Skip to main content


Empty calories: Are they worth it?


Tips for finding and removing empty calories from your diet

Nutrition Facts chart

Empty calories are those that provide little or no nutritional value. Some examples of empty calorie foods include pop-tarts, sugary cereals, soda, doughnuts, and candy. Below is an example of a food with high nutritional value and one without. A common side effect of taking medicine that contains steroids is increased hunger and appetite. 

Nutrition Facts chart

When you eat more food than your body needs, the extra calories cause you to gain weight stored as fat. To prevent excess weight gain while taking medicine that makes you feel more hungry, try to make healthy eating choices.

 How to avoid empty calories in meals

  • Eat fewer fried foods. Instead grill, bake, steam, boil, or broil foods.
  • Eat more vegetables. Vegetables are low in calories, high in fiber and nutrients.
  • Use less mayonnaise of your sandwiches, less cheese, less butter/margarine, gravies, sauces and syrups.
  • Try low-fat foods like low-fat milk, cheese, yogurt, and mayonnaise.
Follow My Plate guidelines
  • Follow My Plate guidelines
    • ½ plate fruits and vegetables
    • ¼ plate protein
    • ¼ plate whole grain
    • Dairy should be low-fat.
  • Use spices like garlic, onion, and pepper to give your veggies a new flavor.
  • Eat breakfast every day. Try eating waffles or pancakes with fruit or a cereal bar with low-fat yogurt, a small bagel with low-fat cream cheese or peanut butter and frozen fruit.
  • You don’t have to skip dessert, just get creative. Watch your serving sizes – fresh fruit, ½ cup of low fat ice cream, or pudding with skim milk.

How to avoid empty calories in snacks

  • Trade out the chips – dunk baby carrots, celery, cucumbers, green and red pepper strips, and cherry tomatoes into salsa or mix with low-fat dip or plain yogurt
  • Treats such as Little Debbie snack cakes or Twinkies might be sweet and fast, but they are filled with calories. A piece of fruit and a few graham crackers will satisfy your craving for something sweet without adding unneeded calories
  • Remember fat free does not equal calorie-free. Treats such as low-fat chips and fat-free cookies are good in small portions.
  • Fill up on vegetables before dinner to squash hunger.
  • Try sugar-free Fudgsicle® fudge pops or other frozen pops.
  • Try these low-calorie snacks: Piece of skim-mozzarella string cheese, low-fat yogurt, handful of pretzels, baked crackers, 1 ounce of low-fat cheese, angel food cupcake, low-fat cereal bar, granola bar, 5 vanilla wafers with a tablespoon of peanut butter

How to avoid empty calories in drinks

  • Use sugar-free Kool-Aid® or Crystal Light® instead of juice or juice-drinks like Hi-C®.
  • Use 1% milk. It has fewer calories than whole milk but provides the same nutritional value.
  • Limit chocolate milk but make sure to get 3 servings of low-fat milk per day.
  • Avoid regular soft drinks. Drink diet soda, water, flavored low-calorie water, or seltzer water mixed with a small amount of juice.
  • Drink more water!


If you have questions for the St. Jude dietitians, call the Clinical Nutrition office at 595-3318. If you are calling from outside the Memphis area, dial toll-free 1-866-2ST-JUDE (1-866-278-5833), and dial extension 3318.

Greek Yogurt Ranch Dip Serving Size: 1 TBSP


1 cup plain, non-fat Greek yogurt
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon dried dill
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Fresh, chopped chives garnish


In a medium bowl, stir together all the ingredients: Greek yogurt, garlic, onion, dill, salt, Worcestershire, and cayenne. Garnish with fresh chives, refrigerate for 2 hours at least, serve.


This document is not intended to take the place of the care and attention of your personal physician or other professional medical services. Our aim is to promote active participation in your care and treatment by providing information and education. Questions about individual health concerns or specific treatment options should be discussed with your physician.

St. Jude complies with health care-related federal civil rights laws and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex.

ATTENTION: If you speak another language, assistance services, free of charge, are available to you. Call 1-866-278-5833 (TTY: 1-901-595-1040).

ATENCIÓN: si habla español, tiene a su disposición servicios gratuitos de asistencia lingüística. Llame al 1-866-278-5833 (TTY: 1-901-595-1040).

تنبيه: إذا كنت تتحدث باللغة العربية فيمكنك الاستعانة بخدمات المساعدة اللغوية المتوفرة لك مجانا. .يرجى الاتصال بالرقم. 5833-278-866-1  (الهاتف النصي: 1040-595-901-1).