Calorie-Counting Diet (Calorie-Controlled Diet)

by Maria Adams, MS, MPH, RD What Is a Calorie-Counting Diet?The premise of the calorie-counting, or calorie-controlled, diet is to stay within a target number of calories each day. Although this diet works well for some, most registered dietitians recommend a more individualized eating plan. Why Should I Follow a Calorie-Counting Diet? Following a calorie-counting diet can help you manage your weight and blood sugar levels. If you are overweight, reducing the number of calories you consume will help you lose weight, thereby also lowering your risk of several health conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure . If you are underweight, increasing your calorie intake will help you gain weight. Calorie-Counting Diet GuideThe calorie-counting diet breaks food into different food groups and allots a certain number of daily servings from each group. This method helps ensure a balanced diet and also makes it easier to keep track of calories.A balanced diet includes a variety of foods from each of the main food groups: grains, fruits, vegetables, milk, meat and beans, and oils. Based on your calorie needs, a dietitian can help you determine how many servings you can have from each of the groups. Depending on your situation and calorie requirement, you may also be allotted some discretionary calories that you can use for foods not in these main groups (eg, sweets, desserts, and certain beverages). Alcohol, if permitted by your physician, should be limited to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.
Grains (includes starchy vegetables) _____ servings per dayOne serving = approximately 80 caloriesTypeOne ServingBagel (varies), 4 ounces of a bagel (1 ounce)Bread (white, pumpernickel, whole wheat, rye)1 sliceBread, reduced calorie or lite2 slicesBroth-based soup1 cupCooked beans, peas, or corn cupCooked cereal cupCrackers4-6English muffin, hot dog bun, or hamburger bunMuffin, 5 ounces1/5 (1 ounce)Pasta, rice1/3 cupPopcorn, air popped, no fat added3 cupsPotato1 small (3 ounces)Pretzels ounceSweet potato or yam cupTortilla1 smallUnsweetened, dry cereal cup Vegetables _____ servings per dayOne serving = approximately 25 caloriesTypeOne ServingCooked vegetables cupRaw vegetables1 cupTomato or vegetable juice cup Fruits _____ servings per dayOne serving = approximately 60 caloriesTypeOne ServingCanned fruit cupDried fruit cupFresh fruit1 small or 1 cup (eg, cut up or berries)Fruit juice cup Milk_____ servings per dayCalories in one serving varies as listed belowTypeOne Serving90 calories per servingNonfat or low-fat milk1 cupPlain, nonfat yogurt cupNonfat or low-fat soy milk1 cup120 calories per serving2% milk1 cupSoy milk1 cupYogurt, plain, low-fat cup150 calories per servingWhole milk1 cupYogurt, plain (made from whole milk)
cup Meat and Beans _____ servings per day Calories vary as follows: One very lean serving = approximately 35 calories One lean serving = approximately 55 calories One medium-fat serving = approximately 75 calories One high-fat serving = approximately 100 calories TypeOne ServingVery leanEgg substitutes, plain cupEgg whites2Fish: fresh or frozen cod, flounder, haddock, halibut, trout, tuna1 ounceNonfat or low-fat cottage cheese cupPoultry: chicken or turkey, white meat, no skin1 ounceShellfish1 ounceLeanBeef: round, sirloin, flank, tenderloin, roast, steak, ground round (trimmed of fat)1 ounceFish: herring, salmon, catfish, tuna (canned in oil, drained)1 ounceParmesan cheese2 tablespoonsPork: lean pork, such as fresh ham, Canadian bacon, tenderloin, center loin chop1 ouncePoultry: chicken or turkey (dark meat, no skin); chicken (white meat with skin)1 ounceTofu, light cup or 4 ouncesVeal: lean chop, roast1 ounceMedium-fatBeef: most beef products (ground beef, meatloaf, corned beef, short ribs, prime rib)
1 ounceCheese with five grams or less of fat per ounce: feta, mozzarella1 ounce, (Ricotta 2 ounces)Egg1Lamb: rib roast, ground1 ouncePork: top loin, chop, cutlet1 ouncePoultry: chicken (dark meat with skin), ground turkey or ground chicken, fried chicken (with skin)1 ounceSausage with 5 g or less of fat per ounce1 ounceTofu cup or 4 ouncesHigh-fatCheeses: all regular cheese (eg, American, cheddar, Monterey Jack, Swiss)1 ounceHot dog (beef, pork, or combination) *count as 1 high-fat meat plus 1 fat exchange1 ouncePeanut butter1 tablespoonPork: spareribs, ground pork, pork sausage1 ounceProcessed sandwich meats: bologna, salami1 ounceSausage (eg, Italian, bratwurst)1 ounce Fats_____ servings per dayOne fat serving = approximately 45 caloriesTypeOne ServingMonounsaturatedAvocado2 tablespoons (1 ounce)Oil (canola, olive, peanut)1 teaspoonOlives9-10 largePeanut butter2 teaspoonsTahini paste2 teaspoonsPolyunsaturatedMargarine1 teaspoonMayonnaise, regular1 teaspoonMayonnaise, low-fat1 tablespoonSalad dressing, regular1 tablespoonSaturatedBacon, cooked1 sliceButter, stick1 teaspoonCoconut, sweetened, shredded2 tablespoonsCream cheese, reduced fat1 tablespoonsCream cheese, regular1 tablespoonCream, half and half2 tablespoonsShortening or lard
1 teaspoonSour cream, reduced fat3 tablespoonsSour cream, regular2 tablespoons Sweets and Desserts _____ servings per day/weekThese foods tend to be high in sugar and/or fat, while providing little nutritional value. They may or may not be included in your diet plan.TypeServing SizeAngel food cake, unfrosted1/12 cake (2 ounces)Brownie, small, unfrosted2 inch square (about 1 ounce)Cake, frosted2 inch square (about 2 ounces)Doughnut, plain1 medium (1 ounce)Gingersnaps3Honey1 tablespoonIce cream cupIce cream, low-fat cupMilk, chocolate, whole1 cupPudding, sugar-free (made with low-fat milk) cupSports drink8 ouncesSugar1 tablespoonSyrup, regular1 tablespoonYogurt, frozen, low-fat1/3 cup Free FoodsThese foods contain less than 20 calories per serving.Eat as desired, unless a serving size is given, then limit to three servings per day.TypeOne ServingBouillon, broth or consommCandy, hard, sugar free1 candyCarbonated or mineral waterCoffeeCream cheese, fat-free1 tablespoonCreamers, nondairy1 tablespoonDiet soft drinks, sugar-freeDrink mixes, sugar-freeGarlicGelatin dessert, sugar-freeHerbs, fresh or driedHorseradishJam or jelly, light2 teaspoonsKetchup1 tablespoonLemon or lime juiceMargarine spread, fat-free

4 tablespoons

Mayonnaise, fat-free

1 tablespoon


Nonstick cooking spray

Pickles, dill

1 large

Salad dressing, fat-free or low-fat

1 tablespoon



Soy sauce


Tabasco or hot pepper sauce



Whipped topping, light or fat-free

2 tablespoons

Wine, used in cooking

Worcestershire sauce

Tips and Suggestions

  • Eat a variety of foods from each of the food groups. This will ensure that you get all the nutrients you need and will also leave you more satisfied.
  • Spread out your calorie intake throughout the day. Find what works for you, whether it is consuming your calories in three standard meals a day or spread out into six mini-meals.
  • Focus on the serving sizes you are eatingthey directly impact calorie intake.
  • Read food labels for calorie information per serving.
  • Work with a dietitian to create a calorie-counting plan that takes into account your lifestyle and preferences.


American Diabetes Association

American Dietetic Association


Canadas Food Guide

Health Canada

Dietitians of Canada


American Diabetes Association website. Available at: . Accessed March 20, 2007.

Powers M. American Dietetic Association Guide to Eating Right When You Have Diabetes. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc; 2003. Last reviewed May 2008 by Dianne Scheinberg, MS, RD, LDNPlease be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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