How Many Calories Should I Eat a Day?

The number of calories you need to eat each day depends on several factors, including your age, size, height, sex, lifestyle, and overall general health.

As an example, a physically active 6ft 2in male, aged 22 years, requires considerably more calories than a 5ft 2ins sedentary woman in her 70s.

It has been discovered that factors such as how you eat your food can influence how many calories get into your system. The longer you chew your food, the more calories the body retains, a team from Purdue University found.

If you would like to learn more about calories – what they are and what they are important for – you might want to take a look at our Knowledge Center article all about calories. The rest of this article will discuss how your body uses calories and how many your body might need to achieve optimum energy levels.

Facts on daily calorie intake

Here are some key points about daily calorie intake. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.

  • Recommended calorie intake depends on factors such as age, size, height, sex, lifestyle and overall general health.
  • The longer you chew your food, the more calories your body retains.
  • Recommended daily calorie intakes in the US are 2,700 for men and 2,200 for women.
  • Eating a big breakfast could help with weight reduction and maintenance.
  • When food is eaten may matter as much as what and how many calories are eaten.
  • Average calorie consumption in industrialized nations and a growing number of emerging economies is higher than it used to be.
  • Approximately 20% of the energy used in the human body is for brain metabolism.
  • Ideal body weight depends on several factors including age, bone density and muscle-fat ratio.
  • The types of food that calories are acquired from are highly important in terms of nutrition.
  • A 500-calorie meal consisting of fruits and vegetables is much better for your health and will keep you from being hungry for longer than a 500-calorie snack of popcorn.

Recommended daily calorie intakes

Recommended daily calorie intakes vary across the world. According to the National Health Service (NHS), UK, the average male adult needs approximately 2,500 calories per day to keep his weight constant, while the average adult female needs 2,000. US authorities recommend 2,700 calories per day for men and 2,200 for women.

The NHS stresses that rather than precisely counting numbers (calories), people should focus more on eating a healthy and well-balanced diet, being physically active, and roughly balancing how many calories are consumed with the numbers burnt off each day. If you eat your five portions of fruit and vegetable per day, you will probably live longer, Swedish researchers reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (July 2013 issue).

According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the average person’s minimum calorie requirement per day globally is approximately 1,800 kilocalories (7,500 kJ).

Worldwide food consumption
Daily calorie consumption varies considerably around the world
(countries in grey indicates “no data available”)
Image by Interchange88

Over the last twenty years, sugar has been added to a growing number of foods we consume. Unfortunately, food labels in the USA and Europe do not include details on how much-added sugar there is. Dr Aseem Malhotra, a cardiologist, wrote in BMJ in June 2013 that “(it has become) almost impossible for consumers to determine the amount of added sugars in foods and beverages.”

Timing could be as important as how many calories you eat

A big breakfast helps bring your weight down or keep it down – researchers from Tel Aviv University explained in the medical journal Obesity that a large breakfast – one containing approximately 700 calories – is ideal for losing weight and reducing your risk of diabetes, heart disease, and high cholesterol.

When we eat our food probably matters as much as what and how many calories we eat, team leader Prof. Daniela Jakubowicz added.

Portion sizes

In industrialized nations and a growing number of emerging economies, people are consuming much more calories than they used to. Portion sizes in restaurants, both fast food ones as well as elegant places, are far greater today.

Comparing cheeseburger sizes over the last 20 years
The average cheeseburger in the USA 20 years ago had 333 calories, compared to the one’s today with over 600 calories

What is the difference between calories and kilocalories?

Scientifically speaking, one kilocalorie is 1,000 calories. However, the term calorie in lay English has become so loosely used with the same meaning as kilocalorie, that the two terms have virtually merged. In other words, in most cases, a calorie and kilocalorie have the same meaning.

A kilocalorie is the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of 1 kilogram of water from 15° to 16° Celsius (centigrade) in one atmosphere.

A “small calorie” refers to the traditional scientific term of calorie, meaning one-thousandth of a kilocalorie.

Internationally, most nations talk about food energy in kJ (kilojoules). 1 kcal (kilocalorie) = 4.184 kJ.

In this article, the term “calorie” means the same as “kilocalorie” or “kcal”.

Calorie intake calculator

The Harris-Benedict equation, also known as the Harris-Benedict principle, is used to estimate what a person’s BMR (basal metabolic rate) and daily requirements are.

Your BMR total is multiplied by another number which represents your level of physical activity. The resulting number is your recommended daily calorie intake in order to keep your body weight where it is.

This equation has some limitations. It does not take into account varying levels of muscle mass to fat mass ratios – a very muscular person needs more calories, even when resting.

BMR Equation

    • Male adults
      66.5 + (13.75 x kg body weight) + (5.003 x height in cm) – (6.755 x age) = BMR
      66 + ( 6.23 x pounds body weight) + ( 12.7 x height in inches ) – ( 6.76 x age) = BMR

 

  • Female adults
    55.1 + (9.563 x kg body weight) + (1.850 x height in cm) – (4.676 x age) = BMR
    655 + (4.35 x kg body weight) + (4.7 x height in inches) – (4.7 x age) = BMR

Daily calorie calculators

You can use our BMR calculators below to work out your BMR and daily calorie recommendation. One calculator uses metric measurements and the other uses imperial measurements – the choice is yours.

1) Metric BMR Calculator

Please note that both of these calculators require JavaScript to be enabled in your browser settings. Results will appear in the box underneath these calculators.

Gender: Female
Male
Age:
(years)
Height:
(in cm, e.g: 183)
Weight:
(in kg, e.g: 63)

2) Imperial BMR Calculator

Gender: Female
Male
Age:
(years)
Height:
feet:
inches:
Weight:
stones:
pounds:

 

BMR calculation results will appear here.

Your daily calorie requirement

To work out a figure for your daily calorie requirement, we apply levels of physical activity to the equation as per the guide below. If you have entered information into the calculator above, you’ll see your personal calculations:

    • Sedentary lifestyle – if you do very little or no exercise at all
      Your daily calorie requirement is BMR x 1.2.

 

    • Slightly active lifestyle – light exercise between once and three times per week
      Your daily calorie requirement is BMR x 1.375.

 

    • Moderately active lifestyle – if you do moderate exercise three to five days per week
      Your daily calorie requirement is BMR x 1.55.

 

    • Active lifestyle – if you do intensive/heavy exercise six to seven times per week
      Your daily calorie requirement is BMR x 1.725.

 

  • Very active lifestyle – if you do very heavy/intensive exercise twice a day (extra heavy workouts
    Your daily calorie requirement is BMR x 1.9.

The human body and energy usage

For the human body to remain alive, it requires energy. Approximately 20% of the energy we use is for brain metabolism. The majority of the rest of the body’s energy requirements are taken up for the basal metabolic requirements – the energy we need when in a resting state, for functions such as the circulation of the blood and breathing.

If our environment is cold, our metabolism increases to produce more heat to maintain a constant body temperature. When we are in a warm environment, we require less energy.

We also require mechanical energy for our skeletal muscles for posture and moving around.

Respiration or specifically cellular respiration refers to the metabolic process by which an organism gets energy by reacting oxygen with glucose to produce carbon dioxide, water and ATP energy. How efficiently energy from respiration converts into physical (mechanical) power depends on the type of food eaten, as well as what type of physical energy is used – whether muscles are used aerobically or anaerobically.

Put simply – we need calories to stay alive, even if we are not moving, and need calories to keep our posture and to move about.

How much should you weigh?

As with how many calories you should consume, your ideal body weight depends on several factors. These include your age, sex, bone density, muscle-fat ratio, and height.

    • BMI (Body Mass Index) – some say BMI is a good way of working out what you should weigh. However, BMI does not take into account muscle mass. A 100-metre Olympic champion weighing 200 pounds (about 91 kilograms), who is 6 feet (about 1mt 83cm) tall, who has the same BMI as a couch potato of the same height, is not overweight, while the couch potato is overweight.

 

    • Waist-hip ratio – this measurement is said to be more accurate at determining what your ideal weight should be, compared to BMI. However, the waist-hip ratio does not properly measure an individual’s total body fat percentage (muscle-to-fat ratio) and is also limited.

 

  • Waist-to-height ratio – this way of determining ideal body weight is probably the most accurate one available today. It was presented by Dr. Margaret Ashwell, ex-science director of the British Nutrition Foundation, and team at the 19th Congress on Obesity in Lyon, France, on 12th May 2012. It is also a very simple calculation; easy for lay people to work out.

Dr. Ashwell’s team found that:

Keeping your waist circumference to less than half your height can help increase life expectancy for every person in the world.”

Put simply, to achieve and/or maintain your ideal body weight, “Keep your waist circumference to less than half your height.”

If you are a 6ft (183cm) tall adult male, your waist should not exceed 36 inches (91 cm).

If you are a 5ft 4 inches (163 cm) tall adult female, your waist should not exceed 32 inches (81 cm)

How do I measure my waist? – according to the World Health Organization (WHO), you should place the tape-measure half-way between the lower rib and the iliac crest (the pelvic bone at the hip).

Calories and different diets

A chef's salad
Taking 500 calories from this dish is much better for the health, preventing hunger, and maintaining a healthy body weight than the equivalent calories in popcorn with butter or toffee

Simply counting calories, and ignoring what you put in your mouth might not lead to good health.

Insulin levels will rise significantly more after consuming carbohydrates than after eating fats (no rise at all) or protein. Some carbohydrates, also known as carbs, get into the bloodstream in the form of sugar (glucose) much faster than others. Refined flour is a fast carb, while coarse oatmeal is slow. Slow-release carbs are better for body weight control and overall health than fast carbs.

A 500-calorie meal of fish/meat, salad, and some olive oil, followed by fruit, is much better for your health and will keep you from being hungry for longer than a 500-calorie snack of popcorn with butter or toffee.

There are several diets today which claim to help people lose or maintain their body weight. Some of these have been extremely successful and good for participants, but are notoriously difficult to adhere to long-term.

Crooked Bear Creek Holistic Wellness Center recently published an article discussing the “Eight Most Popular Diets”. The rankings were based on how many articles mentioned them favorably, how popular they were generally and which ones received the most positive feedback.

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