Calorie Counting Tips and Tools

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Calorie counts are the first thing you probably look at when you look at a nutrition facts label. Food provides energy that comes in the form of calories (or kilocalories). All foods provide calories, whether they have a nutrition label or not, and it’s much easier to achieve your weight goals when you know how many.

A calorie counter is one of the easiest ways to consistently keep track of your calorie intake. You can use an app on your phone or computer. Even if you don’t consistently use a calorie counter, it’s a good idea to try it out for at least a day or two, preferably a typical weekday and a typical weekend day, to know if you’re meeting your daily calorie goal.

You should also familiarize yourself with the calorie counts of your favorite foods so that you can make smarter in-the-moment decisions. Knowledge is power, after all. Start by reviewing nutrition labels. If you have your phone handy you can easily search for the food. Many calorie counter apps also allow you to scan a food’s barcode to easily locate its nutrition facts label. In addition to calories, labels provide valuable information about what’s in your food, so it’s crucial that you understand how to read them. And make sure to follow the do’s and don’ts of counting calories correctly!

How Many Calories Should I Eat?

Knowing the calorie counts of your favorite foods is only helpful if you know the total number you should be striving for. The truth is that the number varies person-to-person based on age, gender, activity level, daily calories burned, and weight goals. In other words, the “2000 calorie diet” quoted on nutrition facts labels doesn’t apply to everyone.

So how many calories should you be eating? Enter your information into a daily calorie goal calculator to find out, then use a calorie counter to track your food intake and see if you’re meeting your goal.

How Many Calories Are in Carbs, Proteins, Fats, and Alcohol?

Some foods contain more calories than others, and it often depends on the macronutrient content of the food. In general, foods are made up of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, each of which provide a different number of calories:

  • Carbohydrates provide 4 calories per gram
  • Proteins provide 4 calories per gram
  • Fats provide 9 calories per gram

If you’re drinking alcohol, keep in mind that one gram provides seven calories. After a few drinks, the calories in your favorite alcoholic drinks can really stack up—and that makes sense.

Proper portion sizes will provide a balanced amount of calories. Make a few portion size mistakes or eat a meal too high in dietary fat and you may be consuming more calories than you realize.

Are All Calories the Same? Understanding Calories vs. Quality of Diet

Does it matter where your calories come from? Is it better to get most of your calories from protein, or eat fewer calories from carbs?

Experts have argued on this topic for some time, but the answer is simple: a calorie is just a calorie when it comes to counting the numbers, but the different sources of calories can have different effects on your weight because of factors like satiety and effects on hormones.

Bottom line: focus on eating a healthy, balanced diet full of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins to get the most benefit.

Are Nutrition Facts Labels Accurate?

We’d like to believe that nutrition facts labels are 100 percent accurate, but because of imperfect measuring techniques, FDA labeling regulations, variations in cooking techniques, and factors like digestibility, they’re often not. The numbers we see are merely estimates—but they’re strong estimates that we can use to achieve our goals.

Remember, the formulas used to figure out calorie goals provide estimates too. If you’re closely following them but aren’t seeing the results you’re aiming for, it’s a good idea to work with a registered dietitian, doctor, or other health professional to figure out why.

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