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Archive for January, 2010

Is accurate calorie counting possible?

January 13th, 2010

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, weight loss is the result of following a simple formula. To get rid of excess body fat, all you have to do is “use up more calories than you take in. Since one pound equals 3,500 calories, you need to reduce your caloric intake by 500—1000 calories per day to lose about 1 to 2 pounds per week.” In other words, if you eat as many calories as you burn, you will maintain your weight, and if you tip the scale either way, your weight will fluctuate. But how do we know when we are in “energy balance?” How do we know how many calories we burn, or eat, and how do we know the estimates are precise enough to keep us in at or below our energy balance?

First of all, how is anyone supposed to know if they are eating 500 less calories every day? If you eat at a restaurant, how do you know how many tablespoons of oil are in the soup you ate? One extra tablespoon of oil is already an extra 120 calories. You can use various online tools to help you, but that implies that the portion size you are eating is the same as the one online, or that you can figure out the difference. A cup of pasta with a quarter-cup serving of alfredo sauce according to caloriecount.com is 320 calories(spaghetti, alfredo sauce) . If we change the portions slightly, to 1.2 cups of pasta with .4 cup serving of alfredo sauce, we end up cosuming 445 calories. Even the most experienced dietitian would have trouble determining if their lunch had these extra 225 calories in it.

One can argue that when you are on a weight loss diet, you should limit the amount of times you eat at restaurants and focus on home cooked or pre-packaged foods or places that offer nutrition information to make sure you know what you are eating. However this may not help either. According to an article in the New York Times, menus in fast-food restaurants or on the packages of frozen foods are sometimes not accurate. When researchers tested food served in 29 chain restaurants and 10 frozen meals, they found that their calorie contents averaged significantly more than was listed. Some differences were startling: Denny’s grits, listed at 80 calories, turned out to contain 258.

The Food and Drug Administration allows a 20% margin of variation in the calories listed to the actual calories. So that 390 calorie Lean Cuisine Jumbo Rigatoni with meatballs you just bought may allowably be closer to 470 calories, not to mention the recent findings that the discrepancy may be even larger. It seems nearly impossible to accurately maintain this recommended 500 calorie reduction.  Perhaps setting more measurable goals is in order.

We think there is value in using pictures to keep track of what you are eating.  PhotoCalorie can help you estimate the calories and nutrients you are consuming, while keeping a photographic journal as well, allowing you to set more concrete goals, such as ‘reduce the number of fast food meals per week from 5 to 2.,’ or ‘stop eating dessert on the weekends.’

There is no substitute for keeping track of your approximate caloric intake.  When setting goals, however, it might benefit you more to take measurable steps in directions that you can control.  We hope that PhotoCalorie can help you do this–let us know how we can help!

Nutrition and Weight Loss, Uncategorized

Some recent stats

January 5th, 2010

We’ve been amazed with the number of downloads since releasing PhotoCalorie. The 10 most popular queries are (in order from most to least): Banana, Bread, Apple, Chocolate, Coffee, Peanut butter toast, Spinach, Special k fruit, Orange juice, and Glass of Coopers Pale Ale.

iPhone app

Do menu labels really help control total calories?

January 5th, 2010

According to this recent article from Reuters Health menus with calorie information causes people to eat fewer calories. The article references this recent study from Yale. In this study, they randomly divided 303 people into three menu groups: 1) no calorie information, 2) calorie information, and 3) calorie plus recommended daily total (2,000 calories/day) and tracked their calorie intake for a single day. They concluded that “Calorie labels on restaurant menus impacted food choices and intake; adding a recommended daily caloric requirement label increased this effect, suggesting menu label legislation should require such a label.” Although, they acknowledge that this is a research setting, it’s not clear how these results would translate into the real-world given the small sample size and that they only tracked people for a single day. The results do not appear particularly compelling to warrant a change in the law. In my experience, usually the large population diversity will simply wash out small differences between different groups (250 few calories in the group with calorie plus daily total – that’s less than two Oreo cookies!).

A bigger question is what if you don’t care about tracking calories, because you are following the Atkins diet and instead need to track carbohydrates? What if you have high blood pressure and need to cut out excess sodium? What if you are diabetic and care about the sugar content? Even if the menu labels prove to be a good idea, they won’t contain all of the information that people might want to see.

That’s where we think PhotoCalorie can help. You can take a “fake” picture and enter the description of what you are thinking about eating and see the basic nutrition content for that meal. If you decide not to eat the food after learning the facts, then you can always delete it from your journal.

 

Give us some feedback – do you think menu labels would change what you eat?

menu labels