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USDA Calorie Counting Tips

Eating Fewer Calories

Taking charge of your weight begins with taking charge of the number of calories you eat. And you can do that by making small changes that add up to big differences. For instance, eating a mere 100 calories less per day can mean staving off a 10-pound weight gain each year.

Here's the math: 100 calories X 365 days = 36,500 calories, which is just over 10 pounds (10 X 3,500 calories in a pound). But let's correct one weight-loss fallacy at the outset: Eating fewer calories does not mean skipping meals. You may think that skipping meals will sharply reduce your calorie intake. But it doesn't work that way. Skipping meals actually slows down your body's metabolism, the opposite of what you're trying to accomplish. That's because meal skipping triggers our evolutionary response to famine, which is to conserve energy and lay down fat reserves in order to survive.


Eating regular meals, on the other hand, tells your body that plenty of food is available, so its metabolic rate can continue humming along. Those meals just need to be composed of modest amounts and fewer calories.

Tips For Eating Fewer Calories

You can eat fewer calories by:

  • Choosing foods with less fat or added sugar.
  • Eating smaller portions.
  • Reducing the amount of processed foods in your diet.
  • Choosing more nutrient-dense foods.

Reducing Fats and Sugars

Once you know how, it's easy to choose similar foods that have less fat or added sugar. The simple meal-makeover, below, shows how minor changes add up to a big difference in total calories. The flavors and portion sizes are the same so you will feel as satisfied with the new meal as you did with the old one. Substituting foods that are lower in calories yet similar to the originals cut the calories in that meal by more than half. You can learn to do the same. Knowing which foods to substitute for those that are higher in calories is vital to eating fewer calories each day.

Recognizing which foods to fill up on while getting the least amount of calories is important, too. In general, plant foods -- vegetables, fruits, and grains -- are quite low in calories, as long as they are not processed with added fat or sugar. That's why the 2005 Dietary Guidelines recommend that these three groups make up the bulk of your diet. Foods such as milk and meat are modest in calories, especially if you choose low-fat or lean versions. At the other end of the calorie spectrum lie fats and processed foods, both of which are loaded with calories. Vegetables and fruits are calorie bargains, while fat-laden candy bars and sugar-laden sodas are calorie excesses. Processed foods tend to be high in calories because fat and sugar are frequently added in processing. Calories add up fast when fat is added because it packs more than twice as many calories as protein and carbohydrates. The excessive amount of sugar added to some foods gives them a calorie overload, too. Most foods contain a combination of carbohydrate, protein, and fat.

Where Do Calories Come From?

Here's where the calories you eat come from:

  • Carbohydrate - 4 calories per gram
  • Protein - 4 calories per gram
  • Fat - 9 calories per gram
  • Alcohol - 7 calories per gram

You can start making choices today to lower your calorie intake. Filling your plate with favorite vegetables and snacking on fruits is a quick way to eat fewer calories. Eating smaller portions of higher-calorie foods or eating them less often will cut calories, too.

The next section will focus on the second tenet of cutting calories -- physical activity.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.