Tips for calorie counting

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Losing weight can be a struggle, but something as simple as learning to count your calories accurately can really help.

The idea behind weight loss is simple: you need to make sure that you are using up more calories than you consume. That means that calorie counting can be a very effective way of slimming down.

It can be a little tricky and time-consuming to calorie count when you first start, but most foods clearly state how many calories they contain on the label. So, with a little practice, calorie counting can become second nature quite quickly. Plus, teaching yourself to look at labels and check just many calories are in your food will help you to stay slim once you've lost the lbs too.

What are calories?

Calories are just a measure of how much energy food contains. When you see a snack advertised as 'high energy, low calorie' that's just nonsense.

Different kinds of calories

Not all calories are the same. Some, such as sugar, are used up quickly by the body, while the calories found in complex carbohydrates like brown rice are released slowly, giving you more energy over a longer period of time. A food's 'glycaemic index' (GI) will tell you whether it contains slow or quick release calories - the lower a food's GI, the better.

How many calories should I aim for a day?

According to the NHS, an average woman needs 2,000 calories a day. How many calories you need will depend on your lifestyle; if you're on the go all the time then you'll probably need to eat more than someone who sits at a desk all day. Your weight, height, how much exercise you take and other factors - such as whether your family have a tendency to put on weight - should all be taken in to account.

If you're trying to lose weight, it's generally recommended to eat 500 calories less than the recommended amount for someone like you - that's likely to result in you losing a pound every week which is a safe, sustainable amount. Trying to eat fewer than a thousand calories less than your recommended daily amount can be dangerous. It might also make it harder to lose weight as your body adjusts so that it stores as much energy as it can from the food that you are giving it. Ask your doctor if you're not sure how many calories you should be consuming for healthy weight loss.

Here are our top five tips if you're trying to lose weight by calorie-counting:

Eat your veggies

It's obvious but it's such good advice that needs repeating. Vegetables are delicious, healthy and filling. For the most part, they're also low in calories so great to snack on. Most successful dieters eat as many veggies as they can.

Try a surprisingly low-calorie food

Homemade popcorn is such a good low-calorie snack. Buy some kernals and pop them yourself in a pan or air popper. Add a tiny amount of salt, then munch away. If you prefer to buy readymade, check the packet. Lots of pre-packaged popcorn is packed with nasties like sugar and fat.

If you suffer with a sweet tooth, check the chilled aisle at your local supermarket. There are usually several low-calorie options on offer. Watch out for 'low-fat' foods though - low-fat doesn't necessarily mean low in calories, lots of these products are packed with sugar!

Save calories at breakfast time

Keep it simple with a bowl of fat-free yoghurt and fruit - melons and strawberries are particularly good choices. If you prefer toast, pick up a low-calorie loaf (available in most supermarkets) and have it with a little low-fat spread.

Eggs are a low-calorie source of protein, which the body needs to stay in shape. They're particularly tasty served up with iron-rich spinach. If you don't want to waste calories by eating the yolk, try an egg white omelette. Although remember, egg yolks do contain essential minerals and vitamins that will give your body a boost.

Swap foods and save

Some of these are obvious - swap full-fat milk for semi-skimmed, cream or cheese-based sauces for tomato, and butter for low-fat spread. But one that will save you lots of precious calories isn't a food swap at all. Simply swap your frying pan for your grill, and you can eat many of the same things while skimping on the calories. 

Try Meatless Mondays

A vegan diet, without any meat, fish or dairy products, might sound extreme but it tends to be low in fat. Try it one day a week and load up on veggies instead. Also, when you do eat meat, try to eat less of it. Grated vegetables taste just as good as mince in bolognese sauce.

Join the goodtoknow Diet Club

The goodtoknow Diet Club makes calorie-counting so much easier. There are no banned foods, just a healthy approach to eating. Get your own, personalised calorie plan along with calorie info for more than 90,000 foods. Join today.

Continued below...

Where to next?

- Over 100 low-calorie snacks

- 20 ways to lose weight fast

- Easy exercise

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