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Calorie labels are often wildly inaccurate. Here's how to prevent extra calories from derailing your diet.

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  • Calorie labels are often wildly inaccurate. Here's how to prevent extra calories from derailing your diet.

    By Gabby Landsverk

    If you're like most people watching your weight, you probably keep an eye on how many calories you eat on average, perhaps scanning food packages or using an app to tally them up.

    But nutritional labels can be up to 20% inaccurate, according to the FDA guidelines. That means, for example, that a serving of Greek yogurt labeled to contain 100 calories could actually weigh in at 80 to 120 calories.

    Calories aren't the only factor in weight loss, but it's generally accepted that the only way to
    lose weight
    is by creating a calorie deficit, in which you burn more energy than you consume in the form of food.

    As a result, an extra 20 calories here and there could potentially add up over time. If you want to prevent erroneous labels from derailing your diet, experts recommend using a calorie budget, focusing on the big picture, and eating whole, unprocessed foods more often.

    It might be frustrating to feel like you can't accurately keep track of what you're eating, particularly if you're struggling to meet health or fitness goals.

    Previous research has found that prepackaged meals tend to have about 8% more calories on average than listed on the label — even ones specifically advertised for weight loss, such as Lean Cuisine or Weight Watchers. For example, a meal labeled as 250 calories could in fact have 270.

    Common snack foods, including Pop Tarts, *******s, chips, and snack cakes also tend to have slightly more calories than advertised, about 4% more than labeled, according to one 2013 study.

    But monitoring your calorie intake can still be helpful, said Layne Norton, a nutrition and fitness coach, bodybuilder, and power lifter with a PhD in nutrition.

    "Tracking calories is useful the way a budget is useful for saving money," Norton told Insider. "Plenty of people save money without a budget, but it can be a useful tool because it makes you cognizant of what you're spending your money on."

    Being more aware of where calories are coming from can also help you change behaviors that aren't helpful for your goals, such as cutting back on foods that might cause you to overeat.

    Whether or not you're tracking calories, a good nutrition plan can keep inaccurate labels from stalling your health goals. Experts say that one of the biggest factors in healthy eating is patterns over time, more than any single meal, food, or even day of eating.

    One popular principle in nutrition is the 80/20 rule, which calls for eating healthily about 80% of the time and allow 20% flexibility in your diet so it doesn't become stressful or restrictive.

    Furthermore, inaccurate labels can either be 20% more or 20% less than the actual calories in food. Greg Nuckols, an exercise science researcher and writer for Stronger By Science, crunched the numbers and found that over time, these small variations will likely balance out for most people.

    As such, in the context of your overall diet, an occasional 20 calories beyond what the label says is a tiny fraction of your total energy intake.

    If you're still concerned about miscalculating calories, one strategy might be to avoid foods with labels altogether.

    Many packaged foods are ultra-processed, meaning they include added fat, sugar, salt, and preservatives. There's a wealth of evidence that processed foods are bad for our health, leading to increased risk of chronic illness. Processed foods even cause you to eat more than you might otherwise, up to 500 extra calories a day, according to some research.

    In contrast, eating more whole foods like produce, legumes, lean meat, eggs, whole grains, nuts, seeds can promote a healthy weight and lower risk of disease. While these foods are still labeled, fewer ingredients also means there's less uncertainty about what you're putting in your mouth. Whole foods like produce are also less calorie dense, so 20% of what the label said will also be a smaller amount than the difference in processed foods.

    Dietitians recommend making fresh fruits and veggies about half your plate for most meals, since they're packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber, all of which are important for overall health.

  • #2
    I've often wondered if the labels on some of the food I'm eating is inaccurate.

    Comment


    • #3
      20% discrepancy is fairly accurate. They are on the right track when they measure calories. It's far more reliable than guesstimating or talking out of ass. A good place to start. I rely on calorie labels, and I lost a lot of weight with it. I just need to lose 6kg/12lbs more.

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by wilberbear View Post
        20% discrepancy is fairly accurate. They are on the right track when they measure calories. It's far more reliable than guesstimating or talking out of ass. A good place to start. I rely on calorie labels, and I lost a lot of weight with it. I just need to lose 6kg/12lbs more.
        What goal are you shooting for?

        Comment

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