Food Calorie Calculator: The Pros & Cons

by | May 6, 2019

From restaurant menus to packaged food labels, the calorie counts of food are more available to consumers than ever before. But what should we do with this information? How can calculating calories help us on our wellness journeys?

Calories are units used to measure energy. While the science behind the calorie content of foods is complicated, the take-home message is simple: Calories affect your weight. The more calories you consume, the more energy your body has available to use. If you don’t use this energy, it gets stored in your body as fat. So even if you’re eating nourishing foods, if you’re consuming more calories than you need, then you’ll continue to gain weight.

But how do you know how many calories you need? A food calorie calculator can give you an estimate of how many calories you should consume to gain, maintain, or lose weight. This calculation relies on a few key metrics: your age, sex, height, current weight, and activity level. For example, if you’re a 50-year-old woman with a sedentary lifestyle, you’ll have different calorie needs than a 20-year-old man who runs every day.

Once you enter this information into a calorie calculator (like this one at the Mayo Clinic), you’ll see approximately how many calories you use on a daily basis. If you want to lose weight, you need to adjust your calorie intake accordingly. Many apps and websites can calculate how much you should reduce your caloric intake based on your weight loss goals. (Be aware, though, that these numbers are estimates and individual needs may vary based on health conditions.)

Once you know your personal calorie goal for the day, you can adapt your habits accordingly.

Sounds easy, right? Well, yes and no. While there are advantages to tracking your calories, there are drawbacks as well. Consider these key points:

Pros

1. Comparing Options

Counting calories provides more information about your food so you can make healthy decisions. For example, if you want a 350-calorie breakfast, you could have a cup of oatmeal, an egg, a cup of blueberries and strawberries, and a cup of Greek yogurt…or just a bagel with cream cheese. While the calories are equal, you’ll probably feel different levels of energy, satisfaction and satiety (based on the laws of calorie density). Knowing this information can help you make smarter choices about your meals.

2. Consistent Data

By tracking how many calories you eat, you can see both patterns and problems—for example, most people underestimate their calorie intake and think they are eating more nutritiously than they actually are. Calorie counting gives you a clear, objective measure of what you’re putting in your body, which is the starting point for any change.

3. Helpful Boundaries

When you know your calorie goals, you can plan meals more thoughtfully. Say your goal for the day is to stay under 2,000 calories. You know you’ll be going out to dinner later and will want that delicious pasta dish, so you look up the meal to see how many calories it is. By calculating calories, you can factor this into your plan, and eat a lighter breakfast and lunch to still stay within your daily calorie goal.

Cons

1. Time-Consuming Process

Tracking everything you eat can be a hassle! The time it takes to look up and log your diet every day can be annoying, and this process can even lead to stress and anxiety. Luckily, with Noom, we take the hassle out of meal logging with features like simple swipe logging, that allow you to log your meals in seconds.

2. Inaccurate Calorie Counts

While many calorie counts are straightforward, others are harder to pin down. You won’t find an accurate calculation for your grandma’s potato soup recipe, for example, and the listed calorie counts at restaurants are not always entirely accurate. Ultimately, most calculated calories are estimates, not hard facts.

Noom has standards above the rest. A study published in February 2019 showed that Noom has the most accurate food database in the game!

3. Calories Don’t Measure Nutrition

You can stay within your calorie goal and still be unhealthy. Two people could both eat 1,500 calories in one day, but one may eat quinoa and kale while the other eats donuts and ice cream. The vitamins, minerals, protein, and fiber in your diet are important, and calorie calculators don’t always take those into account.

Luckily Noom does, and has a unique color system that helps guide your food choices to simultaneous improve your nutrition and reach your weight loss goals.

The bottom line

By calculating calories, you can gain more information about your diet – but ultimately calories are just one part of a larger picture. The key to wellness and sustainable weight loss is a holistic, comprehensive plan that focuses on overall health, not just the numbers on a calculator. Noom’s approach factors in calorie intake, but it also considers general nutrition, activity, and long-term wellness.

With Noom, you’re not just a number; you’re an individual working hard to be the best version of yourself. The Noom community provides up-to-date information and ongoing support to create a sustainable, satisfying lifestyle – and that’s something that really adds up.