The Unexpected Truth About Calories: Guidelines on Nutrition Information Labels

Apr 28 2023

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Sometimes in our quest to cut calories, we miss the obvious. And if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. That doesn’t mean you can’t trust food labels and need to start cooking everything from scratch. Learn the surprising truth about calories so you can make smarter choices.

HG FYI: Paying attention to calories is a helpful tool for many folks on a healthy-eating journey. But if it doesn’t suit your personal journey, feel free to skip out on today’s info!

Consider the source.

Bigger and more established food brands tend to have more accurate nutrition information, mainly because they have the resources to calculate it (and more to lose if their numbers are inaccurate). Use your intuition. If the local bakery makes enormous decadent muffins and claims they have 100 calories each, you might want to opt for something less suspicious.

Servings can be deceiving.

Pay close attention to the serving size and number of servings per container. That packaged snack may look like a single serving, but oftentimes it’s two or more. Flip over the package and check the number of servings, then do the math.

Government guidelines allow for error.

FDA guidelines allow food labels to be off by as much as 20 percent. This means your go-to snack bar with a reported 250 calories could have closer to 300 calories. But again, consider the brand. Well-established food manufacturers are less likely to have inaccurate numbers.


If a product has less than 5 calories per serving, the calorie count can be rounded down to 0. This doesn’t mean “calorie-free” foods are off-limits. Here’s the need-to-know info:

Zero-Calorie Dressings and Condiments

Each serving can contain up to 4 calories, and sometimes those servings are unrealistically small. These are also known to contain questionable ingredients, so you may want to opt for low-calorie options instead.

No-Calorie Sweeteners

The average packet actually has 4 calories. That’s still a calorie bargain compared with real sugar, which has about 15 calories per packet and is half as sweet. And with so many varieties—including natural picks—there really is something for everyone. Find your favorite, and consider keeping the number of packets you use in check.

Nonstick Cooking Spray

The labels on most sprays say 0 calories for a 1/4-second spray. A more realistic 1-second spray has about 5–10 calories and 0.5g fat. Still not bad! When regular oil works better than spray, measure it out—1 tsp. has around 40 calories and 4.5 grams of fat. (P.S. Check out all-natural spray oils in non-aerosol containers.)

One last tip: Grab a food scale.

The nutritional info listed is almost always based on weight. Those 100-calorie muffins? The label might list each muffin as 2 oz., but if it really weighs in at 3 1/2 oz., it contains at least 175 calories. This scale is a bargain and has over 150,000 ratings!

Chew on this:

It’s April 28th, National Blueberry Pie Day! Enjoy this Blueberry Pie Breakfast Parfait morning, noon, or night.

Pass this info along to friends you think will appreciate the knowledge.


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*The WW Points® values for these products and/or recipes were calculated by Hungry Girl and are not an endorsement or approval of the product, recipe or its manufacturer or developer by WW International, Inc., the owner of the Points® trademark.

Questions on the WW Points® values listed? Click here.

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