Food: Calories, how much to eat, and calorie restriction

How much food you need depends on many factors, including your height, age, sex, general state of health, job, leisure time activities, physical activities, genetics, body size, environmental factors, body composition and what medications you may be taking.

Optimum food intake depends on how many calories you need.

It is not always as simple as calories in versus calories out when it comes to weight, but if you consume more each day than you use up, you will usually put on weight. If you consume fewer calories than you need for energy, you will likely lose weight.

This article explains how much individuals should eat and what types of foods should be included in a healthy diet.

Fast facts on how much food to eat

Here are some key points about how much food to eat. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.

If you consume more calories than you burn off, you are likely to put on weight

To lose weight, reducing calorie intake and increasing the number of calories you burn is essential

It is important to eat a variety of natural foods to stay healthy

Daily calorie requirements

Box of groceries including fruits and vegetables
The amount of food a person should eat each day depends on a huge variety of factors.

How much you should eat depends on what your aims are. Do you want to maintain your body weight, lose or gain weight, or prepare for a sports event?

Any focus on food intake is closely linked with calorie consumption.

Calories are a measure of how much energy there is in the food we eat. Understanding calories helps us work out how much food we need to eat.

Different foods have a different number of calories per gram or ounce of weight.

Below are some general daily calorie requirements for males and females. A low active level means taking part in 30-60 minutes of moderate activity each day, such as walking at 3-4 miles per hour. Active level means at least 60 minutes of moderate activity each day.

Daily calorie requirement for males (Source: Health Canada):

Age Sedentary level Low active level Active level
2-3 years 1,100 1,350 1,500
4-5 years 1,250 1,450 1,650
6-7 years 1,400 1,600 1,800
8-9 years 1,500 1,750 2,000
10-11 years 1,700 2,000 2,300
12-13 years 1,900 2,250 2,600
14-16 years 2,300 2,700 3,100
17-18 years 2,450 2,900 3,300
19-30 years 2,500 2,700 3,000
31-50 years 2,350 2,600 2,900
51-70 years 2,150 2,350 2,650
71+ years 2,000 2,200 2,500

Daily calorie requirement for females:

Age Sedentary level Low active level Active level
2-3 years 1,100 1,250 1,400
4-5 years 1,200 1,350 1,500
6-7 years 1,300 1,500 1,700
8-9 years 1,400 1,600 1,850
10-11 years 1,500 1,800 2,050
12-13 years 1,700 2,000 2,250
14-16 years 1,750 2,100 2,350
17-18 years 1,750 2,100 2,400
19-30 years 1,900 2,100 2,350
31-50 years 1,800 2,000 2,250
51-70 years 1,650 1,850 2,100
71+ years 1,550 1,750 2,000

People aiming for a healthy body weight will need to check the calorie content of the food they eat so that they can compare how much they are burning against their consumption.

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How much food do I need per day?

This section explains how much of each food type we should eat per day, such as fruit, vegetables, grains, milk, and meat, or alternatives to dairy or meat.

According to Health Canada, people should consume these recommended numbers of servings each day. For information on serving sizes, check the next section.

Age 2-3 years: Fruit and vegetables 4, Grains 3, Milk (and alternatives) 2, Meat (and alternatives) 1.

Age 4-8 years: Fruit and vegetables 5, Grains 4, Milk (and alternatives) 2, Meat (and alternatives) 1.

Age 9-13 years: Fruit and vegetables 6, Grains 6, Milk (and alternatives) 3-4, Meat (and alternatives) 1-2.

Age 14-18 years (male): Fruit and vegetables 8, Grains 7, Milk (and alternatives) 3-4, Meat (and alternatives) 3.

Age 14-18 years (female): Fruit and vegetables 7, Grains 6, Milk (and alternatives) 3-4, Meat (and alternatives) 2.

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