Estimate Calories in Food With an App

Woman comparing nutrition facts on food packaging

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If you count your calories, using apps can help make the process faster and more convenient. Apps pre-program the calories for all your favorite foods and chain restaurants and make keeping track of what and how much you've eaten much easier.

Determining Your Caloric Needs

The number of calories you need depends on your weight goals. To lose weight, you must eat less, which is known as a caloric deficit. To gain weight, you must eat more, often called a caloric surplus. To maintain your current weight, you need to eat the same amount of calories, otherwise known as eating at maintenance.

To calculate how many calories your body requires, you need to consider your:

You can use the calorie needs calculator to help you.

Serving Size and Counting Calories

Labels on foods typically tell you the number of calories per serving size. If the amount you eat is larger than the serving size, add the calories accordingly. You can use a digital food scale or measuring cups and spoons to determine your serving size.

If you don't have a label to read or the print is just too small, turn to your calorie counting app for the necessary information. Apps often use data pulled from the USDA and user submissions. Some apps allow you to scan barcodes for information as well.

Estimating Calories

If you do not have a food scale, you can use your hands to help determine serving size. Note that these are estimates only and can differ based on your personal caloric needs. Use these approximations to input serving sizes into your calorie counting app.

  • Grains, starches, and fruit: Your fist is one serving size of grains, approximately 1 cup.
  • Dairy: Your fist is one serving size of dairy, equivalent to 1 cup (250ml).
  • Vegetables: Two cupped hands determine your serving of vegetables, with each hand approximating 1 cup.
  • Proteins: A serving of meat or meat alternatives is equal to the palm of your hand, which is about 3 ounces.
  • Fats: Your thumb determines your portion of fat, equivalent to about a tablespoon.

Determining Calories in Recipes

If you are cooking a recipe and want to know the overall calorie amount, you can use the Recipe Calorie and Nutrition Calculator. Enter the amounts of each ingredient into the calculator and then determine the serving amount. The calculator will provide you with a breakdown of the calories per serving and all other nutritional information.

Most calorie counting apps have the ability to create a food where you can input the calories for the recipe and then log the number of servings you eat. When you make the recipe again, it will be saved in your app for easy reference.

Calorie Counting Apps to Try

There are several calorie counting apps you can try, some with more features than others. Some apps are more focused on weight loss, while others help you stick to a specific diet.

  • MyFitnessPal: This app helps you determine how many calories you should eat and has an extensive food database. It also can be linked to fitness trackers and provides an estimate of your daily calorie expenditure.
  • Lose It!: This app allows you to easily track food and exercise with a graph feature that shows your progress. Note that this app is mainly for weight loss.
  • Fat Secret: Fat Secret also tracks calories and has an extensive database. It provides users with a monthly summary of their progress.
  • Cronometer: If you prefer a guided experience, Cronometer will provide you with ideal macronutrient breakdowns based on your preferred diet type, such as Paleo, vegetarian, low-carb, or other.

A Word From Verywell

Whether you are trying to lose weight, gain mass, or maintain your weight, using a calorie counting app can help you get an idea of how much you are eating. Using an app sporadically can give you a clearer picture of the calorie amounts in certain foods. You can also use apps to consistently log your food intake to monitor your progress and add or subtract calories as desired.

1 Source
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. Canadian Diabetes Association. Handy Portion Guide. 2014

By Rachel MacPherson, BA, CPT
Rachel MacPherson is a health writer, certified personal trainer, and exercise nutrition coach based in Montreal.