Everywhere you look, everywhere you go, people are trying to sell you things. “This will make your life easier! How have you even lived this long without it?!” This message permeates our culture, but the kitchenware industry has got to be one of the worst offenders. A tool specifically meant for chopping garlic? Another one for slicing avocado? Even more for peeling apples, slicing eggs, coring pineapple, peeling onions, hulling strawberries, juicing oranges, deboning fish, seeding tomatoes, mixing, dicing, crushing, blending, etc? I’ll admit that I’ve become a bit grumpy about these specialty items, even though some of that stuff is great. Some of it is actually useful and will really save you time, but a lot of it can be replaced with a cutting board and a good knife.
This grumpiness is why, for a long time, I didn't exactly consider a kitchen scale to be an essential piece of equipment. This post is about why I was wrong.
This is a fitness blog, and I'll get to that in a moment, but I ought to mention that not every scale in every kitchen is used by someone making changes to their diet. If I had to guess, I'd say that most aren't.
With flour, do you dip your measuring cup into the bag, or do you use a spoon to fill a measuring cup before dumping it into the bowl? Is 1 cup of flour meant to be packed, scooped, sifted, etc? Isn’t there an easier way to get the perfect amount of flour and make the perfect cookie?!
While you might not lay awake at night thinking about the perfect cup of flour, a scale is an indispensable tool for anyone who wants accurate measurements of flour, sugar, or other dry ingredients. Proper measurement means better baking, and I can use all the help I can get in that department. Even better is the idea of not having to wash a sink-load of measuring cups.
Now that you’re all set to use your kitchen scale to make better cupcakes, let’s take a look at how we can use it to undo the effects of those cupcakes.
“How Will a Scale Help Me?”
One of the first steps to making dietary changes is to keep a food log; you can’t know what you need to change until you know what you’ve been eating. Keeping a log is about discipline and honesty, but it’s also about accuracy. Inaccurate reporting is the most common way that we undermine an otherwise complete food journal, and a scale takes the guesswork out of it. Here’s what I mean:
According to the package, a serving of dry pasta is 85g and provides 300 calories. Do you know what that serving looks like? Do you know what it looks like once it's cooked? I thought I did, and it turns out I was way off. The implications of this when you are logging your food can be huge: If you thought that you had one serving of pasta for 300 calories, but really you had 2 servings for 600… you get the idea.
“But isn't it tedious to weigh your food all the time?”
I actually find it kinda fun to see what 100g of different food looks like, but I won't lie, it can be tedious at first. It's an extra step when you're prepping food, which can be a deterrent for those of us on a tight schedule. That said, it’s an important step in getting an idea of what you're eating, which makes it worth the extra effort.
Since you likely eat a lot of the same things from one week to the next, you probably aren’t signing up for a lifetime of weighing or measuring every ingredient of every meal. 100g of chicken breast? ½ cup of rice? One serving of broccoli? It won’t take long for you to know what that looks like on your plate.
It’s also important to note that using a scale might be the easier of two options. If you’re going to have some tortilla chips, you can either count out 40 chips or put a bowl on the scale and dump them in until you’ve got 50g. Once you’ve done that a few times you’ll have a good idea of what “one serving” looks like, and you’ll be able to skip the scale altogether.
“Alright I’m convinced. But how do I decide which scale to get?”
The easy answer for me to give would be “If you’re even using a scale, you’re stepping up your game, so it doesn’t matter!” That may even be true, but I know it isn’t that helpful.
The old-school analog scales really are fine, if all you need to do is weigh moderate amounts of food and you aren’t overly concerned with accuracy. If you already have one of these then go ahead and use it.
If you don’t have one yet, I suggest getting a digital scale. These allow you to measure small amounts of ingredients (again, useful when baking), but the key feature of many digital scales is the Zero/Tare feature.
With an analog version, you put your plate on the scale, then your bagel. The difference in weight is how much your bagel weighs. Next, you put peanut butter on your bagel and do more math to find out how much of that you’ve used.
With the Zero/Tare function, you put your plate on the scale and hit “zero,” which resets the display to zero. Now when you put your bagel on the plate, it will just tell you how much it weighs! Hit “zero” again, add your peanut butter, and record the amount shown.
But wait! It gets even easier!
Instead of having your plate on the scale, put the jar on there and hit “zero.” When you take some peanut butter out and spread it on your bagel the scale will read “-10g,” and you can easily get the exact amount you want. This is way easier than subtracting with an analog scale, and way easier than putting a bit on your bagel, taking some off, getting a bit more, etc.
Removing barriers and excuses can be the key to actually making the positive changes you want to make, so the extra flexibility, ease of use, and increased accuracy of a digital scale make it the right choice for anyone who’s reading this and thinking “this all sounds like a lot of work.”
Anything worth doing is worth doing right, and that means using the right tool for the job. Upping your food-logging game with a kitchen scale isn’t going to change your life overnight. What it is going to do is take away the guesswork and give you greater control over what you’re eating, and that is the foundation for successfully making changes to your diet.
Ryan Casselman is a personal trainer, musician, and the founder of Real Trainers. Stay tuned as he finds out what he's going to write about each week or so!