When it comes to weight loss, I’m not an advocate of counting calories. Counting calories is a very time consuming process that can become an unhealthy obsession, resulting in the exclusion of healthy foods & inadequate nutrient intakes.

However, I do believe it’s important to be aware of the calorie content of certain foods, especially when it comes to foods that contain empty calories.

Reducing your intake of empty calorie foods can help your weight loss efforts and result in healthy, sustained, long term weight loss.

So let’s have a look at what empty calories are and food they are found in so you can reduce your intake of them.

What Are Calories?

In a food & nutrition context, a calorie is the unit of food energy. When people talk about the calories in food, they are referring to how much energy that food provides your body when you eat or drink it.  One calorie is equal to 4.18 kilojoules.

What Are Empty Calories?

The term “empty calories” refers to foods that contain calories but have little or no nutritional value, i.e. they are “energy-dense” but are also “nutrient-poor”.

These are foods that are often heavily processed with many additives like refined sugar & fats that we don’t require in our diets.

Which Foods Contain Empty Calories?

Empty calories are typically found in highly processed foods and include:

  • soft drinks
  • alcohol
  • energy drinks
  • cordials
  • some white processed carbohydrate foods like white breads, white biscuits
  • certain sweets & pastries
  • some condiments
  • fatty processed meats
  • many deep-fried takeaway foods

Do Empty Calories Cause Weight Gain?

There are many factors involved in weight gain however empty calories can definitely contribute to weight gain. For example, if someone started drinking 2 litres of soft-drink every day and changed nothing else with their diet and exercise, they will technically gain weight. And vice versa; if someone stopped drinking 2 litres of soft-drink each day and changed nothing else with their diet or exercise, then they technically lose weight. This is because they are providing your body with excess calories and no nutritional benefit.

Could Empty Calories Be Stopping You From Losing Weight? 

Yes, empty calories could be the reason you are not losing weight. A high intake of empty-calorie foods can cause weight gain or prevent you from losing weight, especially if your intake of calories exceeds your activity levels.

If you want to lose weight or improve your health, you should consider cutting out or reducing your intake of foods that contain empty calories. Remember, they provide you with no nutritional benefit, just “empty calories”.

How Many Empty Calories Should You Consume Daily? 

There is no health benefit to consuming foods that contain empty calories and they can actually have negative impacts on your health, leading to weight gain and chronic diseases. For this reason, it’s best to limit your intake or avoid does containing empty calories. The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating Recommends limiting discretionary foods, which would include empty calories, to only sometimes and in small amounts. There is no specific calorie amount but it’s best not to consume empty calories on a daily basis.

Editor's Note: This is an independent article and all opinions are my own.