What Does Empty Calories Mean?

Empty Calories Meaning

Definition: Food that will fill you up but will not provide any nutritional value.

Origin of Empty Calories

People often use this expression when describing the types of foods that one should avoid when on a diet. According to digital records, it first appeared around the mid-1900s continues to grow in popularity.

A calorie is actually the amount of food that can produce 1000 calories of energy. Most people use calories to measure how much food they eat per day.

The average amount that people aim for is 2000 calories per day. Ideally, these calories should provide nutrients like vitamins, as well as energy.

empty calories food definition Healthy calories usually come from food such as vegetables or whole grains, whereas empty calories come from oil, sugar, and other junk food.

Occasionally, people use this idiom figuratively to describe something that has no useful value.

Examples of Empty Calories

In the example below, a husband and a wife are discussing Halloween candy.

Kip: I really think we should have bought some more healthy treats to hand out to all the kids.

Caroline: Nonsense! I’m sure the children’s parents make sure that they eat healthy foods 99% of the time. This is one of only a few days per year that it’s okay to gorge on empty calories.

definition of empty calorie In this second example, two lawyers are discussing the lunches they brought to eat at work.

Jessica: Are you just eating ice cream for lunch?

George: Yeah. I need the energy from the sugar.

Jessica: Aren’t you worried that your health will suffer from those empty calories. You’ll probably gain a lot of weight.

George: No, I don’t need to eat avocado and quinoa every day like you to stay healthy.

More Examples

This excerpt is from an article about healthy cooking.

  • Fuhrman also strongly discourages the use of cooking oils, even olive oil, as empty calories that contain no nutrients. Instead, he suggests blending ground nuts (full of nutrition) and using them as emulsifiers in salad dressings. –OC Register

This excerpt uses the idiom figuratively to describe a movie that you consume but from which you gain nothing of substance.

  • This is effective in Dav Pilkey’s “Captain Underpants” books, where the artwork suggests the slightly twisted but harmless fantasy world of a child’s mind. The comics are a small blast of subversiveness; empty calories to be consumed as the real world passes by outside a car window or bedroom door. –OC Register


The term empty calories describe food that will provide temporary energy but is not healthy.