How many calories should I eat?

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I’ve been surprised several times over the past few days when I’ve casually asked a couple of people, “Do you know how many calories you should eat each day?” and they were completely off the mark.

Let’s start at the very beginning:  A calorie is simply a unit of energy. A gram of carbohydrate or protein provides 4 calories of energy.  A gram of fat provides 9.

The number of calories (and therefore food) each person should consume each day varies widely, based on a large number of factors. Age, gender, activity level, health status, genetic predisposition, weight loss (or gain) goals, and so on.

As a very basic guideline, women should consume approximately 1,700-2,000 calories a day and men about 2,300-2,600. Again, that’s just a rough place to start.

There are tons of quick online calculators to help you figure out a closer approximation for you.  They will likely give you varying answers, depending on the underlying data tables and how they crunch the numbers… so it’s a good idea to check several.  Even then, it’s still a ballpark estimate.

Here’s one from the Mayo Clinic, here’s one from, and here’s one from (which also has some good background and explanatory info).

Image courtesy of the US EPA.

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