by Marion Nestle
Jul 23 2012

New data on calories reported as consumed

USDA has just released the latest figures on nutrient intakes among Americans.  These amounts are reported by a statistically determined sample of people interviewed as part of the What We Eat in America NHANES—the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

Having just published Why Calories Count: From Science to Politics, I’m interested in calories.

The survey results from 2009-2010 for calories per day for adults over the age of 20:

  •  Men          2512
  • Women     1778

How many of those calories are consumed away from home?

  • Men         35%
  • Women   30%

How are daily calories distributed?

No, the percentages do not add up to 100%.  That’s because of snacks.  What percent of calories is consumed as snacks?

  • Men       24%
  • Women 23%

No surprises here, but the figures are fun to play with.

Compared to the figures reported in Why Calories Count for 2008, the figures for daily intake are not significantly changed.

Note: These are reported figures, and remain well below the 3000 calories a day for men and 2400 for women observed in studies that actually measure calorie balance.

  • These caloric levels seem reasonable.

    How accurate do you think they are? And if the average woman is only consuming 1700 calories a day, why is the average American woman overweight?

  • Even at 1700 calories people can still gain weight as pure fat due to the way they eat the foods that make up those 1700 calories. Contrary to popular belief, it is NOT as simple as calories in minus calories out. When we eat digestively incompatible foods together, as most people do at nearly every meal, it produces acidic toxins that the body must either eliminate or store. When we’re young and still developing, elimination is much easier. As we age and continue to poison ourselves daily, however, the loss of energy that comes with that makes it necessary for the body to store the toxins instead of eliminating them, and it stores the toxins inside fat cells to buffer their acidity.

    Eating incompatible foods together at every meal is one of the main reasons so many of us spend the last half of our lives in seriously declining health and/or under intensive medical care and the financial ruin that comes with that. Correcting this one eating mistake can quickly provide relief and recovery from even chronic health problems suffered for years, including obesity, regardless of the number of calories consumed.

  • Very interesting. What is most interesting is that people are reporting that they consumed fewer calories than they probably did. Do you think this is just forgetfulness (most people don’t remember every mouthful) or do you think it’s because people eat larger portions than they think they do (thinking they ate a medium-sized baked potato when really they had an extra large one)?

  • Joe

    @Food Magick

    Once a food goes beyond the eyes, nose and mouth which are the primary ways we perceive the differences in food how does the stomach or any of the digestive organs beyond that point know what a food is? So I am perplexed as to how foods can be incompatible on the inside and not on the outside.

    Furthermore are those acidic toxins produced by those incompatible foods more acidic that the hydrochloric acid produced in the stomach as a apart of digestion?

    Finally has anyone ever noticed how certain people can eat a large amount of calories on a consistent basis and not gain weight while others seem to gain weight on little caloric intake? I agree that calories do impact weight but observably not the same in everyone of us. We all have a unique genetic make up giving us different eye color, height, hair color ect. Yet we are all supposed to be thin? This just does not compute.

  • The observed Cals seem more realistic. Every once in a while, I find myself somewhere with calorie counts, and even the smallest salad-type lunch has 700+. And that’s one meal of three, no snacks.

  • @foodmagik – I’d love to see some the studies this is based on. It seems like a plausible hypothesis as there are a number of things everyone eats that definitely meet the definition of toxin.

    @joe – Things like dairy can raise the acidity of your blood or fluids other places in the body. Your stomach is supposed to have a very low pH, but your intestines should be mostly neutral. Your blood MUST be kept in a very specific pH range, and even little changes can cause big problems.

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  • FrankG

    “These are reported figures, and remain well below the 3000 calories a day for men and 2400 for women observed in studies that actually measure calorie balance.”

    So what is the point of quoting or giving a breakdown of the statistics when they are so clearly wrong?

    Are we interested in what people are actually eating or are we interested in by how much they misrepresent it?

    Do we then assume people are “off” by the same amount for all macronutrients, or is that really a safe assumption to make? How do we know?

    It seems a futile exercise to me… like certain closed-book exams which end up being more a measure of how well the students can memorize facts (ANY facts) rather than testing their ability to apply the specific knowledge related to those facts.

    We need to be clear as to the question we are asking/answering here. What is the point?

    Maybe we need to switch focus from a metric that clearly has limited (if any) value.

    Here’s a thought: maybe people don’t just eat to feed their bodies with energy (calories)?

  • FrankG

    Or maybe we could just keep rolling out these useless statistics every few years.. knowing damn well that they are just plain misleading… not to let that stop anyone drawing all kinds of scholarly conclusions for them though 🙂

    what’s that saying..? “garbage in, garbage out”

  • “We” are interested both in how much people are reporting eating, and how much they are really eating. Not clear how either of these would be useless, they seem very relevant and interesting to me. And what does the reason why people are eating have to do with either of these things? If anything, that’s what’s irrelevant here.

    Next time someone whines how they’re not losing weight, while eating 1200 Cals/day, you can make the assumption they’re probably eating 1800.

  • FrankG

    “Next time someone whines how they’re not losing weight, while eating 1200 Cals/day, you can make the assumption they’re probably eating 1800.”

    And this new set of figures has helped with this assumption exactly how?

    No matter what rigorous analysis is done with this data, if we start off knowing that the input values are wrong, then any output is meaningless… not that this will stop judgemental people casting all kinds of moral aspersions about people who “whine” about their weight.

  • Such fascinating stats, thanks for sharing Marion! I’m interested to hear your thoughts about an article from Food Navigator this morning- about the applicability of dietary guidelines, just food for thought!

  • julie

    Frank – you’re right! Ignorance is strength!

  • When I worked on in advertising on food accounts, we’d conduct focus groups (research) and would recruit people after their purchase. Although we would have all of their purchase details, we would still ask them to tell us what they purchased. It rarely was close to accurate.

    People aspire to eat healthier than they do – we all do. Sometimes it’s a big stretch from reality.

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  • Jackiee

    I’ve got to say, I’m with Frank on this one. The only thing this information can tell us is that people are grossly under-reporting how many calories they are actually consuming (which is not surprising but good to have some some proof of at least). Besides that I’m not sure what else can be done with this information…