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How do you weigh food to figure out calories?

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Posts: 12,387
5/5/13 11:00 P

It's MUCH easier than you seem to think. If it's a natural/whole food, the USDA has calculated the calories and other nutrients; if it's a purchased food from a major company, the company has done it and filed the info with the USDA. Either way, databases like the one here collect the information and organize it for you. Using any computer tracking system (the nutrition tracker here is as easy and convenient as any other, plus it's free), you just find the ingredient in the list and then type in the weight, and the computer will tell you the calories and many other nutrients. There are some foods that haven't been analysed, but most are in that list.

If you're using the recipe builder here, it will add the ingredients all up and give you the total calories and other nutrition info. You can get the info for the whole recipe, or you can say that it makes X servings and it will divide the total calories for you. The tracker here and many others actually organize the information into a chart that looks exactly like the nutrition label on packaged foods.

Weighing is far more accurate than using measuring cups except for liquids (and even they can be weighed.) Six ounces of green pepper will always have a specific number of calories, but that six-ounce pepper could be a cup if you slice it or half a cup if you chop it fine. If you measure it in a cup, you'll never really be 100% sure if you squeezed more of it into that cup than the scientist who figured out the calories did. Your ounce and hers will be the same.

As for how you weigh, it's going to depend on what you're making and what the ingredient is. If you're just having a bowl of cereal, or if you're measuring something like pasta before cooking it, you put your bowl or measuring cup on the scale, zero it out, and pour in the food. If you're about to chop a pepper, cut off the stem and take the seeds out, then weigh it before you chop. This will become instinct within days of when you start, and you'll probably find that it makes you a better cook because you can replicate your recipes exactly. "One medium onion" means different things to different people, but "7 ounces of onion" will make your recipe turn out the same every time.

SparkPoints: (786)
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Posts: 7
5/5/13 10:11 P

That makes a lot more sense why I couldn't find what I was looking for! I wonder where I got mixed up on how this works, I must have misunderstood something I read a few years ago that had me thinking people could calculate it them selves. Thank you for all the info!

SparkPoints: (112,037)
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Posts: 5,616
5/5/13 10:16 A

per pkg

Posts: 26,543
5/5/13 8:42 A

How calories are determined: Scientists "burn" food in a special machine that measures the energy--thus giving you the calories contained in a certain portion of the food.

Food manufactures can use this type burning technique or add up the known calories in each ingredient in their food to determine the total.

You can look up the calories contained in a portion of food here at Sparkpeople using the NUTRITION TRACKER. You could use another type food tracking site. You can also use the USDA food database.

If you would rather, you can track using paper and pencil. check your bookstore--you can by a little book that contains the amount of calories in various foods.

SP Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

SparkPoints: (18,350)
Fitness Minutes: (7,578)
Posts: 679
5/5/13 1:01 A

Take your food "bell pepper" take your weight "X ounces" (you may have to convert to/from grams), enter food and weight into the Spark nutrition tracker, and that will give you calories. That's how I do it, it's very easy and straight forward.

Posts: 46
5/4/13 7:36 P

It's determined by information from the USDA or a specific manufacture. There isn't a specific formula or calculation unless you have information about the item prior and this also changes with how you cook the item. You need to know how many calories are in a whole medium green pepper in order to calculate how much is in a cup, not to mention that a cup diced vs a cup sliced will have different calorie amounts despite both being a cup, so that's something else that needs to be taken into account. Doing the calculations on your own is much more complicated and time consuming (unless you're very good at math) than it is looking it up online of putting it in the nutrition tracker.

Posts: 922
5/4/13 7:31 P

This is the agency that does the figuring of calories in foods. Visit the link and you should find the answers to your questions.

SparkPoints: (786)
Fitness Minutes: (10)
Posts: 7
5/4/13 7:11 P

So general consensus is I will always have to look it up online? I was under the impression there was a way to calculate the calories by weight/volume and composition alone. I mean when some calorie counter online says x amount of something is x amount of calories, how is that determined in the first place? I really don't do a lot of pre packaged anything. So I can't cut corners by reading labels/nutrition facts for the most part.

Posts: 46
5/4/13 6:51 P

If you don't have a scale, the best way to count calories would be through portion sizes using measuring cups or for the food itself. For example: you can look up the amount of calories in half of a medium green bell pepper on google or the SP tracker itself. You can also dice up enough bell peppers to fill a cup and then look up that amount to figure out calorie content. Another method is using a recipe calculator where you put in everything you used for a particular dish including oils and spices and enter how many servings the dish has (it's okay to estimate) and it will give you the amount of calories per serving for your dish.
Honestly, you really only need a scale to weigh meats and fish if its not already portioned. Other than that, labels should tell you all of the information you need. Counting calories can be a pain in the butt but after a while, it just becomes routine and once you start eating the same foods you can already calculate the calories in your head for a particular meal or food.
Counting calories is important because you are taking into account what you are putting into your body as well as helpful when it comes to losing weight since you have to burn more calories than you intake. Portion control alone is not enough if you're not aware of what your content for fat, carb, sugar, etc. is since it is very easy to go over your daily limit in a single meal at times.
Here are some links that may help in the mean time:

Posts: 11,809
5/4/13 6:09 P
If you can not find the info in the tracker this site also uses USDA info.

SparkPoints: (19,069)
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Posts: 771
5/4/13 5:42 P

Are you using the fitness tracker? If you enter "green pepper" it will give you a drop down with some options, such as tsp., cup, grams. Make your selection and it will automatically calculate the calories for you. If you are making a recipe then you should have the NI information available for you to track in the fitness tracker. You enter it as a "track your own food." A screen then pops up where you enter the NI information. Save it in your favorites for future use. Whenever I make a recipe I usually know how many servings are in it so that I can measure it out for future meals.

SparkPoints: (786)
Fitness Minutes: (10)
Posts: 7
5/4/13 5:35 P

I cook a lot of meals from whole ingredients. I know I'll need a kitchen scale, but I'm having a hard time finding information out there on exactly how this works. I'm very frustrated because I feel like it should be obvious but I can't find the answer. I've never counted calories before, and I'm not really sold on the idea because I watch my portions, but I figure it can't hurt to at least have a rough idea so I have some information to plug into the nutrition track here on sparkpeople.

The best I've come up with from searching are tips like weighing the food in portion sizes and marking it before storing it so that it's less of a hassle before meals, and making sure the scale has a tare feature (subtracting the weight of the container/bowl/plate from the weight of the food)

I still don't get it though, can't find the right info. If I weigh a bell pepper, what do I do or where do I go to figure out that X ounces of bell pepper is X amount of calories?

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