The Other 23

The Best Way to Cut Empty Calories

By Mike Roussell, PhD

Few things will keep you from getting (and staying) lean quite like empty calories. Yes, you should enjoy the meals you eat. But that doesn’t need to wreck that body you’ve worked so hard to build. The bright side: Empty calories are easy to cut out, as long as you know where to look. Here are three areas you can zoom in on.


cucumber water

Sugary drinks (including sodas, specialty coffees, and even some fruit juices) are a major source of empty calories. Sure, an eight-ounce glass of orange juice, for example, only has 110 calories, but there are few critical nutrients in those calories.

The Swap: Low-calorie hydration doesn’t need to be boring. Infused waters, herbal teas, and black coffee can quench your thirst almost completely calorie-free. Try infusing water with slices of fruits like lemon, lime, or cucumber.

Premade Sauces:


These are stealthy. Premade sauces (think: your favorite store-bought barbecue sauce) are often loaded with sugar. Per serving, they may not have many calories, but each serving size is small (often 1 or 2 tablespoons), making it easy to sabotage your calorie count if you load up on sauce for extra flavor.

The Swap: Use calorie-free herbs and spices instead. In stir-fries or salads, try using cumin, coriander, garlic powder or a dash of spicy chili flakes. A bonus of this approach: Herbs and spices are often powerful sources of antioxidants.


olive oil salad dressing

While salads are a cornerstone of a healthy diet, the dressings you place on them can convert a bowl of vegetables into a calorie bomb, particularly if you use oil-based and creamy options.

The Swap: Make your own dressing. A simple vinaigrette can be made with olive oil, vinegar (using a 1:1 ratio instead of the common 3:1 ratio), mustard, and a pinch of dried oregano and thyme.

By making these smart swaps, you’re not just cutting out empty calories. You’re enhancing your meals with flavors and nutrients that contribute to your overall health. This lets you savor every bite of every meal, knowing you’re doing your body a favor, too.


AUTHOR BIO: Mike Roussell, PhD

Mike Roussell, PhD, is an author, speaker, and nutrition strategist who has spent more than 20 years transforming complex nutritional concepts into practical habits that change lives.

His clients have included NBA all-stars, tech execs, and TV personalities.

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