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?

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, thereby also lowering 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

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 (eg, sweets, desserts, and certain beverages). Alcohol, if permitted by your doctor, should be limited to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.

The below chart 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)

    
  • One serving = approximately 80 calories
  • Type

    One Serving

    Bagel (varies), 4 ounces

    ¼ of a bagel (1 ounce)

    Bread (white, pumpernickel, whole wheat, rye)

    1 slice

    Bread, reduced calorie or “lite”

    2 slices

    Broth-based soup

    1 cup

    Cooked beans, peas, or corn

    ½ cup

    Cooked cereal

    ½ cup

    Crackers

    4-6

    English muffin, hot dog bun, or hamburger bun

    ½

    Muffin, 5 ounces

    1/5 (1 ounce)

    Pasta, rice

    1/3 cup

    Popcorn, air popped, no fat added

    3 cups

    Potato

    1 small (3 ounces)

    Pretzels

    ¾ ounce

    Sweet potato or yam

    ½ cup

    Tortilla

    1 small

    Unsweetened, dry cereal

    ¾ cup

    Vegetables

        
  • One serving = approximately 25 calories
  • Type

    One Serving

    Cooked vegetables

    ½ cup

    Raw vegetables

    1 cup

    Tomato or vegetable juice

    ½ cup

    Fruits

        
  • One serving = approximately 60 calories
  • Type

    One Serving

    Canned fruit

    ½ cup

    Dried fruit

    ¼ cup

    Fresh fruit

    1 small or 1 cup (eg, cut up or berries)

    Fruit juice

    ½ cup

    Milk

        
  • Calories in one serving varies as listed below
  • Type

    One Serving

    90 calories per serving

    Nonfat or low-fat milk

    1 cup

    Plain, nonfat yogurt

    ¾ cup

    Nonfat or low-fat soy milk

    1 cup

    120 calories per serving

    2% milk

    1 cup

    Soy milk

    1 cup

    Yogurt, plain, low-fat

    ¾ cup

    150 calories per serving

    Whole milk

    1 cup

    Yogurt, plain (made from whole milk)

    ¾ cup

    Meat and Beans

        
  • Calories vary as follows:     
  • One very lean serving = approximately 35 calories
  • One lean serving = approximately 55 calories
  • One medium-fat serving = approximately 75 calories
  • One high-fat serving = approximately 100 calories
  • Type

    One Serving

    Very lean

    Egg substitutes, plain

    ¼ cup

    Egg whites

    2

    Fish: fresh or frozen cod, flounder, haddock, halibut, trout, tuna

    1 ounce

    Nonfat or low-fat cottage cheese

    ¼ cup

    Poultry: chicken or turkey, white meat, no skin

    1 ounce

    Shellfish

    1 ounce

    Lean

    Beef: round, sirloin, flank, tenderloin, roast, steak, ground round (trimmed of fat)

    1 ounce

    Fish: herring, salmon, catfish, tuna (canned in oil, drained)

    1 ounce

    Parmesan cheese

    2 tablespoons

    Pork: lean pork, such as fresh ham, Canadian bacon, tenderloin, center loin chop

    1 ounce

    Poultry: chicken or turkey (dark meat, no skin); chicken (white meat with skin)

    1 ounce

    Tofu, light

    ½ cup or 4 ounces

    Veal: lean chop, roast

    1 ounce

    Medium-fat

    Beef: most beef products (ground beef, meatloaf, corned beef, short ribs, prime rib)

    1 ounce

    Cheese with five grams or less of fat per ounce: feta, mozzarella

    1 ounce, (Ricotta 2 ounces)

    Egg

    1

    Lamb: rib roast, ground

    1 ounce

    Pork: top loin, chop, cutlet

    1 ounce

    Poultry: chicken (dark meat with skin), ground turkey or ground chicken, fried chicken (with skin)

    1 ounce

    Sausage with 5 g or less of fat per ounce

    1 ounce

    Tofu

    ½ cup or 4 ounces

    High-fat

    Cheeses: all regular cheese (eg, American, cheddar, Monterey Jack, Swiss)

    1 ounce

    Hot dog (beef, pork, or combination) *count as 1 high-fat meat plus 1 fat exchange

    1 ounce

    Peanut butter

    1 tablespoon

    Pork: spareribs, ground pork, pork sausage

    1 ounce

    Processed sandwich meats: bologna, salami

    1 ounce

    Sausage (eg, Italian, bratwurst)

    1 ounce

    Fats

        
  • One fat serving = approximately 45 calories
  • Type

    One Serving

    Monounsaturated

    Avocado

    2 tablespoons (1 ounce)

    Oil (canola, olive, peanut)

    1 teaspoon

    Olives

    9-10 large

    Peanut butter

    2 teaspoons

    Tahini paste

    2 teaspoons

    Polyunsaturated

    Margarine

    1 teaspoon

    Mayonnaise, regular

    1 teaspoon

    Mayonnaise, low-fat

    1 tablespoon

    Salad dressing, regular

    1 tablespoon

    Saturated

    Bacon, cooked

    1 slice

    Butter, stick

    1 teaspoon

    Coconut, sweetened, shredded

    2 tablespoons

    Cream cheese, reduced fat

    1½ tablespoons

    Cream cheese, regular

    1 tablespoon

    Cream, half and half

    2 tablespoons

    Shortening or lard

    1 teaspoon

    Sour cream, reduced fat

    3 tablespoons

    Sour cream, regular

    2 tablespoons

    Sweets and Desserts

        
  • These foods tend to be high in sugar and/or fat, while providing little nutritional value. They may or may not be included in your diet plan.
  • Type

    Serving Size

    Angel food cake, unfrosted

    1/12 cake (2 ounces)

    Brownie, small, unfrosted

    2 inch square (about 1 ounce)

    Cake, frosted

    2 inch square (about 2 ounces)

    Doughnut, plain

    1 medium (1½ ounce)

    Gingersnaps

    3

    Honey

    1 tablespoon

    Ice cream

    ½ cup

    Ice cream, low-fat

    ½ cup

    Milk, chocolate, whole

    1 cup

    Pudding, sugar-free (made with low-fat milk)

    ½ cup

    Sports drink

    8 ounces

    Sugar

    1 tablespoon

    Syrup, regular

    1 tablespoon

    Yogurt, frozen, low-fat

    1/3 cup

    Free Foods

        
  • These foods contain less than 20 calories per serving.
  • Eat as desired, unless a serving size is given, then limit to three servings per day.
  • Type

    One Serving

    Bouillon, broth or consommé

    Candy, hard, sugar free

    1 candy

    Carbonated or mineral water

    Coffee

    Cream cheese, fat-free

    1 tablespoon

    Creamers, nondairy

    1 tablespoon

    Diet soft drinks, sugar-free

    Drink mixes, sugar-free

    Garlic

    Gelatin dessert, sugar-free

    Herbs, fresh or dried

    Horseradish

    Jam or jelly, light

    2 teaspoons

    Ketchup

    1 tablespoon

    Lemon or lime juice

    Margarine spread, fat-free

    4 tablespoons

    Mayonnaise, fat-free

    1 tablespoon

    Mustard

    Nonstick cooking spray

    Pickles, dill

    1½ large

    Salad dressing, fat-free or low-fat

    1 tablespoon

    Salsa

    ¼ cup

    Soy sauce

    Spices

    Tabasco or hot pepper sauce

    Tea

    Vinegar

    Whipped topping, light or fat-free

    2 tablespoons

    Wine, used in cooking

    Worcestershire sauce

    Tips and Suggestions

    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:

        
  • Read food labels for calorie information per serving.
  • Focus on the serving sizes you are eating. They directly impact calorie intake.
  • Spread out your calorie intake throughout the day. Find what works for you, whether it is consuming your calories in three standard meals a day or spread out into six mini-meals.
  • Work with a dietitian to create a calorie-counting plan that takes into account your lifestyle and preferences.
  • Eat a variety of foods from each of the food groups. This will ensure that you get all the nutrients you need and will also leave you more satisfied.