by Maria Adams, MS, MPH, RD
What Is a Calorie-Counting Diet?
The premise of the calorie-counting, or calorie-controlled, diet is to stay within a target number of calories each day. Although this diet works well for some, most registered dietitians recommend a more individualized eating plan.
Why Should I Follow a Calorie-Counting Diet? TOP
Following a calorie-counting diet can help you manage your weight and blood sugar levels. If you are overweight, reducing the number of calories you consume will help you lose weight. This will also lower your risk of several health conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. If you are underweight, increasing your calorie intake will help you gain weight.
Calorie-Counting Diet Guide TOP
The calorie-counting diet breaks food into different food groups and allots a certain number of daily servings from each group. This method helps ensure a balanced diet and also makes it easier to keep track of calories.
A balanced diet includes a variety of foods from each of the main food groups: grains, fruits, vegetables, milk, meat and beans, and oils. Based on your calorie needs, a dietitian can help you determine how many servings you can have from each of the groups. Depending on your situation and calorie requirement, you may also be allotted some discretionary calories that you can use for foods not in these main groups, such as sweets, desserts, and certain beverages. Alcohol, if permitted by your doctor, should be limited to 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men.
The chart below shows the main food groups and the calories per serving for foods in these groups. You should work with a dietitian to calculate how many servings of each group you can have per day.
Grains (includes starchy vegetables)
Meat and Beans TOP
Sweets and Desserts TOP
Free Foods TOP
Tips and Suggestions TOP
If your goal is to lose weight, researchers have found that reducing your caloric intake is the key to success, not reducing a particular nutrient (like carbs).
To become more aware of how many calories you are consuming, follow these tips:
American Diabetes Association
Eat Right—Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Canada’s Food Guide
Dietitians of Canada
The new math of counting calories. Eat Right—Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website. Available at:
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Updated February 4, 2014. Accessed September 14, 2016.
4/14/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance
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Sacks FM, Bray GA, Carey VJ, et al. Comparison of weight-loss diets with different compositions of fat, protein, and carbohydrates. N Engl J Med. 2009;360:859-873.
Last reviewed September 2016 by Dianne Scheinberg Rishikof MS, RD, LDN
Last Updated: 9/30/2013
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