How do I Count Calories?

Ken Black
Ken Black
A food scale may help users count calories.
A food scale may help users count calories.

All you need to count calories is some basic information such as the food, amount, and the caloric value by the unit of food. While gathering this information may sound difficult, most restaurants and food packaging companies make this very convenient by providing that information in organized charts. For fresh meats and vegetables, counting calories will require either a book listing foods, or some online research to make sure you get as accurate of a count as possible.

Table sugar has approximately 15 calories in each teaspoonful.
Table sugar has approximately 15 calories in each teaspoonful.

The first step is to identify the food as closely as you can. If you are a guest at someone's house or are using an old family recipe, these may be harder to judge. If for example, you are eating lasagna in someone's home, you should be able to use a generic equivalent online or in a calorie counting book. If the recipe came from a book, it may give you accurate calorie information, provided the recipe was followed as listed in the book. Restaurants make it easy to count calories by having that information available, usually upon request.

Once you have determined the food, the next step is to determine the amount. This has gotten easier in recent years, especially at fast food restaurants that not only have chart listing the caloric value of everything on the menus, but also print that information on the food packaging. In other cases, you may use a scale to get a very accurate measurement, or you may be able to judge the approximate amount to get reasonably close.

Third, compare the amount to the caloric value of the serving size. For example, if one apple is 80 calories, and you eat half of it, you must complete that calculation yourself. You would have consumed 40 calories. The amount of foods like ice cream, spaghetti and many others may be harder to judge, but if you have a food scale or measuring equipment you can always use those tools to get the exact amount. Eventually, you will became familiar enough with serving sizes that you can use your own judgment.

Also, remember that to accurately count calories you have to remember to include any additional items you put on your food. If you are eating non-sweetened cereal and you add sugar, then you must count calories that are in the sugar, as well as in the cereal. The same is true for spaghetti and sauce. The caloric value on the spaghetti does not include any sauce you may decide to use. If you forget to do this, your calorie count could be way off.

Some people also wish to keep track of their calories from fat when attempting to count calories. While this may be an indication of how healthy you are eating, it may make very little difference in regards to weight loss. If calories are being used, then the body will eventually take fat and use it for fuel when it is needed, so fat calories also eventually get used. Still, if you are concerned about fat content, counting fat calories is a good way to help you keep track of your intake.

Discussion Comments


@bythewell - I'm not a fan of calorie counting, even as a preliminary measure. I've seen too many people become obsessed with it in a way that I don't think is healthy.

I think, if you really want to start watching what you eat, it's better to try and just restrict yourself to natural foods. If everyone made an effort to reduce the amount of white sugar, flour and processed foods in their diets, they wouldn't need to count calories to lose weight. The weight would just start to fall off naturally.


@Ana1234 - Just remember that labels can be misleading as well. For one thing, often they will put strange amounts on the serving size calories, so that it feels like you're not eating too much, but in reality you've actually had six servings in a single handful.

They also aren't required to note down some ingredients even if they can still be harmful. Trans fats are an example of this. They can add up if you have them in trace amounts in a lot of different foods, but those foods don't each have enough of them to be required to label it.

There's no point in counting your calories if you end up just eating food with empty nutrition, so pay attention to that aspect as well.


Counting calories can really help if you're starting an eating or fitness plan. I found that all I needed was a good set of kitchen scales and some measuring cups and a database or book with calorie values. Many packaged foods will just have the calorie counts on their labels, so they are easy to manage. But if you're eating well it generally means you need to cook your own meals and use fresh food that doesn't come with labels. That's where the scales come in handy.

I don't think anyone should do it all the time, but when you're starting to pay attention to what you eat, it really helps to see what makes you feel satisfied for the least amount of calories and what has way more calories than you might expect. There are quite a few things I always felt guilty about eating that I realized weren't bad at all, and other things that were much worse than I thought they were.

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    • A food scale may help users count calories.
      By: akulamatiau
      A food scale may help users count calories.
    • Table sugar has approximately 15 calories in each teaspoonful.
      By: Coprid
      Table sugar has approximately 15 calories in each teaspoonful.