Weight Management

Eat Fewer Empty Calories

A great way to help you manage your body weight is to eat fewer empty calories. Empty calories are calories from solid fats, added sugars, or both.

Many empty calories that Americans eat come from foods and beverages that provide calories but few nutrients--such as desserts, sodas, and candies.  Added sugars and fats load these choices with extra calories you don't need.

Some foods and beverages provide essential nutrients, but may also contain some empty calories.  For example, a cup of whole milk contains about 150 calories, with over 60 of them empty calories from fat.  Fat-free milk has the same amount of calcium and other nutrients as whole milk, but with less than 90 calories and no fat or empty calories.

Regardless of your weight status, empty calories should not be a major part of the diet. For most people, no more than 15% of calories should come from solid fats and added sugars. However, about 35% of the calories Americans typically eat and drink are empty calories. This means that many people choose foods and drinks with TOO MUCH solid fats and added sugars.

To learn more about empty calories, select a topic below:

Get Started                             Overcome Stumbling Blocks

Get Started Eating Fewer Empty Calories:

Here are three ways to cut back on empty calories:

  1. Choose foods and drinks with little or no added sugars or solid fats.
    For example, drink water instead of sugary drinks. There are about 10 packets of sugar in a 12-ounce can of soda, while water has no added sugars.
    Select lean cuts of meats or poultry and fat-free or low-fat milk and cheese. Fatty meats, poultry skin, and whole milk or regular cheese have more solid fats.
  2. Select products that contain added sugars and solid fats less often.
    For example, eat sugary desserts only once in a while. Most days, select fruit for dessert instead of a sugary option.
    Make major sources of solid fats – such as cakes, cookies, ice cream, pizza, regular cheese, sausages, and hot dogs – occasional choices, not everyday foods.
  3. When you have foods and drinks with added sugars and solid fats, choose a small portion.
    For example, instead of eating three scoops of ice cream, order one scoop.

Stumbling Blocks:

Concerned about eating fewer empty calories? Here are some common "stumbling blocks" and ideas to help you overcome these barriers:

"Empty calories aren't listed on food labels. How do I know how many are in my foods and beverages?"

While empty calories are not listed on the food label, you can use the label to see if there are solid fats and added sugars in the food. Check the Nutrition Facts label to choose foods with little or no saturated fat and no trans fat to choose foods with less solid fat. Use the ingredients list to help identify added sugars in the food.

You can also use Food-a-pedia which estimates empty calories in foods, or track your intake of empty calories using the SuperTracker 

"I don't understand if I should focus on total calories or empty calories."

Foods that are high in empty calories tend to be high in total calories too. It is the total amount of calories consumed each day that can affect weight. If you currently eat too many empty calories, eating fewer is a great way to help you eat fewer total calories.

"When I get the cravings for something sweet, I just can't help myself!"

Replace foods high in empty calories with better choices. For example, try a yogurt parfait with low-fat or fat-free yogurt and sliced fruit or frozen grapes for a sweet treat. You can still get the sweet you want without the excess calories.