This Will Convince You To Read Those Calorie Labels

This Will Convince You To Read Those Calorie Labels

Trying to avoid that dreaded weight gain? Here’s a simple solution. (Getty Images)

Forget fad diets: If you want to lose weight, make it a habit to regularly read the calorie labels on your food.

According to research in college students presented at the Obesity Journal Symposium in November, consistently reading calorie labels influences people to make better food choices. In fact, the study showed that calorie labeling was associated with a reduction in the likelihood of gaining weight over the course of a year by 50 percent.

To find out whether looking at calorie counts over the long term would affect university students’ food choices, researchers had the college dining room display the calories of the main meals for five out of the 36 weeks of the school year. In the second school year, the caloric information of all main meals was shown for 30 out of 36 weeks.

During that first year, the students gained an average of 7.7 pounds — a lighter version of the dreaded “Freshman 15.” In the second school year with more consistent exposure to the calorie counts, the university students didn’t gain weight at all. Overall, they ordered healthier meals with 18 percent fewer calories, as well as less fat and frying oil, than in the first year. 

Related: New FDA Rules Will Put Calorie Counts On Restaurant Menus Nationwide

“Calorie labeling helps people understand what’s in their food, and makes them aware of healthier options,” the study’s lead researcher Charoula Konstantia Nikolaou, a PhD student at the University of Glasgow, said in a press release.

“Previous literature has shown little or no benefit from calorie labeling, however that research did not look at long-term exposure, and in those studies most consumers did not notice the calorie labels,” Nikolaou added. “We were glad to see that exposure to our very prominent calorie labeling for an entire school year did not just reduce weight gain in these students, but eliminated it altogether for the group. This is especially important because young adults are vulnerable to weight gain, which often leads to obesity later in life.” 

Thanks to the Food and Drug Administration’s recent ruling requiring restaurant chains, take-out food, movie theaters and amusement parks nationwide to display calorie counts on menus, finding out exactly how many calories are in the foods you eat will be easier than ever.

Related: Are You Secretly Drinking Gluten?

“So many people have no idea how many calories are in what they are eating,” says Keri Gans, registered dietitian and author of The Small Change Diet. “Calorie labeling brings to an individual’s attention just how many calories a food or beverage has and can help put into perspective whether they really want to eat it or not.”

So how many calories should you consume over the course of a day?  It varies depending on several factors, such as your sex, height and physical activity, notes Gans, but the average female should aim to consume around 1,600 calories per day and the average male about 2,000 calories daily.

Gans also points out that consumers need to pay attention to the serving size listed on the label. “For example, you might think what you’re eating has only 100 calories, but if the entire package has three servings, then you would actually be consuming 300 calories,” she says. “That can make a big difference.”

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