I get asked this question quite a bit and so I decided to write about it. The amount of foods you should consume each day depends on several personal factors like height, age, sex, physical activity level, overall health status, body composition and genetics.
It will also depend on the types of foods you choose to eat and if you are trying to gain, maintain, or lose weight.
What are calories and how many do I need to eat daily?
We need calories to stay alive. Approximately 20% of the energy we use is for brain metabolism.
The rest of the body’s energy requirements are taken for basal metabolism requirements (breathing, circulation, posture, movement, etc.).
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends a minimum net calorie intake of 1,200 calories for women and 1,800 calories for men.
If you are training or trying to gain weight then you would add calories accordingly (normally adding 500 calories per day will total in 1 pound of body weight gain per week).
Calorie restriction is used to promote weight loss. It is best to lose extra body weight at a steady rate.
Subtracting 500 calories per day from your normal diet will result in 1 pound of body weight loss per week. Calorie restriction has been researched to prolong life and support anti-aging.
Remember, in your diet not all calories are created equal. A 500 calorie meal of fish and salad is much more nutritious and better for your body than 500 calories of butter popcorn.
Choosing unprocessed, wholesome foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and lean meats provide your body with the nutrients it needs to better perform all metabolic activities.
What about portion sizes?
This is a big one. Many people choose healthy foods but they make the mistake of not practicing portion control.
Get used to reading food labels and recognizing that the calories and nutrient facts listed on the nutrition facts are listed per serving.
Most packaged foods contain 2-3 servings per container. This is also true for beverages.
Here are some examples of foods and their actual serving sizes:
Fruit and vegetables: 1 piece of fruit, ½ cup of fruit juice, ½ can of canned/frozen fruit/cooked vegetables, 1 cup leafy raw vegetables/salad or any raw vegetable.
Grains: ½ bagel, 1 slice of bread, 1 small tortilla, ½ pitta, ½ cup cooked couscous, beans, lentils, rice or pasta, 1/2c cold cereal, ¾ cup hot cereal. Choosing whole grains like 100% whole wheat provides your body with vitamins and fiber that help you stay fuller longer, and helping you eat less throughout the day.
Milk (and Alternatives) : 1 cup milk, 1 cup soy drink, ¾ cup yogurt, 1½ oz. cheese
Meat (and Alternatives) : 2½ oz. cooked fish, lean meat, poultry or lean meat, 2 eggs, 2 tablespoons peanut butter, 3 oz. tofu.
Oils: 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil, olive oil, canola oil, coconut oil.
How much food should I eat?
So as you can see there are several factors that will dictate how much food or how many calories you need to consume on a daily basis.
There is an equation you can use to determine what that number is. It is called the Harris-Benedict Equation.
Being conscious of each food choice we make and focusing on wholesome unprocessed foods will gear us towards a healthy balanced diet high in quality foods that will feed our bodies the nutrition it deserves.