Counting Calories For Weight Loss – Overestimate to be Sure

A comment I received from Kenneth in an earlier post brought up a very good point about calorie counting.

Don't Kid Yourself, There are More Calories In Your Food Than You Think!
Don't Kid Yourself, There are More Calories In Your Food Than You Think!

Kenneth brought to my attention a new study done at tufts university that analyzed some commercially available foods (from restaurants and grocery stores) and compared how many calories that were stated on the label vs how many calories were actually in the food.

At this point I haven’t had a chance to pull the full article and analyze their methods but if this study is a well done piece of research (which I have no reason to believe otherwise) then this is an eye opening tidbit of information.

I always tell people to overestimate the amount of calories they’re consuming because most of the time you’ll be forgetting about something you ate or drank throughout the day. Most people can’t even remember all the items they’ve eaten within the past 24 hours (let alone how many calories were in them). So it’s pretty clear that keeping an accurate record of calories consumed is very difficult if you flat out forget entire meals and snacks that you’ve consumed.

As far as food labels go, you have to keep in mind that they are an ESTIMATION of total calories and not exact numbers. Commercially available items and restaurant serving sizes aren’t standardized right down to the exact calorie. There will always be some margin of error.

If they always err’d on the lighter side we wouldn’t have much to worry about, but unfortunately that’s not how it works. If anything they are an estimation and an average. Some items might be lower and some might be higher. And as this study is indicating some of them are WAY higher.

Take the calorie count on your labels as an estimation only.

I actually did a little experiment like this with Brad Pilon a while ago. We went to our local grocery store bakery and bought a 6 pack of muffins. The label on the package gave a complete calorie and nutrient break down per muffin. But when we opened the package and weighed the muffins we found a 25% degree of variance in their weight.

In other words, some of the muffins were almost 25% bigger than the others. This would also mean some of them had 25% more calories.

The point is labels are a guideline and are never 100% accurate. Without measuring all of the ingredients in every thing you eat and preparing it yourself you can never be 100% sure of the calories in it.

The best you can do is follow the labels as a guideline or estimate of how many calories are probably in that food.

And just to be safe, always assume there is MORE calories in everything you eat. This way even if the labels are underestimating you will be compensating for it with an overestimation.