What are empty calories?

Sometimes people are confused by the phrase “empty calories.” To set us straight, I asked registered dietitian Kit Broihier to explain. Here’s her answer:

The phrase “empty calories” does NOT mean that the item has no calories! What it does mean, most simply, is that the food provides energy (calories), but no nutrients such as vitamins and minerals.

Sources of empty calories

Empty calorie foods typically are high in sugar and/or fat and often include snacks and treats like candies, regular soda, cake, pastries and chips. They provide plenty of calories but little to no nutrition.

Most of us can have a treat once in a while, but avoiding empty calorie foods is recommended — especially for people who are watching their weight. Getting the most nutritional “bang for your buck” is something to consider when choosing the foods you eat each day. Your goal is to choose foods that provide lots of nutrients for the calories they contain.

This week’s Catching Health Q & A was answered by Kit Broihier, MS, RD, LD courtesy of the Maine Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (MAND).

Do you have a health related question? Send it to me and I’ll try to find the answer for you. Only general questions, please.

Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane was the health reporter on WCSH 6. Before that, a radiation therapist at Maine Medical Center and after, Manager of Marketing/PR at Mercy Hospital. She now hosts and produces the Catching Health podcast and writes the award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.