You must have noticed people overly worrying about the number of calories they take in a day. You wonder why they are so obsessed with the idea. People associate calories with weight gain and that’s why they are so worried about keeping a count. There is definitely a connection between how many calories you take in a day and how many you burn, but the whole matter is not as simple as most people like to see it. Before you go into the details of how many calories, you should take in a day, it’s best to understand what calories really are.
What Is a Calorie?
First thing, that needs to be clarified here is that calorie is not some tangible ingredient in the foods you eat. Secondly, it’s not a nutrient like iron, vitamins, proteins etc. In fact, calorie is just a unit that measure energy. Just as you have units of length such as millimeter, centimeter etc. calorie measures the amount of energy that an eatable or drinkable item contains. However, it has to be kept in mind that calories are not associated only with eatable and drinkable items. For example, if you have a gallon of gasoline, it can give you more than 30,000 food calories.
Therefore, when you say a certain food item contains these many calories, you are just saying that your body will obtain this much of energy from that food item. As you move your body around, you are burning calories. This is why you are asked to exercise, walk and job – in order for you to burn the calories you have taken in from your food. If your food is giving your calories but you are not using it, your body is programmed to store those calories in the form of fat. As a result, you start to gain weight and become obese when you are accumulating calories in your body.
Before Delving into the Topic
Before you get to the “how many calories should I eat a day” part, it is best to know some useful stuff that will help you down the road with your calorie counting. First, you should know that 1 calorie means the exact amount of energy that will raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree on a Celsius scale. Now, the important thing here is that your food labels NOT actually contain this particular unit on them. The unit on food packages is Cal i.e. starting with a capital C. This particular unit actually means Kilo Calories i.e. the exact amount of energy that pushes one kg of water temperature by one degree on a Celsius scale.
In simple words, when you are reading 1 calorie off a food item from a store, you are actually looking at 1000 calories. Another important thing to know is that calorie is not something bad for your energy. You don’t have to burn all the calories to get fit. You just have to avoid the imbalance of calories in your body. Some calories are needed for your body to function and so there must be some calories in your body at all times. Furthermore, there are food items that might be really high on calorie count but really low on nutritional value. The best example of such a food item is ice cream which has only 3.5g proteins in 100 grams whereas 207 calories in the same portion.
How Many Calories to Eat in a Day?
There is no simple answer to this question because the number of calories suited for a person can depend on their health, lifestyle and other medical conditions. On an average, and on most of the food labels, you see the daily ideal calorie intake to be 2000 calories. However, the need is different between men and women. Furthermore, your height, age and weight are also factors that decide how many calories you should consume in a day. Here’s some detailed information on how many calories men and women need in a day to stay functional, active and in shape.
Here are the daily calorie requirements for women of different ages. However, you should always consult your doctor to know your specific requirements based on your height and weight.
- Little girls aged between 4 and 8 should consume 1200 calories for a typical day-to-day routine, 1400 calories for moderately active and 1800 for an active lifestyle.
- Girls between 9 and 13 years of age should consume 1600 for sedentary, nearly 2000 for moderately active and 2200 calories for an active lifestyle.
- Teenage girls between 14 and 18 should consume 1800 for sedentary, 2000 for moderately active and 2400 for active lifestyle.
- Adult girls between the age of 19 and 30 should take 2000 calories per day for sedentary, 2200 for moderately active and 2400 for active lifestyle.
- Women above 31 and below 50 should consume 1800 calories if they have a sedentary lifestyle, but 2000 and 2200 calories for moderately active and active lifestyle respectively.
- Ladies above 50 years of age should be fine with 1600 calories for a typical routinely day whereas 1800 and 2200 calories for moderately active and active lifestyles respectively.
Once again, following figures for persons considered ideally healthy. You should always talk to your doctor to know your specific calorie requirements for each day.
- Since men need more calories than women, boys aged 4 to 8 will require 1400 calories for a sedentary lifestyle, 1600 for moderately active and 2000 for an active lifestyle.
- Boys aged between 9 and 13 would typically need 1800 calories per day, 2200 calories if they are moderately active and 2600 calories if they are fully active.
- 14 to 18 year old boys require a daily calorie intake of 2200 for sedentary lifestyle, 2800 calories for a moderately active lifestyle and 3200 calories for a fully active lifestyle.
- Adult guys aged between 19 and 30 have a daily calorie requirement of 2400 calories for a sedentary lifestyle, 2800 calories for moderately active and 3000 calories for an active lifestyle.
- Daily calorie requirements for males between 31 and 50 years of age are closely similar to the requirements of boys between the ages of 14 and 18.
- Old men above the age of 50 will need 2000 calories per day for a sedentary lifestyle, 2400 calories for a moderately active and 2800 calories for a fully active lifestyle.
Sedentary, Moderately Active and Active Lifestyles
When you say a sedentary lifestyle, it refers to a lifestyle where the person does not do any extra physical activity other than the day-to-day tasks. Therefore, it is the person who goes from his home to office and office to home, and the only time he does physical activity is when going from department to department, up and down the stairs, walking to the car etc. Moderately active is a person who has some physical activity in addition to the day-to-day tasks. This person might walk 2 miles or 3 on a daily basis. A fully active lifestyle consists of walking more than 3 miles on a daily basis on top of the activity that comes with day-to-day tasks.
Reading Food Labels the Right Way
One of the most important things when you have started to count your daily calories is to understand the food labels. Labels on the back of your food packaging tell you how many calories are there in the food items you are eating. However, food labels are not as easy to read as you might imagine. Certain pieces of information on these labels can be really deceiving. Not to mention, many consumers really are deceived by those tricky label readings. Here’s how you need to read the food labels.
Know the calorie content of different types of nutrients. This will help you calculate the number of calories in your food item. Therefore, here’s what you need to know:
- 1g of fat equals to 9 calories
- 1g of protein gives you 4 calories
- 1g of carbohydrates pack 4 calories
Keep these figures in mind so the food label really makes sense to you.
Here’s where the trick really happens. You want to see the serving information on the label. The tricky part here is that your food label tells you the number of calories based on 1 serving but the entire pack does NOT contain 1 serving. In fact, the whole packet of your food item might have 8 or even 10 servings in it. So, when you see the number of calories per serving, multiply that with the total number of servings in the packet if you have eaten the whole packet.
You want to see the detailed breakdown of nutrients in the pack. Avoid trans fat as much as possible and make sure the serving size does not have more than 13g of saturated fat. The sodium content of the packet should not be over 1500mg, which is the ideal number for you on a daily basis.
This is where you need to focus on the good nutrients that you should get more of. These nutrients include but are not limited to vitamins, calcium, fiber, iron etc.
You now need to understand the %DV part of the bale. %DV stands for percentage of daily value. This section tells you what percentage of a particular nutrient is present in a single serving of the food out of the total daily-recommended consumption of that nutrient.
Foods and Their Caloric Values
When you start eating healthy, you need to know the foods that offer the best value to you on a daily basis. First, you have to keep in mind that two different foods with an identical calorie count will not have the same effects on your body. It should become understandable for you by now since you know carbohydrates, fats and proteins have varying number of calories in them. Two different foods might give you the same number of calories with one giving you the majority of your calories in the form of carbohydrates and other in the form of fat. You have to keep this balance to eat healthy.
Now, another thing to keep in mind is that two completely different serving sizes from two different foods can have the same number of calories. For example, if you take two tablespoons of peanut butter, it will provide you with 190 calories in total. On the other hand, two tablespoons of sugar will give you only 35 calories in total. Imagine how many tablespoons of sugar you will have to take to get the same number of calories you are getting from 2 tablespoons of peanut butter. This brings light to another really important topic – empty calories.
One of the most important things before you start counting your daily calories is to understand empty calories and empty calorie foods. The term might sound oxymoronic but it really is an intelligent term. Empty calorie foods are foods that contain a lot of energy for you but very little nutrients in them. Therefore, these foods will fill your body with many calories but will not give you an adequate percentage of the nutrients that your body needs on a daily basis. The best examples of such foods are pastries, cakes, soda drinks, alcoholic drinks etc.
So what happens is that you eat these foods, they give your body a large number of calories but your body is still devoid of the necessary nutrients it needs. To compensate and give your body these nutrients, you will have to eat more food. Doing this will compensate the dearth of required nutrients in your body but you will end up filling it with too much energy. Now, since your body is overflowing with calories and is not being able to use them, it will start storing those calories. The end result is formation of fat in your body. Hence, there is this term “burning calories” because you literally have to burn those accumulated bundles of energy that have converted to fat in your body.
Some Cool Calorie Facts
- Coffee and tea don’t have calories per se. Calories are added to them when you add milk and sugar.
- You are burning calories even when you are sleeping.
- You will burn something around 100 calories in one hour while watching TV in sitting position.
- Even alcohol has calories in it – a lot of them! Just one gram of alcohol gives you seven calories. It’s almost like eating fat.
Now that you know what calories really mean and how to count them, take vow to bring a healthy change in your life today.