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The Truth Behind the Label: Why This Dietitian Doesn't Count Calories — an article on the Smart Living Network
April 13, 2012 at 8:00 AMComments: 1 Faves: 0

The Truth Behind the Label: Why This Dietitian Doesn't Count Calories


Are you one of the millions of Americans who count their calories? Perhaps you use one of the interactive diet and nutrition apps available for your smart phone or iPod Touch. Maybe you're going by the calories listed on the restaurant menu? While these are helpful tools, they may not be as accurate as you've been led to believe.

Calorie Count Regulations - Not as Tight As You May Think!

You may be surprised to hear that by law, the Federal Department of Agriculture allows any nutrient analysis program up to 20% variance on calories listed per serving!

Your favorite 350 calorie frozen meal may actually be 420 calories – 20% more than it is listed on the Nutrition Facts panel. If you were going by calorie intake alone, this difference could actually lead to a one-pound weight gain in less than two-months!

The same rule also applies to restaurant menu labeling and unfortunately, there seems to be even greater variance in this arena. At least with packaged foods, the manufacturing process is nearly identical each and every time. In the restaurant world, measurements are far from perfect.

Restaurants Are Even Worse

While a nutrient analysis can be made for the recipe provided, the recipe may not actually be used behind the doors of the restaurant kitchen. The chef is only human and because cooking does not require the specific measurements needed for baking, he or she is able to have a bit more fun in the process – adding a splash of this and a dash of that. And the nutrition analysis may already be off by 20% from the recipe itself!

I must also add that as someone who has helped many restaurants with nutrition analysis, each nutrition program varies in its ability to arrive at the most accurate nutrition totals. While I absolutely trust the program I was using, there are plenty of others that I do not.

Because I was able to be a part of the building and maintenance process for our nutrition analysis software, along with an incredible team of professionals, I was able to learn exactly how difficult and cumbersome the process can be – not to mention what is required for a program to offer product specific information.

The analysis differences along with the varied nutrition resulting in the cooking process, add up to a significant discrepancy in nutrition. Providing reason enough to take the calories listed with a grain of salt.

Listen to Your Body

Instead of counting calories to determine when I have had enough, I prefer to go by my own internal cues instead. When I hear my stomach growl I take it as a solid hint that I am probably getting hungry. As I am one who experiences dramatic symptoms of low blood sugar if I do not eat frequently enough - shaky, rapid heartbeat, cold sweats, headaches, you name it - I receive plenty of reminders to eat.

On the opposite side, I try to eat slowly or in small amounts, allowing my body to recognize that it is full. Once my hunger pains subside, I know that I have satisfied my need for food and usually my symptoms reside after just a few bites. Of course, we can all recognize the symptoms of being overly full as we can quickly become tired as our body tries its best to digest all of the food.

Are you listening to what your body is trying to tell you?

What signs and symptoms do you recognize?

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1 Comment

  • 20%! That is outrageous! I can only imagine that most places use that to their advantage. That is shocking. I guess counting calories isn't the best way to do it. I will stick to trying to eat right and exercise.

    Great Blog!

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