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Live the Pair Up Promise: Subtract Empty Calories

Empty calories are the worst kind of calories. They increase our total caloric intake but don’t provide any of the vitamins or minerals our bodies need. Reducing the empty calories in your diet is a small step that can make a big difference in your health, and help you in the fight to prevent kidney disease.

Empty calories come from solid fats and added sugars in foods and beverages.  A small amount of empty calories is okay, but most people eat far more than is healthy. The simplest ways to subtract empty calories from your diet?  Cut down how often you eat and drink foods and beverages that contain empty calories, and decrease the amount you eat or drink.

Solid fats and added sugars can make a food or beverage more appealing, but they also can add a lot of calories. According the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the foods and beverages that provide the most empty calories for Americans are:

  • Cakes, cookies, pastries, and donuts (contain both solid fat and added sugars)
  • Sodas, energy drinks, sports drinks, and fruit drinks (contain added sugars)
  • Cheese (contains solid fat)
  • Pizza (contains solid fat)
  • Ice cream (contains both solid fat and added sugars)
  • Sausages, hot dogs, bacon, and ribs (contain solid fat)

Many of these foods can be found in reduced-fat or fat-free versions and without added sugars. For example, you can choose low-fat cheese or low-fat hot dogs to subtract solid fats. You can choose water, milk, or sugar-free soda instead of drinks with sugar. Just check to make sure the calories in these products are less than in the regular product.

In some foods, like most candies and sodas, all the calories are empty calories. However, empty calories from solid fats and added sugars can also be found in some other foods that contain important nutrients. Some examples of foods that provide nutrients, shown in forms with and without empty calories, are:

Food with some empty calories Food with few or no empty calories
Sweetened applesauce
(contains added sugars)
Unsweetened applesauce
Regular ground beef (75% lean) (contains solid fats) Extra lean ground beef (95% or more lean)
Fried chicken (contains solid fats from frying and skin) Baked chicken breast without skin
Sugar-sweetened cereals
(contain added sugars)
Unsweetened cereals
Whole milk
(contains solid fats)
Fat-free milk

Making better choices, like unsweetened applesauce or extra lean ground beef, can help keep your intake of added sugars and solid fats low.

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