Home > Food > General Nutrition > Nutritional Information > Counting Calories: How Many You Need in Your Diet

Counting Calories: How Many You Need in Your Diet


A calorie is the amount of energy that food provides. The number of calories is determined by burning food in a device called a calorimeter and measuring the amount of heat produced. One calorie is equal to the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of one liter of water one degree Celsius. Carbohydrates and protein contain 4 calories per gram, fat contains 9 calories per gram, and alcohol has 7 calories per gram.

All the foods we eat contain calories—some more than others. In order to maintain a healthy weight and to have enough energy to power you through the day, you should try to take in only the amount of calories your body needs—no more, no less (I know—easier said than done!).

How Many Calories Are Right for You?

How do you find the perfect balance between calories in and calories out? Not by nitpicking over calorie counting, that's for sure! You should pay attention to what and how much you eat, but not to the point that you carry a calculator and whip it out after each bite of food.

To get a rough idea of how many calories you should be taking in, look at the following chart. This chart only offers three general caloric ranges, so keep in mind that your personal daily requirements might fall somewhere between two that are listed. Remember, everyone is different. Caloric intake will vary depending upon your age, sex, size, genetics, and level of activity.

General Daily Calorie Requirements
1,600 calories Number of calories needed for many sedentary women and some older adults.
2,200 calories Number of calories needed for most children, teenage girls, active women, and many sedentary men. Women who are pregnant and breastfeeding may need somewhat more.
2,800 calories Number of calories needed for teenage boys, many active men, and some very active women.
Source: USDA 1992

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Total Nutrition © 2005 by Joy Bauer. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


Vote Now for the Children's & Teen Choice Book Awards
Voting is open now through May 3 for the Children's and Teen Choice Book Awards — the only national book awards program where the winning author, illustrator, and books of the year are selected by young readers. Encourage your child to vote for his favorites today!

Find Today's Newest & Best Children's Books!
Looking for newly released books for your child? Try our new Book Finder tool to search for new books by age, type, and theme, and create reading lists for kids!

8 Products to Help Your Family Go Plastic-Free
How can you minimize your family's exposure to harmful chemicals and lessen your impact on the environment? Try swapping out some of your everyday plastic products with these non-plastic alternatives.

Registered for Kindergarten — Now What?
Wondering what to do now that you've signed your child up for kindergarten? Try our award-winning Kindergarten Readiness app! This easy-to-use checklist comes with games and activities to help your child build essential skills for kindergarten. Download the Kindergarten Readiness app today!

stay connected

Sign up for our free email newsletters and receive the latest advice and information on all things parenting.

Enter your email address to sign up or manage your account.

Facebook icon Facebook icon Follow Us on Pinterest

editor’s picks