What You Get For Your Calories

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The public relations department at Kraft sent me some samples of South Beach Diet 100-calorie cracker packs. The crackers were good, but the concept of 100-calorie snack-packs wasn’t new. Still, as I nibbled I got to thinking again about portion control. I still can’t believe how little you get for 100 calories. There hasn’t been one occasion when I saw a prepackaged snack and thought, “Wow, look at all that.” The last time I was wowed was when I did a column on fruit and found out that peaches were only 60 or so calories each. [To read the rest of this column click below on "Read More"]

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The point is that most of us would be surprised by how little we get for our calorie buck. Research shows we underestimate how many calories we consume. In fact, we underreport the amount of food we eat by about 45 percent. One study showed that on average, junk foods were underestimated by more than 600 calories. Even registered dietitians can underestimate their caloric consumption by 16 percent.

Keep in mind that the average person should consume 1,600 to 2,500 calories per day. (You can check by going to www.dietdetective.com/weightloss/caloriebudget/ and finding your own daily caloric budget.)

So, with this in mind, I thought a little lesson in “what you get for the calories” would be helpful. There will be a quiz at the end to see how nutrition savvy you really are.

Here are a few examples of calorie values.

What you get for about 10 calories

Minutes to walk it off* = 2.5

-   Tortilla chip ( ½ to ¾ of a chip)

-   Altoids mints (three)

What you get for about 25 calories

Minutes to walk it off* = 6.5

-          Jelly beans (six)

-          Tic Tacs (13)

-          Pistachio nuts (seven)

-          Marshmallow (one)

-          Milk Duds (two)

-          Dunkin' Donuts Iced Coffee with skim milk (10 ounces)

What you get for about 50 calories

Minutes to walk it off* = 13

-   Nabisco Ritz Crackers (three)

-   Russian dressing (1 tablespoon)

-    Broccoli (1 cup)

-    Cream cheese (1 tablespoon = 51 calories)

-    Swedish fish (six)

-    Burger King Chicken Fries (one = 44 calories)

What you get for about 100 calories

Minutes to walk it off* = 26

-          Starbucks Iced Caffe Latte with nonfat milk (16 ounces = 90 calories)

-          Nabisco Fig Newtons (two = 110 calories)

-          Wine or champagne (4-ounce glass)

-          Chicken and wild rice soup (1 cup)

-          Burger King Double Whopper Sandwich with Cheese (two bites)

What you get for about 150 calories

Minutes to walk it off* = 39

-          Sangria (8-10-ounce glass)

-          Whole milk (1 cup)

-          Macadamia nuts (about eight nuts)

-          General Tso’s Chicken (¼ cup or about 4 tablespoons)

-          Prime rib (two bites)

-          Nutri-Grain Cereal Bar (140 calories)

-          KFC Extra Crispy Drumstick (160 calories)

-          DQ Vanilla Soft Serve (½ cup)

What you get for about 200 calories

Minutes to walk it off* = 51.5

-          Dunkin' Donuts Chocolate Frosted Donut (one)

-          12" Pizza Hut Medium Thin 'N Crispy Pizza (one slice)

-          Gin & tonic (8-10-ounce glass)

-          Egg Roll (one = 190 calories)

What you get for about 300 calories

Minutes to walk it off* = 77.3 

-          McDonald's Egg McMuffin (one)

-          Breakstone's All Natural Salted Butter (3 tablespoons)

-          Bush’s Barbecue Baked Beans (1 cup)

-          Sushi spicy tuna roll (one roll)

OK. So now you know the costs of a few foods. See how many of these other portion equivalents you get right.

  1. 2 ounces of peanuts equal:
    1. 30 nuts
    2. 5 nuts
    3. 100 nuts
    4. 50 nuts
  1. 1 tablespoon of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream:
    1. 30 calories
    2. 50 calories
    3. 200 calories
    4. 5 calories
  1. 1 shot of vodka (1.5 ounces):
    1. 36 calories
    2. 68 calories
    3. 97 calories
    4. 184 calories
  1. Which has about 400 calories:
    1. 2 tablespoons of olive oil
    2. 1 large bagel
    3. Bagel with cream cheese
    4. McDonald’s Big Mac
  1. 1 ounce of cheese (about 100 calories) would be the size of:
    1. The palm of your hand
    2. A DVD
    3. A thumb
    4. A computer mouse
  1. Which has the most calories?
    1. A handful of Quaker 100% Natural Cereal (granola) with oats, honey and raisins
    2. A handful of Cheerios
    3. A handful of trail mix
    4. 3 Hershey's Kisses from the candy bowl at work
    5. A handful of raisins

Answer key: 1-a, 2-a, 3-c, 4-b, 5-c, 6-c

Use the easy comparisons below to eyeball your food for portion sizes:                                   


½ cup of cooked cereal, rice or pasta = size of a fist

1 cup of ready-to-eat cereal, popcorn or crackers = size of a baseball

¼ cup of granola = size of a roll of Scotch tape


1 cup of raw leafy greens = 2 handfuls

½ cup of chopped vegetables = size of a fist


1 medium apple or orange = size of a tennis ball

½ cup of chopped fruit = size of a small fist

2 tablespoons of raisins = size of a golf ball

MILK, YOGURT & CHEESE               

1 cup of milk or yogurt = size of a baseball

1 ounce of cheese = size of thumb


3 ounces of cooked meat, fish or poultry = size of a deck of cards or the new iPhone

1 ounce of meat = size of a typical deli slice

1 teaspoon of butter or peanut butter = size of your fingertip or a stamp

1 tablespoon of peanut butter = size of your thumb

2 tablespoons of peanut butter = size of a golf ball


1 ounce or 1 cup of chips, pretzels, nuts = a handful

*All exercise equivalents are based on a 155-pound person  


CHARLES STUART PLATKIN is a nutrition and public health advocate, author of The Diet Detective's Count Down (Simon & Schuster, 2007) and founder of DietDetective.com, the health and fitness network. Copyright 2007 by Charles Stuart Platkin. All rights reserved. Sign up for the free Diet Detective newsletter at www.DietDetective.com

Article By: Charles Stuart Platkin

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