How to Calorie Count for Better Diet Choices

Women using a calorie counting app at breakfast

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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 you're consuming.

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 two weekdays and one day on the weekends to know if you're meeting your daily calorie goal. Only do this if your weekdays and weekends are similar. If your schedule is different every day, you may need to do a calorie count for the week.

You should also familiarize yourself with the calorie counts of your favorite foods so that you can make smarter in-the-moment decisions. Start by reviewing nutrition labels. If you have your phone handy you can easily search for the calorie content of 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 dos 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 “2,000 calorie diet” quoted on nutrition facts labels don’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 provides 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 7 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 calories and you may find yourself gaining weight.

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% 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 healthcare professional to figure out why.

5 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Ninth Edition. December 2020.

  2. U.S. Department of Agriculture. National Agricultural Library. How many calories are in one gram of fat, carbohydrate, or protein?

  3. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. McKinley Health Center. Macronutrients: the Importance of Carbohydrate, Protein, and Fat. 2014.

  4. Juanola-falgarona M, Salas-salvadó J, Ibarrola-jurado N, et al. Effect of the glycemic index of the diet on weight loss, modulation of satiety, inflammation, and other metabolic risk factors: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014;100(1):27-35. doi:10.3945/ajcn.113.081216

  5. Urban LE, Dallal GE, Robinson LM, Ausman LM, Saltzman E, Roberts SB. The accuracy of stated energy contents of reduced-energy, commercially prepared foods. J Am Diet Assoc. 2010;110(1):116-23. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2009.10.003

By Team Verywell Fit
At Verywell Fit, we are dedicated to empowering you with the best answers to your most pressing questions, from healthy eating to exercise and everything in between.