Custom Calorie Counting
July 10, 2007 9:47 AM   Subscribe

How to: Calorie Counting and home cooking? On the go?

Ok, so I'm sold on the hackers diet and I'd like to track calorie consumption. Easy to do if I eat packaged food, but I don't.

What's the easiest/best way of 'calorie counting' meals cooked from scratch? What's the best? Are there any sites which specialize in assembling ingredients and weights into weight divisible calorie portions?

How about meals I didn't prepare, say something at a restaurant other than a nation wide chain?

I definitely don't need 100% accuracy, is there a easy estimator that will get in into the 80% range?

Lastly -- the calorie part of it doesn't make much sense without the portion part of it -- what are the good tips for portion measuring on the go? A small scale?

Thanks Ask Mi!
posted by daver to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I like - free and easy to use, full featured calorie and nutrition tracker.

posted by mazienh at 9:57 AM on July 10, 2007

I'm on the sparkpeople metafilter team, but I don't like their calorie counter that much, I prefer the one over at, which is also a free service.
posted by cschneid at 10:01 AM on July 10, 2007

I second fitday. They have a lot of hole in their calorie counter, but you can enter your own.

Cooking supply stores sells scales, and some of them have a chart right on them listing calories of common foods.

Once you keep track for a while, you should be able to estimate calories without much trouble.
posted by The Deej at 10:28 AM on July 10, 2007

3rd fitday. It's excellent and easy to use.
posted by gaspode at 10:29 AM on July 10, 2007

Hey, I use They have almost everything by ounce as well as other measures. Invest in a little kitchen scale as a learning tool: so you'll be accurately guessing how much chicken is 3 oz, how much a grape weighs, etc.

On the go is tougher, but like you said, it doesn't have to be an exact science. Just write down everything when it comes to your table or after you eat it. If there seems to be fat added to your veggies, write that down and add the calories for a tablespoon of oil or half a tablespoon. I keep this book, I bought it at Borders, and a little notepad in my bag for this purpose. That way I can tally the calories up then and there, or later on (I like best, but CalorieKing has a lot of fast food and processed foods listed)

I can attest that my spreadsheet system (based on 12 KCal/lb needed per day or my age/sex/weight and subtracting burned calories for exercise) has always produced weight projections well within 10% of the bathroom scale's report.

One shorthand for portions for a starting dieter when eating out: All the veggies, half anything else. 3 oz. of meat is a serving, and that is a deck of cards big.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:41 AM on July 10, 2007

Here's a visual rundown of serving sizes.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:43 AM on July 10, 2007

I use CalorieKing (the downloadable version) and a digital scale.
posted by AaRdVarK at 11:06 AM on July 10, 2007

I used fitday to help me lose weight. When I was on the go I frequently pre-packed meals so I knew how much food was in each serving. However, you get pretty good at eyeballing it after awhile.
posted by christinetheslp at 11:16 AM on July 10, 2007

Get a good scale and use the info on the packet. Nearly all food (at least in the UK ) has a calories per 100g on the packet. If you're bad at maths and rough estimates, get a calculator too ;)

Online databases can be highly inaccurate and when theres no exact match for what you're looking for - you guess at the closest. Take for example a slice of white bread - the online calculators say 66 - 80 calories per slice (for a medium - thick slice)
Looking at the back of the packet of my loaf of bread I see that its 91 calories for a medium slice - not the 66 that the database suggested.
The bread I currently buy is 125 calories per slice (it has nuts and seeds in it) no matches on the database for that one.

Another favorite of mine - smoked salmon. On both databases its about 116 calories per 100g - looking at the back of my packet of smoked salmon - 180 calories per 100g.

So lets say for lunch I have 4 slices of bread and 100g of smoked salmon. The database says a nice healthy 380 calorie lunch. But the actual figure is 544 calories. Thats 164 calories over what the database estimated - just for 1 meal! If its that far out on all my meals, I'm gaining 1lb per week.

You dont have to get anal about it but small underestimates over a long period of time, really add up.

When you're estimating try to overestimate how many calories each item contains - most people's estimates come up short so if you are over in your overestimation its a bonus.

The idea of 'portion' sizes is fairly arbitrary. Decide how many calories you want of a certain food and calculating how much to have is easy. I used 100 calories as a portion size for protein fat and carbs, purely because its easier to keep track of smaller numbers, so a day might consist of 10 carbs, 5 protein and 1 fat. (plus fruit and veg)
So I might decide that my day will go like:
Breakfast: 4 carb, 1 protein
Lunch: 3 carb, 2 protein
Dinner: 3 carb, 2 protien, 1 fat

and that might mean
Breakfast: 2 bagles with 35g low fat cream cheese and 25g of smoked salmon
Lunch: 85g (dry weight) pasta, 2 quorn fillets (the kind with sauce, not the plain ones) + veg
Dinner: 2 slices of bread, 20g olive spread and 100g quorn (if my bread was the 66 calorie kind I might spread the filling over 4 slices instead of 2 but I like my seed bread)

Now that might sound like a lot of hassle and measuring but you get used to knowing what the amount you need looks like. I pretty much dont need to measure anything anymore, unless I'm trying something new.

Unless you eat out on a regular basis, dont sweat it. Enjoy your meal, have a good night out with friends or whatever. Excess calories are accumulated over a long period of time, that dessert does not go straight to your hips/thighs/bottom.

But watch what you drink! There are over 100 calories in a single glass of wine, and about 200 calories in a pint of beer. Its very easy to consume a lot of excess calories through booze - and also fruit juice which is about 500 calories per litre.
posted by missmagenta at 11:38 AM on July 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

I used Calorie Count and it was awesome. You type in your recipe and number of servings, and it breaks it down into a per-serving fact sheet like the ones you find on the boxes of food in the store. I love it.
posted by headspace at 11:46 AM on July 10, 2007

nthing I use the free online version now because I have a mac, but there's some PC software you can download for around $20 and it's excellent.
posted by poissonrouge at 12:17 PM on July 10, 2007

I use both Fitday's and Sparkpeople's calorie tracker.

-has a cleaner interface
-prompts you if the calorie information is incorrect (happens more than you'd think) (they use this formula:

Cals = fat grams X 9 + (carb grams - fiber grams) X 4 + protein grams X 4 + alcohol grams X 7

-tracks more vitamins and other nutrients than Fitday;
-allows you to combine various different foods in your own "Food Groupings" (handy if you frequently eat the same things for breakfast/lunch, etc.);
-allows you to search for foods not in the USDA database that have been entered by other members (this can save a lot of time);
-can enter recipes and then import them over into your "Favorite" foods on Sparkpeople using their sister site, This makes it very easy to get the general caloric values of recipes from cookbooks and other meals you make from scratch, particularly because Sparkrecipes will let you pick the portion size for the recipes you enter.
-annoying interface - tons of new tabs when you enter foods.
posted by longdaysjourney at 12:23 PM on July 10, 2007

The bread I currently buy is 125 calories per slice (it has nuts and seeds in it) no matches on the database for that one.

That's exactly why FitDay is a good choice. You add your foods to your own custom database.
posted by The Deej at 12:24 PM on July 10, 2007

That's exactly why FitDay is a good choice. You add your foods to your own custom database.

So does the notepad in my kitchen ;) And its a lot more convient when I'm cooking than the PC in my bedroom.
posted by missmagenta at 12:44 PM on July 10, 2007

And its a lot more convient when I'm cooking than the PC in my bedroom.
posted by missmagenta

Obviously, you need to move your stove into your bedroom.
posted by The Deej at 12:59 PM on July 10, 2007 [2 favorites]

I use Calorie King for stuff without nutrition labels and a spreadsheet. Calorie King lets you adjust for portion sizes.
posted by donajo at 1:11 PM on July 10, 2007

Nutrition facts for almost every food you could think of in the USDA Nutrient Lab.
posted by Joleta at 1:17 PM on July 10, 2007

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