When it comes to counting calories, there’s plenty of myths and misinformation. And since something as simple as your morning Starbucks drink can secretly be a calorie bomb, keeping an accurate intake is tough.
The calorie is a paradox: It’s simple, yet complicated. Men and women have different needs, and your individual needs will vary depending on what your weight loss (or maintenance) goals are.
Calories in, calories out?
Before we tackle the tough subject of caloric needs, this myth is worth putting to rest. Many people believe that as long as you’re burning more calories than you’re taking in, you’ll lose weight. Others swear that calories from some sources are better than others. The truth is, it’s complicated.
While it’s true that burning more calories than you consume is the key to weight loss, the calories you consume also influence the number of calories you expend. For example, if you eat a meal that’s high in protein and other energy-boosting nutrients, you’ll have the stamina to burn off more calories in the long run than you would if you ate the equivalent amount of calories in donuts.
How many calories should men consume?
While it may not seem fair, on average, men do require more daily calories than women to maintain (or even lose) their weight. The average man burns more calories than the average woman because the average man weighs more, and they also tend to have more muscle, which burns calories faster.
Caloric needs will vary for men as they age. Typically a teenage male should aim for around 3,200 calories per day, while a man in his 30s should eat around 2,200 calories.
Women should focus on these numbers
The daily recommended caloric intake also varies for women. Luckily, online calculators can take some of the guesswork out of it all. Women’s fitness goals will help determine how many calories they should consume.
For example, moderately active women require about 1,800 to 2,200 calories each day for healthy weight maintenance. Sedentary women only need around 1,600 calories to maintain their weight.
Here’s how many calories American adults think they consume …
In a time when obesity rates are high and up to 80% of Americans fail to eat the daily recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables, it’s no wonder that many people think they live a healthier lifestyle than they actually do. The results of a poll conducted by NPR and Truven Health Analytics showed 75% of people think they eat a healthy diet, but in reality, their portions are out of control.
All research indicates that, even with calories labeled on food items and restaurant menus, Americans still drastically underestimate their daily calorie consumption. On average, people underestimate their caloric consumption by about 500 calories. So if you think you’re eating 2,000 calories per day, you may be getting about 2,500.
… but here are the most accurate numbers
A few years ago, the health website Evoke.ie published an infographic showing average calorie consumption around the world. While it wasn’t entirely surprising that the U.S. topped the list, the numbers themselves were pretty shocking.
As of 2014, Americans ate an average of 3,770 calories per day. For some healthy adults that want to maintain their weight, that’s nearly double the daily recommended requirement.
But how important is it to count calories?
Clearly we’re missing the mark on our ideal caloric intake. But you’ll also find plenty of health experts who claim that counting calories isn’t necessary for weight loss. In fact, many believe it is a colossal waste of time and that focusing on healthy whole foods is a much better way to stay slim.
Still, there’s no denying the results of the data. Americans are eating far too many calories, so we have to find a balance.
Easy ways to cut back on caloric consumption
Once you have a basic understanding of how many calories are in most of the foods you consume (105 calories in a banana, for example), focus on mindful eating. Choose nutrient-dense foods whenever you can, keep a close eye on your portion sizes, and stop eating when you feel full. Following these methods is better than any calorie-counting app.