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Counting calories or carbs: which is right for you?

Roast vegetable kebabs lain on a tray
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If you’re trying to lose weight for your health, it’s easy to get confused when faced with the various ways to go about it. There is, after all, a range of different plans and methods out there.

Counting calories and managing your carbohydrate intake are two of the most popular methods for helping you to eat less – but how do they work and are they right for you?

What are calories?

You’ve probably heard the saying ‘calories in, calories out’. And many experts believe this is the golden rule of weight loss – that is, you have to burn more calories than you take in (eat and drink).

Calories are units that measure the amount of energy in food. Whatever you eat or drink, you’re putting energy into your body and your body needs a certain amount of that energy to function – plus the more active you are, the more of that energy you need.

Average daily calories

Average daily calories for a man

Average daily calories for a woman

2500  2000


According to the NHS, the average man needs 2,500kcal (kilocalories – another word for calories) a day to maintain their weight, while the average woman needs 2,000kcal daily. The idea is that consistently eating fewer calories than these amounts will help you lose weight.

Calorie counting

Counting calories is now a lot easier, thanks to the fact that most food packaging includes nutrition labels. These labels display how many calories there are in 100g of that particular food (or 100ml of drink), with many also giving the number in a portion. This information can help you to work out how many calories you’re eating of that food, bearing in mind that your idea of a portion is the same as that of the food manufacturer.

Some restaurants even display the counts of meals on their menus, which can make eating out easier when you’re trying to lose weight.

What are carbs?

Many popular diets, on the other hand, focus on managing your intake of carbohydrates (carbs). Carb counting can also be important if you have Type 1 Diabetes, as it can help you to keep control of your blood glucose levels.

Carb counting

There are several different ways of counting carbs, the simplest of which is to count them in grams. Unlike calories, there are no official guidelines to suggest how many grams of carbs you should eat a day. As a general rule 50-100g a day is considered a good place to start if you’re trying to lose weight.

This is where food labels come in handy, as they display how many carbs are in 100g or portion of a particular food. Like calories, you have to calculate the amount of carbs you’re eating, based on the weight of that food on your plate (so whether you’re counting calories or carbs, a good set of kitchen scales may come in very handy).

As for which approach is best for you, it’s important to choose a method that you can stick to that fits in with your lifestyle, as a sustainable diet is better than one that gives quick results but fails in the long term.

Why not try an app

Looking for an app to try to help? Why not try MyFitnessPal, it lets you track the amount of calories you eat on your phone, you can scan your foods in or add recipes you eat regularly.

You can also use it to track any exercise you use. If you’re looking for other fitness tech, why not try our guide to fitness trackers.

How we can help

If you’re looking at ways to lose weight come and talk to us, we can offer expert advice on the options and how to stay healthy while doing so. We have an in-store Medicated Weight Loss Service that could help you to lose weight and reach your goals, and products. 

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