The theory behind such a suggestion seems to be that when it comes to actually fuelling the body, rather devote time to those foods that actually pack a nutritional punch than something like a soft drink, which might provide calories but not the kind your body needs or craves. But the idea that some foods contain empty calories is not only untrue, it could just be harmful. Some experts believe thinking along these lines could do more harm than good.
For starters, most tend to describe empty calories as calories from solid fats and added sugars, such as cakes, cookies, pastries, doughnuts, sodas, energy drinks, sports drinks, fruit drinks, pizza, and so on. The reason tends to be that these foods contain high amounts of saturated fat and sugar, which “add calories to the food but few or no nutrients.”
The phrase though, is an oxymoron. No calorie is devoid of nutrients, in fact every calorie is a nutrient. All foods are made up of some combination of protein, carbohydrates and fats. While some foods will lack vitamins and minerals, they still provide the body with the energy it needs to function and in some instances, these calories might even be the best energy choice. Some might consider sports drinks as empty calories, but for those doing a marathon, it’s exactly the fuel they need.
As well as this, all food serves a purpose. As Christine Byrne writes in Outside, “The idea of empty calories also perpetuates the misconception that protein and fat from less nutritious foods serve no purpose. That’s just not true - sausages and ribs provide significant amounts of protein, which is essential for building and repairing muscle and other healthy tissues.”
Byrne adds that ‘empty calories’ is a “blanket term for a wide range of very different foods, which makes it confusing.” As she suggests, “The idea of empty calories is too simplistic to be meaningful. Experts came up with the term as a way to encourage people to eat more healthfully. But in reality, all it does is designate certain foods as “bad” without explaining why or exploring the nuances of how various foods impact our bodies.”