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 physician, should be limited to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.
Grains (includes starchy vegetables) _____ servings per day
- One serving = approximately 80 calories
Bagel (varies), 4 ounces
¼ of a bagel (1 ounce)
Bread (white, pumpernickel, whole wheat, rye)
Bread, reduced calorie or “lite”
Cooked beans, peas, or corn
English muffin, hot dog bun, or hamburger bun
Muffin, 5 ounces
1/5 (1 ounce)
Popcorn, air popped, no fat added
1 small (3 ounces)
Sweet potato or yam
Unsweetened, dry cereal
Vegetables _____ servings per day
- One serving = approximately 25 calories
Tomato or vegetable juice
Fruits _____ servings per day
- One serving = approximately 60 calories
1 small or 1 cup (eg, cut up or berries)
Milk _____ servings per day
- Calories in one serving varies as listed below
90 calories per serving
Nonfat or low-fat milk
Plain, nonfat yogurt
Nonfat or low-fat soy milk
120 calories per serving
Yogurt, plain, low-fat
150 calories per serving
Yogurt, plain (made from whole milk)
Meat and Beans _____ servings per day
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
Egg substitutes, plain
Fish: fresh or frozen cod, flounder, haddock, halibut, trout, tuna
Nonfat or low-fat cottage cheese
Poultry: chicken or turkey, white meat, no skin
Beef: round, sirloin, flank, tenderloin, roast, steak, ground round (trimmed of fat)
Fish: herring, salmon, catfish, tuna (canned in oil, drained)
Pork: lean pork, such as fresh ham, Canadian bacon, tenderloin, center loin chop
Poultry: chicken or turkey (dark meat, no skin); chicken (white meat with skin)
½ cup or 4 ounces
Veal: lean chop, roast
Beef: most beef products (ground beef, meatloaf, corned beef, short ribs, prime rib)
Cheese with five grams or less of fat per ounce: feta, mozzarella
1 ounce, (Ricotta 2 ounces)
Lamb: rib roast, ground
Pork: top loin, chop, cutlet
Poultry: chicken (dark meat with skin), ground turkey or ground chicken, fried chicken (with skin)
Sausage with 5 g or less of fat per ounce
½ cup or 4 ounces
Cheeses: all regular cheese (eg, American, cheddar, Monterey Jack, Swiss)
Hot dog (beef, pork, or combination) *count as 1 high-fat meat plus 1 fat exchange
Pork: spareribs, ground pork, pork sausage
Processed sandwich meats: bologna, salami
Sausage (eg, Italian, bratwurst)
Fats _____ servings per day
- One fat serving = approximately 45 calories
2 tablespoons (1 ounce)
Oil (canola, olive, peanut)
Salad dressing, regular
Coconut, sweetened, shredded
Cream cheese, reduced fat
Cream cheese, regular
Cream, half and half
Shortening or lard
Sour cream, reduced fat
Sour cream, regular
Sweets and Desserts _____ servings per day/week
- 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.
Angel food cake, unfrosted
1/12 cake (2 ounces)
Brownie, small, unfrosted
2 inch square (about 1 ounce)
2 inch square (about 2 ounces)
1 medium (1½ ounce)
Ice cream, low-fat
Milk, chocolate, whole
Pudding, sugar-free (made with low-fat milk)
Yogurt, frozen, low-fat
- 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.
Bouillon, broth or consommé
Candy, hard, sugar free
Carbonated or mineral water
Cream cheese, fat-free
Diet soft drinks, sugar-free
Drink mixes, sugar-free
Gelatin dessert, sugar-free
Herbs, fresh or dried
Jam or jelly, light
Lemon or lime juice
Margarine spread, fat-free
Nonstick cooking spray
Salad dressing, fat-free or low-fat
Tabasco or hot pepper sauce
Whipped topping, light or fat-free
Wine, used in cooking
Tips and Suggestions
- 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.
- 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.
- Focus on the serving sizes you are eating—they directly impact calorie intake.
- Read food labels for calorie information per serving.
- Work with a dietitian to create a calorie-counting plan that takes into account your lifestyle and preferences.
American Diabetes Association
American Dietetic Association
Canada’s Food Guide
Dietitians of Canada
American Diabetes Association website. Available at: http://www.diabetes.org/ . Accessed March 20, 2007.
Powers M. American Dietetic Association Guide to Eating Right When You Have Diabetes. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc; 2003.
Last reviewed May 2008 by Dianne Scheinberg, MS, RD, LDN
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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