Hidden calories: How to spot and avoid them

Calories add up fast! Just 100 extra calories a day can add 10 pounds a year! Follow these steps to decrease the calories you may not realize you are adding to your diet.

July 22, 2018 - Author: Stephanie Marino, Michigan State University Extension

According to the 2015 U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Dietary Guidelines for Americans, calorie needs are based on age, gender and physical activity level. For example, a 17 year-old male who is physically active every day needs a different amount of calories than a 40 year-old female who is sedentary (little to no exercise). It is important to know what your specific calorie needs are and to find the balance of calorie intake and calorie burning. Maintaining a healthy weight means finding that balance. Find out what your specific needs are by visiting the USDA’s Choose MyPlate website.

Throughout the day, many of us consume calories we may not even consider or factor into our daily calorie intake. Consuming just 100 extra calories a day can add up to a 10 pounds of weight gain in one year! Consider these sources for hidden calories in your diet:

  • Coffee for many of us is a must-have morning wake-me-up and sometimes an afternoon pick-me-up too! If you add cream and sugar to your cup, you could be adding calories along with sweetness. For every teaspoon of sugar, you are adding about 15 calories. For creamer, pay attention to the serving size. Usually a serving size of creamer is about two tablespoons and if you are pouring it out of a bottle, chances are you are pouring much more than two tablespoons. Choosing non-fat milk and a sugar substitute is a quick way to reduce these calories. Further, coffees that are dark roast have a bitter flavor profile and require sweeteners and cream to make them palatable. Selecting lighter coffees may reduce your calorie intake by reducing how much sugar and creamer you add in each cup.
  • Yogurts and other snacks with low-protein content will not satiate your hunger. Many food products that you expect to give you energy may, unless you consume large quantities that often defeat the goal of getting energy to finish your day.
  • Condiments can also offer us taste at the expense of calories. Pay attention to how much ketchup, ranch, mayonnaise, sour cream, butter, etc. you use. Look at the nutrition facts label on each food package to determine serving size. Remember, the amount of calories is for one serving size. If you use twice the serving size amount, you are consuming double the calories.

Try substituting these for your higher calorie favorites:

  • Hot sauce instead of ketchup on your morning eggs.
  • Non-fat plain Greek yogurt instead of sour cream on your baked potato.
  • Salsa instead of ranch for your veggie dip.
  • Consider light or medium roast non-bitter profile coffee.
  • High-energy (protein per serving) alternatives for yogurt and dairy products.

Making minor changes in your diet can make a big impact on your health in the long run! Decrease your intake of those sneaky calories and improve your health by making educated eating choices.

Tags: food & health, msu extension, nutrition, weight management


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