Calorie-Counting Diet

(Calorie-Controlled Diet)

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, 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)

  • 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


  • One serving = approximately 25 calories
Type One Serving
Cooked vegetables ½ cup
Raw vegetables 1 cup
Tomato or vegetable juice ½ cup


  • 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


  • 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
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
Beef: most beef products (ground beef, meatloaf, corned beef, short ribs, prime rib) 1 ounce
Cheese with 5 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
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


  • One fat serving = approximately 45 calories
Type One Serving
Avocado 2 tablespoons (1 ounce)
Oil (canola, olive, peanut) 1 teaspoon
Olives 9-10 large
Peanut butter 2 teaspoons
Tahini paste 2 teaspoons
Margarine 1 teaspoon
Mayonnaise, regular 1 teaspoon
Mayonnaise, low-fat 1 tablespoon
Salad dressing, regular 1 tablespoon
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 3 servings per day.
Type One Serving
Bouillon, broth or consommé
Candy, hard, sugar free 1 candy
Carbonated or mineral water
Cream cheese, fat-free 1 tablespoon
Creamers, nondairy 1 tablespoon
Diet soft drinks, sugar-free
Drink mixes, sugar-free
Gelatin dessert, sugar-free
Herbs, fresh or dried
Jam or jelly, light 2 teaspoons
Ketchup 1 tablespoon
Lemon or lime juice
Margarine spread, fat-free 4 tablespoons
Mayonnaise, fat-free 1 tablespoon
Nonstick cooking spray
Pickles, dill 1½ large
Salad dressing, fat-free or low-fat 1 tablespoon
Salsa ¼ cup
Soy sauce
Tabasco or hot pepper sauce
Whipped topping, light or fat-free 2 tablespoons
Wine, used in cooking
Worcestershire sauce

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