by Marion Nestle
Aug 3 2011

Where did the 2,000 calorie diet idea come from?

I’m in the midst of working on the copy-edited manuscript of my forthcoming book with Malden Nesheim Why Calories Count: From Science to Politics (University of California Press, March 2012) and spending every minute I have on it.  So I’m going to take some shortcuts on the blog this week and deal with some questions I’ve been asked recently.

One is right on the topic of the book:

Q.  Could you address the 2,000 calorie a day number (both its history and speculate on how an individual can arrive at a more personalized amount)? Short of metabolic testing (and I read conflicting opinions on that, too), it seems rather difficult to figure out how much I should be eating.

A.  Nothing could be easier, and here’s a preview of the kind of thing that will be in this book (with footnotes, of course):

If you look at  a food label, you will see ingredient contents compared to a 2,000-calorie average diet: “Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.”

Here’s the history of where that came from:

The FDA wanted consumers to be able to compare the amounts of saturated fat and sodium to the maximum amounts recommended for a day’s intake—the Daily Values.  Because the allowable limits would vary according to the number of calories consumed, the FDA needed benchmarks for average calorie consumption, even though calorie requirements vary according to body size and other individual characteristics.

From USDA food consumption surveys of that era, the FDA knew that women typically reported consuming 1,600 to 2,200 calories a day, men 2,000 to 3,000, and children 1,800 to 2,500. But stating ranges on food labels would take up too much space and did not seem particularly helpful. The FDA proposed using a single standard of daily calorie intake—2,350 calories per day, based on USDA survey data. The agency requested public comments on this proposal and on alternative figures: 2,000, 2,300, and 2,400 calories per day.

Despite the observable fact that 2,350 calories per day is below the average requirements for either men or women obtained from doubly labeled water experiments, most of the people who responded to the comments judged the proposed benchmark too high. Nutrition educators worried that it would encourage overconsumption, be irrelevant to women who consume fewer calories, and permit overstatement of acceptable levels of “eat less” nutrients such as saturated fat and sodium. Instead, they proposed 2,000 calories as:

  • consistent with widely used food plans
  • close to the calorie requirements for postmenopausal women, the population group most prone to weight gain
  • a reasonably rounded-down value from 2,350 calories
  • easier to use than 2,350 and, therefore, a better tool for nutrition education

Whether a rounding down of nearly 20 percent is reasonable or not, the FDA ultimately viewed these arguments as persuasive. It agreed that 2,000 calories per day would be more likely to make it clear that people needed to tailor dietary recommendations to their own diets. The FDA wanted people to understand that they must adjust calorie intake according to age, sex, activity, and life stage. It addressed the adjustment problem by requiring the percent Daily Value footnote on food labels for diets of 2,000 and 2,500 calories per day, the range of average values reported in dietary intake surveys.

 As to how many calories you personally need, I think they are too difficult for most people to count accurately to bother.  The bottom line: If you are eating too many, you will be gaining weight.   

The best advice I can give is to get a scale and use it.  If your weight starts creeping up, you have to eat less.

The book will go into far more explanation of such issues but for that you will have to wait until March.



Comments

[...] could be less than you think—but it could actually be more. Food politics writer Marion Nestle wrote a few weeks ago about the origins of the 2,000-calorie-per-day diet business, and notes that when the FDA set out [...]

[...] could be less than you think?but it could actually be more. Food politics writer Marion Nestle wrote a few weeks ago about the origins of the 2,000-calorie-per-day diet business, and notes that when the FDA set out [...]

[...] amount)? Short of metabolic testing (and I read conflicting opinions on that, too), … http://www.foodpolitics.com/20 .. Share and [...]

[...] could be reduction than we think—but it could indeed be more. Food politics author Marion Nestle wrote a few weeks ago about a origins of a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet business, and records that when a FDA set out to [...]

[...] could be reduction than we think—but it could indeed be more. Food politics author Marion Nestle wrote a few weeks ago about a origins of a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet business, and records that when a FDA set out to [...]

[...] Food Politics » Where did the 2000 calorie diet idea come from? Despite the observable fact that 2350 calories per day is below the average requirements for either men or women obtained from doubly labeled water experiments, most of the people who responded to the comments judged the … http://www.foodpolitics.com/20 .. [...]

  • Macca
  • January 19, 2013
  • 10:09 pm

I think they got it wrong, And everyone wonders why more than 50% of western civilization is not fat but OBESE!
I am lucky to get 1000-1500 calories a day and I am active, I am correct weight for my height and it hardly varies year after year, I don’t have good genetics and I don’t even eat healthy food!
Want to stay normal then stop eating this 2000 calorie a day nonsense, It is way too much energy, Take a look around at everyone and see for yourself. Especially in this day and age people are not as active be it in personal life or work life, We have machines that do the heavy stuff for us now, Everything is easier you don’t need such a ridiculous amount of food unless you want to get fat or you want to be a bodybuilder and gain muscle!
A normal small meal has so much energy in it that it would be impossible to burn it off even exercising for 2 hours, Now if you are constantly feeding your face every few hours to make up the 2000 calories how is your body going to use it up? It doesn’t, What it will do is store that excess energy as fat(energy) for a later date.
2000 calories is rubbish, It will vary from person to person on so many factors that it makes that number irrelevant, Simple maths if you put in more energy than you burn off you will get fat I don’t care what these studies say. If you don’t eat enough then your body will use whatever energy stores it can find in your body, Usually fat cells although if you are not careful and don’t get any protein at all then it will also begin to eat away your muscle cells to get the protein(amino acids) out of them!
You can last for just a few days without water, But food wise you can go for a few weeks with no food at all depending on individual, All those fat people out there could probably survive for a month on water alone but of course it isn’t a healthy way to lose the weight.
2000 calories should be dropped to 1500 and I just bet people all around would be skinnier!

[...] I tell people to ignore the percentages on food labels because they’re based on a 2000 calorie diet and chances are this doesn’t fit your needs.  Besides the athletes I work with, I very rarely see a client need 2000 calories or more, especially those trying to lose weight.  So where did this baseline 2000 calories come from?  The FDA established it years ago based on surveys of what people’s calorie intakes were.  How can that be accurate??  It also wasn’t based on calorie requirements but rather a report of what people were eating.  Marion Nestle, a national expert of food and nutrition, provides a thorough explanation about the history of this determination here. [...]

[…] air, based on peoples perceptions of what they ate and acceptance levels in the 1940s. The story is here (though please be aware that I haven’t double checked the information – though I have spoken to […]

[…] Not only does the SAD restrict fat (IMO, the most delicious macronutrient), it also restricts overall calories.  We are asked to reduce our caloric consumption to a mere 2000 calories a day–and that is probably not enough for us. […]

[…] manis (diabetes) harus mengkonsumsi tidak lebih dari 140 kalori yang berasal dari lemak setiap hari jika mereka mengikuti diet 2.000 kalori. Penderita kencing manis (diabetes) juga harus makan lemak trans seminimal mungkin. Makanan seperti […]

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