Archive for Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Nutrition Q&A: All about empty calories

February 21, 2012


Q: I’m starting to hear people talk about SoFAS? What are they?

A: No, we’re not talking about that piece of furniture that is commonly associated

with couch potatoes. Although those couch potatoes may also be eating too many SoFAS. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines replaced the "discretionary calories allowance" with a limit on calories from solid fats and added sugars (SoFAS). These are now called "empty calories" in many consumer materials.

Interestingly, five categories of foods contribute nearly 30 percent of the total calories consumed in the American diet. These five categories - grain-based desserts (e.g., cakes, cookies, donuts, pies, crisps, cobblers, granola bars); yeast breads; chicken and chicken-mixed dishes; sodas, energy, and sports drinks; and pizza - are often consumed in forms high in SoFAS and should be replaced with other foods that are more nutrient-dense or prepared in a way that reduces of content of SoFAS.

Solid fats are fats that are solid at room temperature. Solid fats come from many animal foods and can be made from vegetable oils through hydrogeneration. Some common solid fats are butter, beef tallow (tallow, suet), chicken fat, pork fat (lard), stick margarine, and shortening. Foods high in solid fats include many cheeses, creams, ice cream, well-marbled cuts of meats, regular ground beef, bacon, sausages, poultry skin, and many baked goods (such as cookies, crackers, donuts, pastries, and croissants). More solid fats are high in saturated fats and/or trans fats and have less monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats. Animal products containing solid fats also contain cholesterol.

Added sugars are sugars and syrups that are added to foods or beverages during processing or preparation. They do not include naturally occurring sugars such as those in milk and fruits. Names for added sugars include brown sugar, corn sweeteners, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, fruit juice concentrates, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, invert sugar, lactose, maltose, malt syrup, molasses, raw sugar, and sucrose.

Together, solid fats and added sugars (SoFAS) contribute greatly to overall energy intake without contributing importantly to nutrient intakes. The major food sources of solid fats in American diets for those ages 2 and older include grain-based desserts, regular-fat cheese, sausage, hot dogs, ribs, bacon, pizza, fried white potatoes (mainly French fries), and dairy-based desserts.

The top sources of added sugars include sodas, grain-based desserts, sugar-sweetened fruit drinks, dairy-based desserts, candy, ready-to-eat cereals, sugars/honey, tea, syrups and toppings, and yeast breads.

The bottom line is - just over one-third of caloric intake comes from SoFAS. This translates to an intake of 500-1050 calories of poor energy intake each day. This is considered excessive.

There is no recommendation for a reasonable amount of SoFAS at this time.

Q: How can I cut down on the empty calories that I’m eating?

A: You can lower your intake of empty calories by eating and drinking foods with

empty calories less often. You can also cut down on empty calories by choosing a smaller amount to eat or drink. Or, you can choose foods and beverages with fewer solid fats and added sugars.

Q: How do I know how many empty calories are in foods?

A: Go to

This chart provides a quick guide to the number of empty calories in some common foods.

This chart shows the amount of empty calories per total calories in different foods.

This chart shows the amount of empty calories per total calories in different foods.


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