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Keeping Track of Calories

What Are Calories?

Calories are simply units measuring the energy value of food. You need a certain number of calories to keep your body functioning and provide energy for physical activities. Eating more calories than your body needs, whether they come from carbohydrates, protein or fat, will be stored as fat and sometimes result in weight gain. So to keep the number of calories in check, remember that gram for gram, some foods are more concentrated sources of calories than others.

With the wide variety of tasty, reduced-calorie, foods available these days, it is easier than ever to control calories. Because fat contains more than twice the calories as protein or carbohydrates, start by focusing on cutting the fat content of foods. Small changes in fat content will make a big difference in calorie content—and chances are, you won't even notice.

Your Daily Calorie Number

Your individual daily intake of calories will depend on your body type and activity level. Basically, if you want to lose weight, eat fewer calories or increase your activity level. Here's an easy formula to help you estimate the amount of calories you need to maintain your current weight.

  • For a sedentary person (inactive most of the time), multiply current weight by 12.
  • For a moderately active person (exercise a few times a week), multiply current weight by 14.
  • If you're very active (participate regularly in heavy exercise): Multiply current weight by 16 to 18

As an example, for a sedentary woman who weighs 140 pounds:
Multiply 140 x 12, you get 1680—the calories needed per day to maintain current weight. If weight loss is a goal, consuming less than 1680 calories per day would be necessary.

Calorie Control, Portion Control

The best way to control calorie intake is to learn to recognize what a sensible portion size looks like—and it is probably smaller than you think!

  • Take time to measure your portions and soon you will be able to estimate them correctly.
  • For favorite utensils, fill each with water, then pour into a measuring cup to determine how much each one holds.
  • Remember what a portion looks like in a particular bowl or plate—say, a one-half cup serving of cereal in a bowl—then use that bowl every time you eat that cereal.

Know Your Portion Size

Imagine familiar objects to help you visualize a portion size. Here's a few examples to get you started:

  • 3 ounce serving of meat or poultry = the size of a deck of cards or a cassette tape
  • 1 ounce cube of cheese = the size of your thumb or 2 dominoes
  • 1 teaspoon = the size of your fingertip (tip to middle joint)
  • 1 tablespoon = the size of your thumb tip (tip to middle joint)
  • 1/2 cup = fruit or vegetable that fits into the palm of your hand, the size of a tennis ball
  • 1 ounce nuts = fits into the cupped palm of a child's hand
  • 1 cup = the size of a women's fist

Be a Smart Shopper

While walking down the aisles of your favorite grocery store, it's so easy to be tempted with all the high calorie food choices. Here are some tips to help you become a healthier shopper:

  • Grocery shop after you've eaten, instead of when hungry; you'll be less tempted and will make better choices.
  • Prepare a shopping list and stick to it as closely as possible.
  • Clip coupons for low-calorie foods rather than high-fat or novelty foods. They may cost you more in the long run!
  • Buy just the low-calorie, low-fat foods that you love. Foods you won't enjoy are a waste of money and calories.
  • Learn to read nutrition food labels so you can use the information to comparison shop.

Wise Food Choices

Don't eliminate foods from your diet, but do try to choose foods that have more of the "good stuff" and less of the "not-so-good stuff" to more easily control your calorie intake. Here's some tips to get you started in the right direction.

  • Look for lean cuts of beef such as round steak, sirloin tip, tenderloin and lean or extra-lean ground beef. Tenderloin, loin chops, center cut ham and Canadian bacon are leaner cuts of pork.
  • We know that chicken or turkey breast meat has fewer calories than dark meat. Surprisingly, half the calories are in the skin, so purchase skinless poultry or remove the skin before eating. Also, you might want to try something new like bison, venison, ostrich, rabbit and pheasant—they're all lean choices.
  • Fish and shellfish tend to contain less fat than meat and poultry.
  • Use plain fat-free yogurt to replace mayo in salads and dips—it's high in protein and calcium but low in calories.
  • Replace high-fat, high-calorie cheese, sour cream, half-and-half, cottage cheese and cream cheese with low-fat or non-fat counterparts.
  • A small amount of sharp or strong-flavored cheese, such as blue cheese, adds more flavor and less calories than a larger amount of a mild cheese. Low-fat cheese also adds flavor and texture without adding as many calories as regular cheese.
  • Both fat-free and low-fat milk have less calories than whole milk but contain the same amount of calcium.
  • Leave the butter, cheese or cream sauce off your veggies.
  • Fresh or frozen fruit without sugar syrup are great choices. Look for canned fruits in juice, not heavy syrup.
  • Low-fat salad dressing and mayonnaise are better choices to use on salads or for marinating meats. Or use a balsamic vinegar or lemon juice to drizzle on green salads for flavor without calories.

Food Item


Breads, Grains, Rice, Pasta and Beans


Bagel, 3-inch plain


Barley, cooked, ½ cup


Blueberry muffin, 2 ½-inch


Bread, 1 slice white


Bread, 1 slice whole wheat


Cracked wheat, uncooked, ¼ cup


Crackers, 4 small


Dinner roll, 1 average


English muffin, 1 plain


Oatmeal, cooked, ½ cup


Pancake, 4-inch, plain


Pasta, cooked, ½ cup


Pita pocket, 6 ½-inch, white


Ready-to-eat cereal, 1 cup


Quinoa, cooked, ½ cup


Rice, rice cooked, ½ cup


Rice, brown cooked, ½ cup


Wheat berries, uncooked, ¼ cup


Dried beans and lentils, cooked, ½ cup




Asparagus, cooked, ½ cup


Beets, cooked, ½ cup


Broccoli, cooked, ½ cup


Carrots, cooked, ½ cup


Cauliflower, cooked, ½ cup


Corn, canned or frozen, ½ cup


Green beans, cooked,  ½ cup


Iceberg lettuce, 1 cup


Mixed veggies, frozen, cooked, ½ cup


Peas, cooked, ½ cup


Potato, baked, 1 medium


Spinach, uncooked, 1 cup


Tomato, 1 medium


Tomato juice, ¾ cup