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What Are Empty Calories? - Definition & Foods

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  • 0:01 Empty Calories Defined
  • 1:18 Empty-Calorie Food Examples
  • 3:09 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christie Rowe
In this lesson, you will learn about empty calories and the type of foods that are included in this food category. In addition, you will learn about the recommended daily intake of such foods.

Empty Calories Defined

Do you savor fresh, homemade cookies or enjoy candy when you're watching a movie? Do you drink soda or fruit-flavored drinks? These food items are all examples of empty calories. Empty calories are calories that contribute to your total caloric intake, but supply little or no nutritional value. Unlike nutrient-dense foods, which are foods that provide more nutrients than calories, empty-calorie foods contain more calories than nutrients. Nutrients are the components of food that we need to survive. There are six essential nutrients: carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals and water.

Most empty-calorie foods are highly processed foods that typically contain solid fats, or fats that are solid at room temperature, such as butter and animal fat. Many processed foods also contain added sugars, like high fructose corn syrup or white sugar that has been added to beverages or food. A high intake of empty-calorie foods may cause weight gain, especially if you are sedentary and consume more than is recommended.

This chart shows the daily recommended intake of empty calories by age and gender, with data provided by the United States Department of Agriculture

Empty Calorie Chart

Empty-Calorie Food Examples

Let's look at some foods and beverages that are major sources of empty calories. You should avoid taking in more than the recommended calories of these food items.

Soda and sweetened beverages, including fruit-flavored drinks and sport drinks, contain added sugar. A 12-ounce serving of soda contains about 9 teaspoons of sugar, while a 12-ounce serving of fruit or sports drink contains approximately 12 teaspoons of sugar.

Candy, along with soda, tops the list of major sources of empty calories because sugar is its principal ingredient.

Condiments, like pancake syrup and ketchup, also contain added sugar. A 1/4-cup of pancake syrup has about 210 calories and 10 teaspoons of sugar, and just 1/4-cup of ketchup contains around 60 calories and 4 teaspoons of sugar. So, next time you snack on some fries, remember that you're also taking in quite a bit of sugar.

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