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Understanding Food Labels: Calories

How many calories should you eat in a day?  One survey found only one out of every 8 adult Americans actually knows the answer to this question.  In addition, although most people are aware that to lose weight one must lower overall caloric intake, calculating the number of calories eaten in a day is confusing.  Enter the Nutrition Facts label – which actually can confuse the issue even more, unless you understand how to read between the lines.

The first order of business is to estimate the number of calories you need in a day for basic metabolism.  Remember, though, that this is just an estimate based on a clinical formula!  There are many factors that influence metabolism, but here is a good place to start.

You will first need an accurate weight and height – and you can’t lie about your age.

Women: BMR = 655 + ( 4.35 x weight in pounds ) + ( 4.7 x height in inches ) – ( 4.7 x age in years )

Men: BMR = 66 + ( 6.23 x weight in pounds ) + ( 12.7 x height in inches ) – ( 6.8 x age in years )

Just a note:  If you are significantly overweight, this equation may overestimate calorie needs because fat stores do not metabolize calories at the same rate that lean muscle tissue does.  We’ll deal with that in a minute.

Once you get BMR (which stands for basic metabolic rate), multiply the result by an activity factor.  This will increase total calorie needs based on how active you are:

  1. If you are sedentary (little or no exercise) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.2
  2. If you are lightly active (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/week) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.375
  3. If you are moderately active (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.55
  4. If you are very active (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days a week) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.725
  5. If you are extra active (very hard exercise/sports & physical job or 2x training) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.9

If you wish to lose weight, subtract 500 calories (which will potentially result in a 1 pound per week weight loss), and you have an estimation of how many calories you need in a day.

Now head for the Nutrition Facts label on that food you are about to eat.  The total number of calories in a food is derived by adding together fat, carbohydrate, and protein (the macronutrients).

Calories = (fat grams x 9) + (carbohydrate grams x 4) + (protein grams x 4)

Keep in mind that the calories derived from this equation may be slightly off because calories listed on the Nutrition Facts label are rounded up or down to the nearest 0 or 5 (usually down, so be aware you may be eating more calories than you think).

Keep a food diary of the calories you eat in a week.  At the end of the week, weigh yourself.  If you lost or maintained, the calorie calculation you did above may be right on point.  If you gained, first be sure you were truthful (a common problem!) then adjust your calorie estimation down by 100 calories.  Keep working in small increments like this to find your unique balance for calorie needs. ask questions Company formation .

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