Calorie Counter for Weight Loss & Diet

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

Using a calorie counter is an excellent way to keep yourself accountable to your dietary goals and identify where your diet might need a bit more support. Having a comprehensive view of your caloric intake, the efficacy of your workouts, and your caloric needs are important if you want to succeed in your health goals.

What is a Calorie Counter?

A calorie calculator, also known as a calorie counter, is a useful tool for recording and documenting your caloric intake, as well as the types of food that you’re eating. This is often in conjunction with a tracking function for your physical activity and exercise habits. A calorie counter is usually in the form of a book, which lists thousands of different foods, along with their caloric value. If you diligently cross-check what you eat with this calorie counter, you can get a more accurate picture of your energy intake. [1]

Many websites and apps offer calorie-tracking and health-monitoring promises, and typically “customize” their programs based on your height and weight, from which they blindly calculate your basal metabolic rate (BMR). Since most of these sources have a different means of calculating how much you should be eating, so it can be difficult to know who to trust. Calorie counters may seem like an old-school means of assessing your food intake, but they are extremely accurate. With data on so many different foods, including calories per gram/cup/ounce, a calorie counter can help you meticulously plan your journey to better health. [2]

A weighing machine, measuring tape, and a slate with a calories counter on it surrounded by vegetables atop a table

A calorie counter can help you keep a check on your weight. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Calories in Common Foods

Using a calorie counter can be an effective means of documenting every calorie you consume, but for those who aren’t ready to delve into weighing and recording every morsel they consume, here is a brief list of common foods and their caloric value. These estimates are for average examples of these food items, i.e., medium-sized, raw, etc.

Carrots (1 cup) – 52 calories

Apple – 72 calories

Banana – 105 calories

Beer (12 oz) – 155 calories

Milk (8 oz) – 120 calories

Mustard (1 tsp) – 3 calories

Peanut Butter (1 tbsp) – 90 calories

Orange Juice (8 oz) –115 calories

Salsa (8 oz) – 70 calories

Rice (1 cup) –204 calories

Tuna (3 oz) – 100 calories

Ice Cream (vanilla, 4 oz) – 145 calories

Granola Bar – 190 calories

Coffee (1 cup) – 2 calories

Butter (1 tbsp) – 104 calories

Cheddar Cheese (1 slice) – 110 calories

Different Kinds of Calories

Many people think that all calories are created equal, but that isn’t actually the case. Calories come in three major forms – carbohydrates, fats, and protein, all of which are processed in slightly different ways by the body. While a “calorie” is a defined unit of energy, the source of these calories can change the effects that the calories have on your body. A calorie counter is ideal for helping you mark how many calories you get from these three sources.

Calories from Carbohydrates

When most people think of calories, they imagine those calories coming from carbohydrates – starches, fibers, sugars, fruits, vegetables, grains, pasta, bread, chips, etc. Carbohydrates contain basically 4 calories per gram, making it less calorie-heavy than fat, but there are also many “empty” calories in carbohydrates, meaning that there is little nutritive value in the carbs, and they can more easily be stored as fat. [3]

Simple carbohydrates are also less effective in terms of producing usable energy since they are digested and burned up so quickly. Carbohydrates also have less of an effect on metabolism and can cause complications for people with blood sugar issues, or those who have been diagnosed with diabetes.

Calories from Fat

Fat has roughly 9 calories per gram, which is why many people associate “fat” with being “unhealthy”. While this can be true, when fat is eaten in excess, you also need to consider what types of fat you are consuming. Healthy fats, such as monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats, will also improve your metabolic efficiency, protect against heart diseases, reduce inflammation, and lower your risk of chronic diseases. You simply need to find the “good” forms of fat, as these will give you “good” calories. Fat metabolism also results in the release of ketones, which are known as “brain” fuel; they are a highly efficient form of energy that is released by the liver. [4]

Calories from Protein

Similar to carbohydrates, protein contains roughly 4 calories per gram and can come in many different forms, from beans and legumes to eggs, tofu, steak, chicken, turkey, leafy greens, avocados, cheese, milk, and quinoa, among many others. The calories you derive from protein is particularly important for stimulating muscle growth and improving your overall metabolism. Many athletes focus on high-protein diets to improve their recovery time and maximize their results from intensive exercise. [5]

Calorie Burning Rate for Common Exercises

An important part of any dietary effort is a physical activity to burn off calories. Remember, altering your diet is only half the battle. Losing weight consists of creating a calorie deficit – burning more calories per day than you consume. Experts typically say that creating a 500-calorie deficit every day for 1 week will result in losing 1 pound. One of the best ways to create a calorie deficit is by increasing your physical activity with common exercises, such as those below. The following figures will be for a 155-pound individual for a 1-hour period of time. [6]

Running (6 mph) – 705 calories

Walking (3 mph) – 230 calories

Cycling (12 mph) – 550 calories

Swimming (laps) – 490 calories

Stair Machine – 630 calories

Rowing Machine – 600 calories

Weightlifting – 215 calories

Basketball (playing, not in a game) – 420 calories

Karate – 705 calories

Racquetball – 495 calories

Wrestling – 425 calories

Tennis – 500 calories

How Many Calories Do You Need?

Every person is different, as are their activity levels, so determining the “ideal” amount of calories for any person is difficult. On average, a man requires 2,500 calories per day to maintain their present weight – meaning that they burn approximately 2,500 calories per day as well. For an average woman, the requirement is 2,000 calories to maintain their weight.

If you are trying to lose weight, do your best to create a 500-calorie deficit each day, based on what you normally consume and your average level of physical activity. Remember that eating less doesn’t mean you can also exercise less; you should combine less consumption with regular exercise so you lose weight in a healthy way – rather than starving yourself. [7]

One of the best ways to actively lose weight is to use a calorie counter and be diligent about recording all of your intake of calories per day. If you typically consume 3,200 calories per day and are maintaining your weight, try cutting back to 2,700 calories per day for a few weeks and see whether your scale changes.

This detailed approach to your diet will give you a picture of your overall calorie intake, as well as showing you what types of calories you are taking into your body. Shifting your daily percentage of calories from fats, carbohydrates, and proteins can also help stimulate additional weight loss, often through boosting your metabolic activity with certain foods. [8]

Drinking Calories

When using a calorie counter and diligently documenting everything you take in on a given day, it is easy to overlook the calories you get from drinking beverages. While water is a calorie-free beverage that should form the centerpiece of your liquid diet, some other drinks can be packed with sugars and calories. If you want to use your calorie counter effectively, be sure to make a note of these common drinks every time you need to quench your thirst! [9]

Coffee (black, 12 oz) – 4 calories

Green Tea (12 oz) – 2 calories

Milk (whole, 12 oz) – 220 calories

Orange Juice (fresh-squeezed, 12 oz) – 160 calories

Soda (12 oz) – 140 calories

Diet Soda (12 oz) – 7-10 calories

Tomato Juice (12 oz) – 80 calories

Soy Milk (12 oz) – 160 calories

Energy Drink (8 oz) – 110 calories 

Sports Drink (12 oz) – 95 calories

Beer (12 oz) – 155 calories

Red Wine (5 oz) – 125 calories Protection Status
About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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