We routinely eat more than we think and misjudge the calories we’re consuming. In a 2006 study, participants underestimated calorie content of less-healthful foods by 642 calories and fat and saturated fat levels by 44 grams and 15 grams respectively.
While results found that participants underestimated calorie levels of healthier foods by a much smaller margin (about 34 percent, at the most), the results teach us one important lesson: eye-balling our foods to choose healthy portions is challenging. If you’re trying to build muscle, lose weight, or simply maintain, knowing exactly how much you’re eating at every meal will help you see those desired results faster.
That’s where your trusty food scale comes in handy, helping you measure foods for each meal. Over time, you’ll learn to recognize portion sizes by sight and it will be easier to choose the right amount of food for your needs. Use the following tips and ideas to keep portion and calories in check with this handy kitchen tool.
First, find the right one
There are a wide variety of food scales available, from old school metal scales to programmable digital options. You’ll likely want to choose a digital scale, which is both affordable and versatile:
- Price: Scales range in price from $10 to upwards of $100. But you don’t need to spend a lot to get a lot, meaning you can likely get something within your price range that has the features you’re looking for.
- Features and accessories: Not all scales are programmable and some bowls or cups that hold the food are smaller than others—and some don’t come with one at all. Look for these features and accessories before buying to be sure you’re getting a scale that works for your needs.
How (and why) to actually use your food scale
Once you’ve purchased your food scale, it’s time to put it to use. Here are the four reasons why you should be using a food scale, including ideas to keep in mind to get the most out of this valuable health tool.
1. Test new foods
Variety is the spice if life—especially when eating healthy. Trying new vegetables, lean meats and grains is a great way to stay healthy without getting bored. Instead of digging into a big bowl of the newest fad grain, measure it with your scale to see what a healthy portion should look like. Remember to consider whether the nutritional information you’re using is based on the cooked or raw version of the food and measure accordingly.
2. Food Prep
After a long day of work, the last thing you want to do is cook, much less prep and weight all the ingredients. Save yourself time and measure veggies, grains (even uncooked) and meats on Sundays. Make your life even easier by making “dinner packs.” For example, put a measured container of broccoli in a bag with a container of measured meat and another container of grains so when you get home, you pull out the bag and have everything you need prepped and ready.
3. Eating out
One of the best ways to eat healthier at a restaurant is to check the menu beforehand. However, even the best decisions can be derailed by large portions. Spend a day weighing various foods to get a feel for what the right portion should look like when you go out to eat. Slowly, you’ll get better at eyeballing foods so when you go out, you eat only what you need and take the rest home.
4. Count calories (in a healthy way)
We’ve all been there: “It says 190 calories for 1 cup, but I’m not quite having 1 cup… so it’s probably more like 150 calories, right?” Instead of guessing, use your scale and calculate calories more accurately by yourself. What you need to know:
1 gram of fat = 9 calories
1 gram of carbs = 4 calories
1 gram of protein = 4 calories
If you had 10 grams of sweet potato, for example, the total calorie count would be 40. While this method isn’t fool proof because most foods are made up of a variety of macro nutrients, it’s a valuable way to stay in control of how much food you’re putting in your body.
Invest in a food scale to take control of what’s going into your body and how much. Use it to weigh prepped food, learn to eyeball portion sizes, and get the most accurate calorie count possible. Soon, you won’t even need it because you’ll be a portion sizing pro.