Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors
"How many calories should I should eat a day?"
How much should regular people eat a day? Does it matter what kind of food they're from?
This is such an important question and very much in the news right now. The question regarding how many calories you should take in is not quite as straight forward as you might expect. There are some general guidelines, but the truth is that the exact amount depends on several key factors including sex, age, activity level, pregnancy status and weight goals. In general, the National Academy of Sciences recommends that sedentary women or older people the target is approximately 1,600 calories per day, while 2,200 is more appropriate for children, teenage girls, sedentary men and active women. Pregnant women may wish to take in more. Finally, active men may need to take in closer to 2,800 calories a day. However, depending on your weight goals and the actual level of activity these numbers may change dramatically. There are some great calculators online and the USDA’s website has a number of links to interactive tools. There are specific recommendations regarding how many calories should come from each food group. In fact, the USDA just published a new tool called MyPlate that provides a visual tool to help determine how much of each group should be a part of your meal. Generally, speaking half of your meals should be fruits and vegetables with a quarter of the meals grains and a quarter of your meals proteins. Though, the actual percentage of calories does not break down quite this way since protein and grains are more calorie dense (more calories for same size portion) than fruits and vegetables. Dairy and fats should be used sparingly. Again the USDA has some excellent resources about which specific foods within each group are better (www.choosemyplate.gov). Your primary care physician can best evaluate your goals and discuss strategies and ways to meet them. Good luck!