The Basics of Calories

By Renee Rogers RD, LDN

Nutrition Facts Labels are found on every packaged food. They contain useful information, including how many calories are in the foods you eat. Understanding how to read a food label is key to making wiser food choices.

The serving size is the measurement that is directly under the Nutrition Facts/Information label. It represents the specific amount of food that was used to calculate the calories and nutrient values for that specific Nutrition Facts Label. Therefore, the Nutrition Facts label reflects the nutritional information for that particular serving size NOT for the entire package of food.

Total calories are calculated per serving, so a little math is needed to determine the amount of calories you are eating. This requires comparing the serving size to your personal portion size.

  1. Find the relationship between the serving size and your portion size.

    A box of cereal has a serving size of 3/4 cup. You ate 1.5 cups of cereal so your portion size is two times greater than the serving size.
  2. Use above relationship to determine calories in your portion size.
    There are 120 calories in a serving size of 3/4 cup. Multiply 120 by two to get your caloric intake of 240 calories for 1.5 cups of cereal.

Some serving sizes are represented in grams. However, the exact same set of rules applies to determine the amount of calories you are consuming.

  1. Find the relationship between the serving size and your portion size.

    A box of cereal has a serving size of 100 grams. You eat a 40 gram portion of cereal so your portion size is 40% of the serving size.
  2. Use above relationship to determine calories in your portion size.

    There are 436 calories in a serving size of 100 grams. Multiply 426 calories by 0.40 to get your caloric intake of 174 calories for 40 grams of cereal.

The above set of rules is a useful way to count your caloric intake and stay within your healthy eating goals.

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