Identification of major sources of energy in the diet helps to implement dietary recommendations to reduce obesity. To determine the food sources of energy consumed by Brazilians, we used the traditional method of ranking energy contribution of selected food groups and also compared days with and without consumption of specific food groups. Analysis was based on two non-consecutive days of dietary record from the Brazilian National Dietary Survey, conducted among 34 003 Brazilians (aged 10 years or more), taking into account the complex design of the survey. Comparison of days with and without consumption gave more consistent results, with sweets and cookies as the most important contributors to energy intake, increasing 992 kJ/d (95 % CI 883, 1096) for those days when consumption of cakes, cookies and desserts was reported compared to days without their consumption. Savoury snacks, cheese and sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB) also increase energy intake by about 600 kJ. The only group associated with decreased energy intake was vegetable ( − 155 kJ; 95 % CI − 272, − 37). Consumption of beans, milk and fruits increased the energy intake by about 210 kJ. In total, the mean energy intake of the group was 8000 kJ. Except for the consumption of vegetables, all of the other ten food groups analysed were associated with increased energy intake. Sweets and cookies may increase the energy intake by 12 % and SSB by 7 %, indicating that these two groups are major targets for improving healthy eating by reducing energy intake; whereas vegetable intake is associated with the reduction of energy content of the diet.