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Digging into calorie counting and point-based eating

Last Modified: 8/30/2019

For National Nutrition Month, we tasked some of Parkview’s top dietitians with explaining some of today’s most common nutrition trends. In this post, two team members take on a pair of popular approaches: calorie counting and point-based eating programs.

Calorie counting

This content was written by Adrianne Kartholl, RDN, CD, clinical nutrition supervisor.

The calorie counting diet is a basic diet concept where a person chooses a specific calorie amount that they will eat per day. Some people choose a calorie amount based on their own discretion and others are given a calorie amount by their registered dietitian. Calorie needs vary from person to person. Registered dietitians use a few equations that take into account a person’s age, height, weight, gender and activity level in order to calculate approximately how many calories they need per day.


There is evidence to support that calorie counting may be beneficial for people trying to lose weight or maintain their weight. It can be beneficial for some people to track their daily dietary intake and have a daily calorie goal, because this empowers them by teaching them to self-monitor their dietary intake. Calorie tracking can be done by using a food journal or an app such as MyFitnessPal.

Calorie counting can also help people increase their knowledge about nutrition, because in order to count calories people must look at food labels and nutrition information, including for food they eat at restaurants. Reading food labels also helps people learn more about the portion sizes they are eating. Knowledge is power.


Not all calories are created equal. For example, the calories provided by fruits and vegetables also provide vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants, whereas the calories provided by gummy bears and candy bars do not provide these beneficial nutrients. It is best to focus on eating foods that are nutrient dense vs eating whatever you want as long as you stay under your daily calorie goal. Counting calories is only a small part of eating a balanced diet. As a registered dietitian, I encourage people to focus on eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, to choose lean meats and low-fat dairy and to look for fiber-rich whole grain products.

The verdict

If you are looking for a place to start, calorie counting may not be a bad way to go. At the very least, calorie counting can be eye opening for people by showing them what they are currently eating. Calorie counting is certainly not the only thing a person should focus on when trying to lose weight. Working with a registered dietitian can be very beneficial for people interested in improving their dietary habits and losing weight.


Point-based diets

This content was written by Amanda Langan, RDN, CD.

Finding the perfect “diet” is hard. With so many choices and loads of information at our fingertips, it can feel like looking for a needle in a haystack.


Plans based on a point system can be a logical approach for weight loss, or just enhancing the foundation of your existing diet. These plans encourage fruits and vegetables, limiting added sugars and saturated fats, and as an added bonus, allow you to incorporate your favorite foods that might not be considered healthy options, in moderation. 


With all of these positive attributes it is still possible to overdo it with a point-based eating plan. Zero point foods still have calories. Even if you are primarily eating foods with zero points you may still be getting more calories than you need. If weight loss is your goal, extra calories may keep you from dropping unwanted pounds or even cause weight gain.

There is also the idea of eating around the points. This means you restrict what you eat during the day or week to foods with zero points and then use all of your points on not-so-healthy choices like sweets or alcohol. This could lead to an unbalanced diet, causing vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Yikes!

Finally, when you only look at the points, you miss out on the nutrition label. Although the nutrition label can be overwhelming it is important to understand where components of food come from. Even though something may be higher in calories, it may also contain fiber that aids in digestion or healthy fats that help the brain.

The verdict

When searching for the perfect diet, remember that large corporations may have their bottom line, not your waist line, in mind when they market the next best thing. The basic principles of most diet plans are pure, but they are still in business. If all of these diet plans worked, we would all be at our goal weight and they would have to close their doors. To help sort out the confusion, look for a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) in your area who can work with you on a customized meal plan, and not a generic plan that lacks insight and understanding into your personal goals. A dietitian can also help you find balance. While you likely can’t treat yourself to it every day, together you can find a way to have your cake and eat a little of it, too.


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