Empty Calories Count
What are empty calories? An unfortunate trend has occurred across the nation where many of
the foods and drinks Americans consume contain empty calories. These are calories from solid
fats and/or added sugars. Solid fats and added sugars add calories to the food but few or no
nutrients. For this reason, these types of calories are often called empty calories. Learning more
about solid fats and added sugars can help you make better food and drink choices.
Solid fats are fats that are solid at room temperature. Some solid fats are found naturally in
foods or are added when foods are processed by food companies. Solid fat may also be added
when the food is made at home or a restaurant. Most of these solid fats are unhealthy for your
body and should be limited in your diet.
Examples of foods with solid fats include: butter and products made with butter (cake, cookies,
and pastry), fat or marbling in meat products, shortening, whole milk products, fried foods and
Added sugars are sugars and syrups that are added when foods or drinks are prepared. Added
sugars provide little to no nutrients, but are full of empty calories. Eating or drinking too many
added sugars can lead to serious health issues, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, inflammation
in the liver, heart disease, weak bones and poor dental health.
Examples of food and drinks with added sugar include: sweetened applesauce, canned fruit, fruit
snacks, sports drinks, many specialty coffee and tea flavored drinks, candy, cookies, sugar-
sweetened cereals, fruit-flavored drinks and sweetened alcoholic drinks.
Research shows that these drinks don’t satisfy you as well as foods that need chewing. You may
not feel hungry after drinking a high calorie drink, but this feeling won’t last long. For example,
a medium sized orange has about half the number of calories as a 6 ounce glass of juice. The
orange takes longer to eat and will keep you satisfied longer than the juice. The fiber in the
orange will slow the time it takes your body to digest that food. Plus, eating an orange lets you
enjoy texture and juiciness.
The amount of these foods and drinks in your diet and how often you consume them will decide
their impact on your health. If sweetened drinks are less than 8 ounces per day, their impact may
be small. Unfortunately, fruit juices, soda, and other sweetened drinks are often sold in large
containers – 12 to even 64 ounces. Eat and drink less added sugar by being aware of the
ingredients and reading the Nutrition Facts label.
Reading a Nutrition Facts label: One teaspoon of sugar is equal to 4 grams of sugar. The
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends limiting added sugar to 6 teaspoons per day for
women and 9 teaspoons per day for men. Pre-teens and teens should limit added sugars to 8
teaspoons per day. Children should limit added sugars to 5 teaspoons or less each day.
Food or Drink Amount of Sugar Approximate Calories
20 ounce regular soda 17 teaspoons 240
1 cup sugar sweetened cereal 3 or more teaspoons 120
8 ounces ‘fruit’ juice or drink 4 or more teaspoons 110
20 oz. Ginger ale 13 teaspoons 210
20 oz. Sports Drink 9 teaspoons 145
12 oz. Frappuccino 11 teaspoons 260 (176 from sugar)
4 oz sweetened yogurt 4.5 teaspoons 100
½ cup gelatin dessert 5 teaspoons 80
½ cup pudding 4.5 teaspoons 120
Need to satisfy your sweet craving?
ξ Go for naturally sweet options. Enjoy the sweetness of fresh fruit or look for recipes
made with fruit.
ξ Enjoy a small piece of dark chocolate. In general, the higher the percentage of cocoa,
the less the sugar content. Also, dark chocolate is a source of antioxidants and some
research suggests it may help lower blood pressure and protect your heart.
ξ Don't drink your sugar. Sweetened drinks can contain as much sugar as the dessert
tray. Try no-sugar or low-sugar drinks instead.
A small amount of empty calories is okay, but most people eat far more than is healthy.
Eating healthy doesn't mean you can't enjoy your favorite sweets in moderation. Just watch your
portion sizes and enjoy small treats.
Do you need help managing weight in relation to your other medical conditions? Would you like
a program individualized to your lifestyle? Are you having difficulty knowing how to begin? Is
it difficult for you to stay motivated? Then we encourage you to meet with a registered dietitian.
See our phone numbers listed below.
What is the most important thing you learned from this handout?
What changes will you make in your diet/lifestyle, based on what you learned today?
If you are a UW Health patient and have more questions please contact UW Health at one of the
phone numbers listed below. You can also visit our website at www.uwhealth.org/nutrition.
Nutrition clinics for UW Hospital and Clinics (UWHC) and American Family Children’s
Hospital (AFCH) can be reached at: (608) 890-5500
Nutrition clinics for UW Medical Foundation (UWMF) can be reached at: (608) 287-2770
Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your care. If so, please use it and call if you
have any questions. If this information was not given to you as part of your care, please check with your doctor. This
is not medical advice. This is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Because each
person’s health needs are different, you should talk with your doctor or others on your health care team when using
this information. If you have an emergency, please call 911. Copyright 2/2015 University of Wisconsin Hospital and
Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Clinical Nutrition Services Department and the Department of