calories along with a lot of unhealthy things. These are called empty calories. And there is no place for empty calories in any bodybuilding diet.

What are exactly empty calories?

Understanding empty calories is very important. As you may recall, foods that are high in vitamins and minerals and low in calories are known as nutrient-dense foods. But some foods are just the opposite; they contain empty caloriescalories that come from solid fat or added sugar.

Remember, the term “empty calorie food” means that the particular food has minimal extra nutritional benefit for your body other than simply providing extra calories. Those are items with solid fats and/or added sugars that pro­vide so many calories with few or no nutrients at all (like vitamins, minerals, lean proteins, fibers, antioxidants, etc). Sometimes all the calories in an item are empty, such as in regular soft drinks. Sometimes only some of the total calories are considered empty, such as the calories from added sugar in sweetened yogurt. Excessive consumption of these empty calorie foods actually causes malnutrition. They might even leech nutrition from your body. For example, sugary foods provide calories but due to the manner in which sugar reacts in the body, its excessive consumption can lead to nutrition being leeched from the body.

empty calories - bad calories

Examples of foods high in empty calories

Best examples of solid fat include trans-fatty acid, butter, beef fat, and shortening. Examples of added sugar include table sugar and corn syrup. You will easily find these ingredients in many foods, especially processed foods such as cakes, cookies, desserts, candies, ice cream, hot dogs, sausages, chips, and soft drinks. Even some fancy coffee drinks (e.g.. caramel latte) can be very high in empty calories. See table below for other examples.

Food and portion Estimated total caloriesEstimated empty calories
1 cup whole milk14963
1 cup frozen yogurt224119
3 fried chicken wings with skin and batter 478382
1 medium glazed doughnut255170
1 medium order of French fries431185
1 slice pepperoni pizza340139
1 bottle of regular soda192192

Many Americans have diets that include too many of these empty calories. Therefore, people can be malnourished even when they eat plenty of food or are obese. They simply make the wrong food choices and do not consume an adequate amount of nutrients. Reading labels can help people become aware of whether their food contains anything other than sugar, fat, and calories.

foods high in empty calories

How to limit your consumption of these bad calories?

You should strictly limit your consumption of empty calories. This doesn’t mean that you must avoid the food completely, but a healthier option is often available, such as low-fat hot dogs, fat-free cheese and milk, sugar-free drinks, and baked crack­ers and chips. Be aware, however, that some of these better options still contain a lot of empty calories or may pose other health risks. If you are consider­ing a food with a lot of empty calories, know that it contributes to overeating and weight gain and provides you with little nourishment. The best option would be (especially if you are interested in obtaining fitness goals) to focus entirely on nutrient-dense foods.

Closing thoughts: Empty calories – your worst enemy

To put it simple, “empty calories” are those coming from foods containing solid fats and/or added sugars. Foods such as cookies, cakes, donuts, pizza, energy drinks, and hot dogs are high in calories but low in nutritional value. So, limit the amount of these types of food. Eat them occasionally, not as part of your regular daily food plan. If your main goal is los­ing weight you should try to eliminate them totally. Eating empty calories will stall your weight loss because your body will be burning them instead of your stored fat. By consciously choosing more nutrient-dense foods (lean proteins, healthy carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fats essential to our health), you’ll get the beneficial nutrients your body needs without consuming too many calories.

About Author

Hey! My name is Kruno, and I'm the owner and author of Bodybuilding Wizard. I started this website back in late 2014, and it has been my pet project ever since. My goal is to help you learn proper weight training and nutrition principles so that you can get strong and build the physique of your dreams!

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