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Diet Diva
Diet Diva

Get advice on healthy eating, nutrition, and weight loss from expert dietitian Tara Gidus. 

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Are Food Labels Accurate?

I am a firm believer that if you keep track of your calories it will help you lose weight. Numerous studies show that when someone tracks their calories they lose more weight, and some estimate that you can even lose twice as much weight if you track.



How accurate is your tracking? That is the most difficult part. As hard as we try to be accurate in our tracking, there is still room for a lot of error. First you have your own portion size estimates. Was it one cup of cereal or one and one quarter cup? It could be a 50 calorie difference. Who knows the difference between a medium apple and a large apple? That could be a 20 calorie difference. Add these and other foods you are recording up throughout the day and it could be an error of 400-500 calories! Why are you not losing weight yet you are only eating 1300 calories? Because even though you think you are eating 1300 calories, you may really be eating 1800!



A study in the January 2010 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association adds another potential source of error to the equation. They looked at the accuracy of packaged frozen meals as well as meals at quick serve and sit down restaurants. They found that the packaged foods averaged 8% more calories than the label stated and the restaurant foods had an average of 18% more calories than stated. The variation went up as high as 200% more than stated values! Added side dishes that were not accounted for but many people thought were included could add 245% more calories.


It makes sense that packaged meals would be more accurate because the portions are much more standard. At restaurants you are relying on the person behind the counter scooping up just the right amount of food that was analyzed.


Bottom line

Continue to log your food and pay attention to the number of calories listed on labels, on websites, and posted in restaurants. However, do not assume that it is absolutely correct. Make sure you measure or weigh your food at home for the most accurate estimations of calories. And remember that it is all still an estimation.


Numerous websites exist for keeping track of calories:






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About the Author


Tara Gidus is a nationally recognized expert and spokesperson on nutrition and fitness.