This week is part one of a three-part column on calorie intake, calorie restriction and simple everyday food choices for calorie control. I have touched on the importance of portion control in a recent column, so I thought it may be helpful to review the tricky and deceptive nature of calories as they relate to our health.
Most people in the U.S. have a daily nutritional intake that is a primarily carbohydrate-based diet. The average male in the U.S. eats between 2,500 and 2,700 calories per day. The average female eats a bit less, between 1,700 and 2,200 calories a day. These calorie numbers can range widely by region, age group and socioeconomic influences. When you get outside the averages, it is not uncommon for people in the U.S. to over-consume food and beverages that total 3,200 to 4,000 calories a day.
What is very consistent nutritionally across the U.S. is the percentages of food types that are consumed. Let’s take an average male’s daily calorie consumption of 2550 and break it down roughly by percentage of calories to food type:
• Grains make up 24 percent of daily intake on average.
• Meats make up 22 percent of daily intake on average.
• Fats and oils make up 20 percent of daily intake on average.
• Sugars make up 17 percent of daily intake on average.
• Dairy makes up 9 percent of daily intake on average.
• Vegetables and fruits make up 8 percent of daily intake on average.
These categorized percentages of food types are fairly consistent across both male and female consumers in both high- and low-calorie diets. This means roughly 60 percent of the foods most people eat daily tend to be carbohydrate based with high glycemic value and tend to trigger a strong insulin response. What this means is our heavy consumption of grains, sugars and processed fats/oils has a direct impact on our overall health, weight and metabolic function.
Re-establishing a common-sense nutritional plan designed to feed your body based on our natural genetic make-up is the best way to move forward. Getting down to the basics of eating healthy and controlling caloric intake has three primary aspects:
1. First, level your macronutrient balance by increasing consumption of nutrient dense vegetables, fruits and other naturally grown foods such as nuts to replace processed foods. Include eating a high percentage of your daily foods in raw form such as greens, fruits and nuts, giving you the best nutrient value. This first step is a great way to start replacing empty carbohydrates with healthy carbs.
2. The second aspect is consume fewer overall daily calories. Finding a good quantity balance across your carbohydrates, protein and fats or macronutrients is critical for a successful shift in your nutrition. Taking an overall approach that reduces caloric intake from all food types is a good idea, but focus primarily on reducing sugary foods and empty carbohydrates, which will give you the best results for improved nutrition.
One frustrating aspect people run into when seeking nutritional advice on just how many calories to consume is that not all healthcare, dietitians and fitness professionals can agree with a set number. The numbers for what some think is the perfect caloric intake range from ketogenic and paleo dieters between 1000 and 1500 calories per day up to the USDA recommendation of 1600 to 2400 calories for women and 2000 to 3000 calories for men. Each of us have a unique set point for calories that is dependent on our natural metabolism, activity level and body type. Most people never find that natural set point due to the systemic inflammation and metabolic imbalances caused by the over-consumption of carbohydrates.
3. The third often overlooked nutritional component that drives calorie overload is beverage consumption. This aspect of caloric intake is a leading factor in high daily calorie loading. Often beverage consumption comes in the form of sugars which are just empty calories with little to no nutritional value at all. Blended coffee drinks, sports drinks and even fresh-squeezed fruit drinks are loaded with sugar. So much that drinking these beverages triggers your brain’s hunger centers pushing the desire to eat more food.
With your brain all hyped-up feeling the need to eat more comes the spike in your insulin response, which drives hormones, weight gain and metabolic problems. Your best approach for 90 percent of your daily fluid intake is water, plain and simple. Another option in moderation would be unsweetened natural teas and black coffee. This single step to drinking mostly water can have one of the largest impacts to improved health and calorie reduction.
Next week I will cover the practice and benefits of short intermittent fasting. When we stop eating too much, balance our macronutrients where carbohydrates are a minor part of our total daily intake and add intermittent fasting, amazing things start to happen with our overall health.
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Judd Jones is a director for The Hagadone Corporation in Coeur d’Alene.