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For dieters, the number of calories per serving is the all-important number.

When Kim Clarkson enrolled in Live Healthy Iowa last December, a program designed to encourage residents of the state to be more active, her goal was to lose 24 pounds. But she knew at the outset that it would take more than a brisk walk during her lunch hour. “I realized I was going to have to cut back on calories. So I began to look more closely at labels,” says Clarkson, who works as a financial advisor. “And I was amazed.”

The package of chips she occasionally bought -- and consumed in one sitting -- contained only 80 calories per serving. Not bad, she thought -- until she read the serving size and realized that the package contained three servings, not one. “Polishing off a package meant 240 calories. And I was trying to limit myself to 1,650 calories a day!”

Her box of granola also harbored an unhappy surprise. Since it contained whole oats, she figured it was a healthy choice. She’d gotten into the habit of pouring a generous bowl. “One serving contains 206 calories. But when I measured what I was pouring, it was almost two servings, or about 400 calories.” The cup of reduced-fat milk she poured on the granola added an additional 140 calories. “That simple breakfast was about one-third of my daily calories,” says Clarkson.

Cutting calories, she realized, wasn’t going to be as easy as she’d thought.

Counting Calories: Getting the Numbers Straight

“Reading food labels is absolutely essential if you’re trying to diet to lose weight,” says Katherine Tallmadge, MS, RD. “It’s really important for people to be as informed as possible.” Counting calories may seem straightforward. But labels can also be misleading unless you know what to look for and how to interpret the information.

For dieters, the number of calories per serving is the all-important number. The only surefire way to lose weight, all the experts agree, is to cut back on calories. In theory, it should be easy. The nutrition facts panel on packaged foods prominently displays calories per serving.

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