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How to Use a Scale to Track Your Diet

Image for article titled The Right Way to Use a Scale to Track What You Eat

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Tracking the calories and macronutrients in the food you eat can help you reach your nutrition-related goals, from weight loss, to weight gain, to trying to get a better handle on your intake of protein and vitamins. To gauge this information accurately, you’ll want to get a food scale. But then what?

How to use a scale to track food

When you’re logging a serving of food in your app, it’s hard to know by eyeballing it exactly how much you’re actually eating. For example, if a two-tablespoon serving of peanut butter is 190 calories, is that how much you’re putting on your toast? If you spread it thinly on one slice, you might be getting half that much. If you spread it thickly on two, you might be eating double what you think.

So you can set your toast on a plate on the scale, tare it (which sets the screen to zero), then spread your peanut butter on the toast and set it back down to find out the weight. Instead of logging a two-tablespoon serving, you can tell your food app that you’re measuring in grams, and that you’re eating 20 grams of peanut butter. (That’s a little bit less than the standard serving, which is 32 grams, and so you’re actually eating 118 calories’ worth.) Get the idea?

You don’t have to weigh every morsel of food to the gram, of course. If you weigh your toast three mornings in a row and you get 18 grams, 21 grams, and 20 grams, you can just log it as 20 grams every morning and you’ll be basically on track. A kitchen scale can help you learn to estimate portions, and can also be handy for dividing up recipes. For example, I like to buy frozen chicken strips that come in a big bag, so if I want four ounces of chicken in a dish, I’ll use the scale to weigh out four ounces. A kitchen scale is also handy for cooking, so it’s a good investment even if you don’t plan to track your macros long-term.

What to do with foods that change weight when you cook them

Some foods change weight when you cook them, including meats and grains, so should you weigh them raw or cooked? There’s a short and a long answer here.

The short answer is that your food app should have separate entries for raw and cooked. Use whichever is most convenient.

The longer answer is that weighing the food raw, and using the entry for raw weight, is usually more accurate. If you’re roasting a chicken thigh, for example, some of the moisture in the meat will evaporate when you cook it, and some will drain out. That’s why overdone meat can be dry, and why there’s often a puddle of liquid in the bottom of the pan when you pull your meal out of the oven.

So the exact amount of water loss depends on how you cooked your chicken thigh. If you leave it in the oven too long, it will lose more water. If you cook it in a sauce or soup, it will weigh more than a roasted thigh after cooking, not least because it’s probably still dripping with sauce when you set it down on the scale.

The opposite happens with something that starts out dry, like rice, and absorbs water during cooking. Differences in preparation can influence how much a serving of rice weighs by the time you’re done cooking it.

To be clear, the nutritional value of the meat or the rice does not change during cooking (or at least, not enough to bother worrying about it). Only the amount of water in it is changing. So I weigh my food before cooking, and I know that by the time I eat it, it’s still got the same amount of calories, protein, and so on.

To be honest, I don’t even weigh food all the time. If I buy a pound of ground beef, and I want to make four servings of chili, I’ll log each serving as containing four ounces (a quarter-pound) of raw ground beef.