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Calorie counting in order to meet your fitness goals is a common practice, and it’s made even easier when you can read the calorie content of a food on its label. But what happens in situations where you are eating a food that doesn’t have a label?
When you want to count the calories in a food that has no label, there are various tools that you can use. Techniques such as weighing your food on a scale, calorie counting apps, and getting familiar with estimating portion sizes are all effective ways to count calories in foods that don’t have labels.
While these tools come in handy when you are faced with a situation where food labels are not available, they are not always as accurate as a food label, especially if they are not used properly.
If you are counting calories to achieve a fitness goal, the accuracy of your calorie counting can become quite important. Therefore, it is important to understand exactly how to utilize each of these calorie-counting strategies.
In this article, you will learn:
- 3 situations where you need to count calories without labels
- 4 ways to count calories without food labels
- Is counting calories without labels accurate
3 Situations Where You’ll Need To Count Calories Without Labels
Specific situations where you may need to count the calories in your food without a label are:
1. When You Are Eating Whole Foods That Don’t Come With a Label
If you typically eat a diet full of whole, unprocessed foods, then you have likely noticed that most of these foods do not come with a nutrition label. This can make things a bit more difficult when you are trying to count your calories to reach your goal.
Whether it’s a bowl of strawberries, a piece of chicken breast, or a head of broccoli, if you aren’t already familiar, it can be tough to decipher the caloric content of that food.
We obviously want to include plenty of these whole foods in our diet; therefore it becomes important for us to learn how to properly track them.
Arguably the most effective and accurate way to calculate the calorie content in a whole food with no label is to determine the weight or measurement of the food, and use calorie counting apps or online food databases to determine the calorie content (this will be discussed in detail further on in the article).
2. When You Are Eating a Home Cooked Meal or Complex Recipe
It becomes increasingly difficult to count the calories in your meal when you are feasting on a home-cooked dish, such as a casserole, lasagna, or chili.
While you don’t want to deprive yourself of these types of meals, you want to make sure that you are getting an accurate calorie count in order to stay on track. In these scenarios, the mixture of ingredients and variability of your serving size can make it hard to decipher the exact calorie count.
In cases like this, it would be most accurate to enter each individual ingredient of the recipe and the amount in a calorie counting app such as MacroFactor, and divide this total by the amount of servings in the recipe.
If you are in a situation where you did not prepare the dish, and you cannot determine the exact ingredients, the next best thing to do would be to find a comparable dish on a calorie counting app, and estimate your serving size.
For example, in MacroFactor, 100 grams of generic lasagna comes out to 533 calories. You could use this number to roughly estimate the calories in your lasagna if you do not have the ability to log each ingredient.
While this is much less accurate than calculating the calories yourself, it can serve as a rough estimate when you are in a pinch.
Related Article: How To Determine Your Calories In Homemade Chili
3. When You Are Eating Out at a Restaurant
When you are eating out at a restaurant, you have much less control over the calorie content of that meal in comparison to when you can make your meal at home.
Typically in a restaurant, there is more opportunity for calories to be added into your meal in the form of sugar and fats/oils. While some restaurants may provide the nutritional information of a particular meal on their menu or online, others do not.
In addition to this, the portion size at a typical restaurant is usually larger than the norm. Not only do we end up losing control of added calories from ingredients like oil, but we also have more of an opportunity to over eat.
If you are looking to count your calories while eating at a restaurant, first try to look up the nutritional information of the meal you have chosen either on their menu or on their website.
If the restaurant does not provide this information, you will have to estimate the portions of food in your meal and use online sources to determine roughly how many calories you are eating. We will go over exactly how to execute this below.
Related Article: Should You Weigh Food Raw or Cooked When Tracking Macros?
Are you tracking your macros properly?
4 Ways To Count Calories Without Food Labels
The 4 most efficient ways that you can count the calories in your food without food labels are:
- Determine The Exact Weight of Your Food Using a Scale
- Use a Calorie Counting App Such as Macro Factor
- Utilize Google for Calories Counts
- Get to Know Your Portions and Use Estimations
1. Determine the Exact Weight of Your Food Using a Scale
One of the most accurate ways to determine the calorie count on a food without a nutrition facts label is to determine the scale weight of that food, then looking up that measurement on a calorie counting app or online database.
This is much more accurate than simply eyeballing the size of your portion, and could make all the difference when you are trying to be as accurate as possible with your calories.
For example 200 grams of salmon that you have weighed on your scale comes out to about 416 calories, according to Google. If you had eyeballed this portion at 120 grams (about 250 calories), you would be underestimating by 166 calories.
If you are making these inaccurate estimations throughout your entire day, this can add up to large discrepancies in your calorie count. For this reason, it is highly encouraged to use a food scale when counting calories in whole foods.
I recommend this simple food scale from Amazon, if you don’t already have one.
2. Use a Calorie Counting App Such as Macro Factor or Calorie King
As long as you have access to the Internet, then utilizing calorie-counting apps such as Macro Factor or Calorie King can be amazing tools when you are counting calories in foods or meals that don’t have a label.
Whether you have the exact weight of a particular food, or you are eyeballing your portion, using a calorie counting app can help you to determine how many calories are in your food.
For example, if you are preparing a meal that consists of 200 grams of sirloin steak, 150 grams of sweet potato, and 100 grams of cooked broccoli, the calorie count as per MacroFactor would be as follows:
- 200 grams of sirloin steak: 330 Calories
- 150 grams of sweet potato: 172 Calories
- 100 grams of cooked broccoli: 34 Calories
Total: 536 Calories
If you want 2 weeks free to use MacroFactor, then just use the code FEASTGOOD.
This calorie count is very accurate, despite the fact that none of these foods came with a nutrition label.
Another example would be if you were visiting an Italian restaurant and ordered a medium pepperoni pizza, but the restaurant did not provide the nutrition information. In this case, you can use a calorie tracking app to find a meal that is similar, in order to determine your rough intake of calories.
In the Calorie King app, one slice of a Pizza Hut medium pepperoni pan pizza is 190 calories. Therefore, you could assume that a slice of medium pepperoni pizza at another restaurant would contain roughly the same amount of calories.
3. Utilize Google for Calories Counts
Similar to the calorie counting apps mentioned above, simply using Google to learn the calorie content of a food with no label can be very effective.
If you are baking an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie recipe that makes 12 cookies, you could quickly search in Google each ingredient along with the quantity to determine the total calorie count of the recipe
For example, the calorie content of the following ingredients as per Google are:
- ½ cup of butter: 814 calories
- ½ cup brown sugar: 415 calories
- ¼ cup white sugar: 194 calories
- 1 large egg: 78 calories
- 3/4 cup all purpose flour: 341 calories
- 3 cups of quick oats: 509 calories
- ½ cup chopped walnuts: 392 calories
- 1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips: 402 calories
- 1 tsp vanilla extract: 12 calories
- ½ tsp baking soda: 0 calories
- 1 tsp salt: 0 calories
Total Calories: 3157 calories
Therefore, if there are 12 cookies in this recipe, the total amount of calories per cookie would be about 263 calories.
4. Get to Know Your Portions and Use Estimations
When you have counted calories for a long period of time, you will eventually get to know and memorize the calorie counts of certain foods that you eat on a regular basis. This will make it a lot easier to count your calories without having to look up everything you eat.
For example, if you regularly eat natural peanut butter, and you know that 2 tbsp is equal to around 190 calories, then it will become easier to be able to eyeball that portion and know how many calories you are roughly consuming.
Similarly, if you regularly measured out 3 oz (or 85 grams) of chicken breast in past meals (which is equivalent to about 140 calories), then it will become easier to eyeball and estimate the correct portion of chicken breast when a scale is not available to you.
This particular method can come in handy when you are eating out at restaurants, or eating somewhere where you are not able to weigh your food.
However, if you are trying to be very accurate with your calorie count, using estimations based on rough portion sizing is discouraged, as it can be much less accurate in comparison to using a food scale and calorie counting apps.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Counting Calories Without Labels Accurate?
Counting calories without the use of food labels can be accurate provided that you are utilizing calorie counting tools such as calorie-tracking apps, online food databases, and food scales. Keep in mind that the more you “guesstimate” the portion or measurement of your food, the more margin for error.
Have a FeastGood Nutrition Coach help you get results faster than trying to stick it out alone
What To Read Next
A lot of people worry about going over their macros. If that’s you, I’ve put together some simple guides for you to follow. Check out:
- Gaining Muscle Without Counting Calories or Macros (7 Tips)
- Do Macros Matter for Weight Loss? (Yes, Here’s Why)
- What To Do If You Go Over Your Carb Macros
- What To Do If You Go Over Your Protein Macros
- What To Do If You Go Over Your Fat Macros
- How Many Calories Do You Need to Maintain Your Weight?
- How To Count Calories Without Getting Obsessed (5 Tips)
Also, if you’re trying to lose weight, and you’re stalling in your progress, I recommend that you check out my other article: I Burned More Calories Than I Ate & Still Gained Weight (Why).
About The Author
Colby Roy is a holistic health and nutrition coach. She is certified through Precision Nutrition and the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and has a passion for all things nutrition and healing the body. More specifically, Colby likes to work with clients who want to optimize their gut health and energy levels.