Consumption of high calorie foods is possible to control with an understanding of daily calorie requirements and the source of calories in everyday foods.
Special coffees with whipped cream and caramel sauce, burgers with two patties, mushroom sauce and cheese, bagels with cream cheese and all the delightful-tasting food options available today easily put us past our daily caloric requirements. Very often we believe that we are making healthy choices and do not realize the caloric impact of these choices. Sometimes we are just unaware of the effect of the foods we eat on our health and well being. Sometimes we are just unaware of what our bodies really need.
Daily Calorie Requirements
Average daily intake of calories is determined by age, activity level and sex. Based on average body sizes, active pre-adult men from the age of 17 to 18 years have the greatest requirement of 3300 calories per day (1). The lowest requirements are for inactive children between the ages of two and three with a recommended calorie intake of 1100 calories (1). Everyone else falls between 1100 and 3300 recommended calories. Suggested intake amounts are provided on the Health Canada website.
Knowing the number of calories per day only helps if you know the calorie content of food. Packaging on processed food can often be misleading. Reduced calories, sugar or fat does not necessarily mean that the item is a good choice. The packaging simply suggests that changes have been made from the original product and the decreases are not necessarily substantial. It is important to read the nutritional information on food labels and to check the recommended serving size.
Unnecessary calories increase the calories per serving which occur in many of our processed foods. Excessive sugars and fats are added to processed food and often go unacknowledged. Adding flavourings to coffee, ice cream to desserts, cheese to burgers and gravy to meals all add to caloric intake and often provide no nutritional value.
A tasty burger and fries can add a high calorie load to the daily requirements. McDonald’s Angus Swiss and Mushroom burger, along with a large order of fries, contains 1270 calories. For most individuals, this is more than half of their daily requirements in one meal (2). If you add a 12 oz McFlurry with M&M candies, an additional 710 calories, the calorie count is bumped up to 1930 leaving little room for any other foods for the entire day.
Our society has become comfortable with eating large portions of protein and carbohydrates (potatoes, pasta, rice and breads) and we tend to neglect fruit and vegetables in our diets. As a result, waist lines, excess weight and health problems have increased.
Beverages are a source of calories that are often not thought about. Juices, soft drinks, protein shakes and energy drinks are readily available and easily consumed.
We have gone from drinking Caffe Americanos or coffee with cream to drinking specialty coffees such as Starbucks Caramel Macchiatos. Along with this, a caloric intake of 20 calories has been increased to over 300 calories. The calories are so easy to consume and little effort is needed to add 300 calories to the daily intake (3). Compare that to an average apple, ranging from 75 to 90 calories.
It would take three to four apples to make up the same number of calories. The time needed to eat four apples allows the body time to register that it is satisfied and overeating is less likely. A specialty coffee can be consumed quickly and does not allow the body the time required to register satisfaction. I suspect that there are not many people that would eat three or four apples at one sitting.
Adding water back into a healthy eating plan provides a zero calorie beverage. As well, it provides the body with the hydration that it needs.
Crackers, granola bars and fruit drinks are often considered good snacks or additions to meals but they are likely adding unneeded calories. Their quick and easy consumption also leads to the tendency to overeat by not giving the body the time it needs to recognize the additional calories consumed.
Imagine grabbing a fruit juice and a granola bar for a quick snack. The caloric intake can be excessive for a snack. One cup of fruit juice contains about 120 calories and there are around 250 calories in an average granola bar, a total of around 370 calories. Having a similar snack after breakfast, after lunch and before bed adds over 1000 calories to a daily meal plan.
Health Canada’s requirements for an active woman suggest 2100 to 2250 calories per day and for an active man, the suggestion is 2500 to 3000 calories. Putting that into perspective, active women consuming three daily snacks of fruit drinks and granola bars take in almost half of their recommended daily calories. For an active man, around one third of the daily calorie requirements are met by the three snacks.
The daily requirements for active young children under nine years of age range from 1400 to 2000 calories for the entire day. By feeding a child granola bar and fruit juice snack three times a day, half to three quarters of their daily calorie requirements are being met. This leave little room for the nutrients and vitamins found in other healthy foods.
Most individuals would not pick three granola bars and three fruit drinks for the entire day’s snacks. However, substituting with candy bars, cookies, pastries, crackers, potato chips, milk and soda pops does not help the situation. It still results in a large proportion of calories being consumed. There are many low calorie fruits and vegetables that can be considered for snacking. They also provide the added benefit of good fiber, vitamins and nutrients so necessary for healthy living.
Controlling Calorie Consumption
The idea of eliminating every high calorie specialty food is not appealing to most people and trying to do so would likely result in “cheating” on the healthy eating idea. Rather, be aware of the calories in the foods that you are consuming. Selecting water, fruits and vegetables provide excellent options to high calorie processed foods.
In order to control your daily caloric intake it is necessary to know what your specific requirements are and to understand where you are getting those calories from. Put a balance in the foods you eat. If you are consuming a large calorie meal during the day, pick low calorie alternatives for other meals.
Consider eating a greater number of fruits and vegetables throughout the day. Replacing calorie containing drinks with water can provide a way to control daily calories.
- Health Canada: Canada’s Food Guide. Estimated Energy Requirements.
- McDonald’s Nutritional Facts for Popular Menu items.
- Starbuck’s Coffee Nutrition: Calorie Count, Food Details.