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College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


Chow Line: Know your numbers: calorie counts differ (for 8/16/09)

August 7, 2009

Where can I find out how many calories a day I should be eating? I recently started paying attention to calorie intake, and have been using the 2,000-calorie-a-day standard on Nutrition Facts labels. But 2,000 calories a day can't be right for everyone.

You are absolutely correct. Actually, there are 12 recommended calorie levels, ranging from 1,000 calories a day (for 2-year-old children and "sedentary" 3-year-olds) up to 3,200 calories a day (for active teenage boys, ages 16-18). Calorie recommendations depend on a person's age, sex and activity level. Recommendations for adults range from 1,600-2,400 calories a day for women and 2,000-3,000 calories a day for men.

You can find where you land on the guidelines by going to, and clicking on "Get a personalized plan." Or you can get a chart listing all of the calorie intake recommendations by clicking on "For Professional Use" and downloading "Food Intake Pattern Calorie Levels."

You're not alone in being confused about how many calories you need. The "2009 Food and Health Survey: Consumer Attitudes toward Food, Nutrition, and Health," conducted by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation, found that only 11 percent of respondents estimated correctly. A whopping 47 percent overestimated the number of calories they need; 16 percent underestimated; and 26 percent simply responded that they didn't know.

Of course, calories aren't the only measure of a healthful diet. Dietitians recommend a well-balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy, with a reasonable amount of lean protein and healthful fats. The IFIC survey also asked about knowledge of different fats, and 69 percent of respondents said they are concerned with the type of fat they consume, particularly that they are trying to reduce the amount of trans fat in their diet. Still, respondents' understanding of healthful fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, still appears low.

Using the Nutrition Facts panel appears to be helpful to consumers. Nearly 70 percent of the 1,064 respondents said they use the panel for some type of nutrition information, with calories getting the most attention, followed by total fat, sugars, trans fat, sodium, saturated fat, serving size and calories from fat. But MyPyramid is seldom used; while 84 percent of the respondents said they are aware of MyPyramid, only 25 percent have ever used it. Log onto today, and you'll find loads of helpful, healthful information.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1044, or

Editor: This column was reviewed by Julie Shertzer, registered dietitian and program specialist for Ohio State University Extension in the Department of Human Nutrition, in the College of Education and Human Ecology.

Martha Filipic
Julie Shertzer