The concept of ’empty calories’ is one that suggests the food you’re eating serves no purpose other than to provide energy. Whilst some may argue that’s a completely valid reason to consume food, you’re missing out on a whole host of nutrients which you could be getting if you chose to consume nutrient-dense foods versus foods lacking in nutrients.

What Are Empty Calories?

Empty calories are calories which contain little to no micronutrients and are solely consumed for energy, usually in the form of fats or carbohydrates.

Most foods will contain some form of micronutrients, but there are quite a few foods out there which are commonly consumed which contain little to very little micronutrients for the amount of energy they provide.

Do Empty Calories Matter Much?

The problem with consuming lots of empty calories is that you’re providing your body with lots of energy without the micronutrients it needs to carry out proper body function.

This can lead to a whole host of problems which are connected with micronutrient deficiencies such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Pain throughout the body
  • Headaches
  • Cracked lips
  • Dry skin
  • Hair loss
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

And more. If micronutrient deficiency is the cause of any of these problems, getting enough of the required micronutrients will help to combat and offset these issues.

The Importance Of Micronutrientsa

Micronutrients encompass all vitamins and minerals and they’re quite critical for your body to function optimally.

Without iron, you’re likely to become anaemic. Without the B vitamins, your body will be less efficient at energy metabolism and so you’re more likely to be tired and lethargic. Without calcium and vitamin D, your bones are likely to become weaker and you’ll be more susceptible to bone injuries such as fractures and breaks.

The list goes on.

You could consume empty calories, but you’re missing out on nutrient-dense calories when you consume them since after you’ve consumed a certain amount of energy throughout the day, you probably won’t want to consume anymore, either consciously or because you feel quite full. After all, if you consume too many calories, you’re likely to put it on as extra body fat.

Empty Calories May Trigger Overeating

There’s an idea out there that your body is subconsciously seeking out certain micronutrients it may be deficient in and some level of hunger will be stimulated until those micronutrient needs are met. If that’s the case, even if you consume lots of empty calories, you may actually still be slightly hungry due to your body’s need for certain micronutrients.

This could lead to eating more calories than you wanted or your body actually needs which will lead to having extra stored body fat.

Which Foods Contain Empty Calories?

So you’re probably curious now about which foods contain empty calories. Foods that provide mostly empty calories are generally ultra-processed foods:

  • Sweets
  • Milk/white chocolate (the greater the cacao content the more micronutrients, so dark chocolate is generally fine)
  • Biscuits
  • Fruit juices (just eat the fruit for far more micronutrients and increased satiety with fewer calories)
  • Dried fruit (contains some micronutrients, but very energy-dense for the number of micronutrients it provides)
  • Crisps
  • Cake
  • Certain energy bars with lots of sugar
  • Energy drinks
  • Energy bars

However, there are a few other common staples within our diet which contain lots of empty calories:

  • Flour
  • Cereal
  • Bread
  • Condiments such as ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise
  • Vegetable cooking oils e.g. soybean, sunflower, canola, flaxseed
  • Anything very high in fat
  • Anything high in sugar
  • Chips
  • Frozen snacks
  • Fast food

If you want to improve your general nutrition, it would help if you tried to remove the majority of these foods from your diet. You’re likely to have much better mental clarity and feel more energised in general.


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Further Reading:

Intermittent Fasting To Lose Body Fat

Watch Out For Ultra Processed Foods

My Healthy Eating Principles