Monday, June 16, 2008

Just how much ARE we eating?

From Allan Borushek, dietitian, The Calorie King, who is author of the best-selling book and database Calorie King Calorie, Fat & Carbohydrate Counter (2008 ed.)

To the uninitiated, calorie counting may seem like a simple matter of adding up a few numbers and hey presto, you have the total day's calories in an instant.

Studies show that it's easy to underestimate our food calories by as much as 600 calories per day – and that as many as 80 percent of women and 60 percent of men underestimate their calories. What's more, the heavier you are, the more calories you are likely to underestimate.

The most common reasons for the underestimation of calories involve:

  • Underestimating the portion or serving size. It's surprising just how small a standard 8 fl. oz. cup can look next to large containers holding anything up to 32 fl. oz. And with 12 fl. oz. glass sizes being the norm, it is easy to mistakenly treat it as a 1-cup serving instead of one-and-a-half cups. And those 20 fl. oz. bottles in take-out food outlets contain two-and-one-half cups. Similarly with weights, we don't realize that what may look like a 3 oz. muffin can actually weigh 5 to 6 oz. We're not good at judging weights of foods – and even dietitians have to have the trusty food scales close by.

  • Forgetting to include calories from drinks such as fruit juice, milk, coffee with sugar and/or milk/cream, soft drinks, sweetened iced tea, energy drinks, alcoholic drinks. Even when one believes they are eating sensibly, calorie-laden fluids can easily account for 50% or more of total calories for the day - particularly when they are freely imbibed to quench one's thirst instead of water.
    16 oz. regular café latte – 220 calories
    12 oz. can soda – 150 calories
    24 oz. cup soda – 300 calories
    16 oz. orange juice – 220 calories
    12 oz. milk – 220 calories
    12 oz. beer – 140 calories
    And don't forget to count the 2-3 teaspoons of sugar that might be added to your 6 or more cups of coffee throughout the day. Twelve heaping teaspoons of sugar add up to some 300 calories!

  • Mindless eating such as might occur in front of the TV or computer, where you keep nibbling at the contents of a large package of snack food or dipping into the ice-cream container. It's easy to lose track of the actual quantity of food consumed. Even more so with drinks that you consume throughout the day whether sweetened coffee with loads of half-and-half, or glasses of soda, fruit juice or other calorie-laden drinks – particularly when thirsty and not quenching one's thirst with water or other calorie-free drinks.
  • Misunderstanding serving size on the label. For example, not realizing that the serving size stated on the label does not apply to the contents of the total package – particularly where single-serving snacks and drinks are shown as containing 2 servings.
  • Being fooled or trusting that label claims such as "low fat" or "low carbohydrate" on a menu or product label mean "low calorie" and that larger portions can be eaten. Other terms that can easily mislead include "fat free", "zero trans fat", "low GI", "baked". Ultimately, it's the serving size that determines the total calories.
  • Being fooled by menu descriptions that usually hide loads of fat and calories. Examples include: Au gratin, carbonara, creamy/creamed, sautéed, pesto, marinated, tempura, breaded, gravy, sauce, bisque. Even when ordering "grilled" steak or fish, one has to specify "no butter or seasoning."
  • Not realizing that the actual weight of a single-serving food product can be as much 40-50% more than the "net weight" (the minimum legal weight the product must weigh) stated on the label. So, for example, a muffin might show a net weight of 4 oz. but could weigh 5 oz. – some 25% more. The problem is that the nutritional data on the label is usually calculated on the lesser net weight. Large differences are commonly found with baked foods and snacks. It pays to check the weight and allow for the extra calories.
  • Not counting the salad dressing poured onto salads. Just 2 oz. of Caesar or Ranch dressing can add some 300 calories to that healthy low-calorie salad. Request the dressing on the side or better still, request a low-fat, low-calorie dressing.
  • Not counting those small bites of food at parties or supermarket food sampling because you think they don't matter. Try these small bites for size:
    * 2 regular cheese cubes, 1 oz. – 110 calories
    * 1 small chocolate chip cookie – 70 calories
    * 2 pieces chocolate, 1/2 oz. – 75 calories
    * 4 small snack crackers – 60 calories
    * 4 potato chips – 30 calories
    * 4 thin pretzels – 50 calories
    * Ice cream, 1 heaping tablespoon – 50 calories
    * Peanut butter, 1 heaping teaspoon – 70 calories