What does sugar and alcohol have in common? They are empty calories; offer no nutritional value, so avoid them whenever you can.

Why haven't I heard anyone ever make the same argument about other types of carbs? I understand that a negative effect of sugar is that it causes spikes of insulin levels because of how fast the body can process them, but other than that, they are no different to other types of carbs.

Complex carbs are considered to be healthy because they do not cause insulin spikes, but they are just as empty calories as sugar. Why not avoid complex carbs altogether and get your calories from healthy fats and protein instead?

  • Can you define "empty calories"? Fruits and vegetables are largely carbohydrates, with a large percentage of those carbohydrates coming from fiber. I'm pretty sure the standard meaning of an "empty calorie" is a sugar or other additive with no other nutritional benefit. I think it goes without saying that fruits and vegetables do have nutritional benefits.
    – Frank
    Mar 30, 2017 at 4:28
  • @Frank Fruits and vegetables do have nutritional benefits, but not thanks to their carbohydrate content (except for fiber). Their nutritional value comes from vitamins, minerals, proteins, and fats; they could lose all of their carbs and still keep their nutritional value. Carbs in an apple are still empty calories with no nutritional value.
    – user23500
    Mar 30, 2017 at 6:54
  • What you're saying is contradictory. You admit that the fiber in fruits and vegetables are nutritionally beneficial, but that the carbs in an apple are empty calories with no nutritional value. From the Mayo Clinic, "A high-fiber diet may also help reduce the risk of obesity, heart disease and diabetes." It then goes on to list the fruits and vegetables highest in fiber. On the list of fruits, number 3 is an apple, with 4.1g of fiber.
    – Frank
    Mar 30, 2017 at 8:51
  • Nothing is empty calorie. Sugar in diet is required for healthy functioning of body as is other carbs. Excess of anything is bad including proteins. More you dig deep more you will figure out how marketing keeps afloat multi billion dollar industries.
    – PravinCG
    Mar 30, 2017 at 11:26
  • @PravinCG sugar is absolutely not required. There are no essential vitamins in sugar and any other carbohydrate or fat can fuel your body.
    – michael
    Mar 30, 2017 at 18:32

2 Answers 2


It all comes down to the speed at which your body can process the sugar. Simple sugars make it into you blood stream very quickly and so you should avoid them unless you are exercising while consuming them ... or else they will have to be converted to glycogen, or even fat.

Complex carbs take a lot more work/time to be processed and released as simple sugar into the bloodstream, and so provide your body with energy without the spike you mentioned.

There's definitely been a degree of overcompensation against carbs in recent years after a lot of anti-fat rhetoric. I think bundling complex carbs together with added refined sugars in the "bad for you" category is a similar mistake to the "All fats are unhealthy" of the past.

Here is the NHS advice on carbs: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/loseweight/Pages/the-truth-about-carbs.aspx


I think it's just based off reputation. "Empty calories" basically means just "all of the calories with none of the benefit".

So in the case of simple sugars, they're more associated with candy. Pop rocks, jellybeans, gummies, rock candy, etc. are all made of pure sugar. Soda is also another source of "empty calories". They do not have any nutritional micro-nutrients which are vitamins and minerals. Yet they are a very concentrated source of calories. Pair that with the fitness industry's demonization of calories, you get the idea that you shouldn't waste your limited calorie budget on "empty calories".

Complex carbs are more often found in fruits and vegetables and hence are not "empty". That's not to say there aren't simple carbs in fruits, but the concentration is considerably less. Also when people think of "sugar", they don't think of "bananas".

Complex carbs do, however, increase insulin. As does protein in fact. The digestion rate is slower than simple carbs, so rather than a spike you get an elevated increase over time. One of the reasons that simple carbs are far less satiating.

There are actually a lot of people who argue that carbs primarily should be avoided regardless of source. Particularly Keto community. Then the IFIYM (It Fits Your Macros) community argues that a "carb is a carb" and the source of it doesn't matter as long as you get your macros in. Though since the body doesn't run on only macros, it's best to get your carbs mainly from "non-empty" food sources.