Eating Healthy-Creating Life long Habits

The combination of new technology resulting in sedentary lifestyle and the availability of high-fat, low-cost, fast foods has led to a remarkable increase of obesity in North America. This also includes children, who locally, have obesity rates approaching 30%. There are many books and articles describing the long-term medical, psychological and social effects of obesity. However, there are few resources offering practical tips on how to become aware of the amount of calories you need to eat on a daily basis. I hope this column helps in this regard.

How many calories do we need?

This depends on the age of the person. In general, for children up to 5 years of age there is a simple calculation. Start at a base of 1,000 calories and add 100 calories for each year of your child's age. So, a 1 year-old would need approximately 1000 plus 100 calories for 1 year, or 1100 calories/day. A 2 year-old would need 1000 plus 200 calories for 2 years, or 1200 calories/day, and so on. Healthy adult males need about 2500 calories a day while the average healthy woman needs about 2100 calories per day. This of course varies, depending on one's size and level of daily physical activity. When you know your daily caloric need, you can make the right decisions about what to eat and more importantly, about how much to eat. I cannot over-emphasize the importance of reading the labels to find out how many calories are in a particular meal or snack. Knowing the fat, salt and sugar content is important too. However, the total amount of calories you ingest determines whether or not you will gain or lose weight.

Putting it into perspective

As an example, one goes to a local fast food restaurant or convenience store for a snack at the end of the day. Let's assume this person has already eaten about 2000 calories worth of food that day. Most would automatically assume that a muffin would be a healthy snack. Unknowingly, some muffins have many more calories than you would think. Surprisingly to many, some contain up to 850 calories/per muffin. If you eat this frequently, you can easily see that you will be eating more calories than you need. Extra calories are stored as fat in our bodies resulting in weight gain. It is important to always be aware of the amount of total calories you have eaten. At first, this may be a bit time consuming and impractical, but as you get used to counting, it will become easier and almost automatic. Another value to remember is 500 calories. Specifically, by cutting out 500 calories per day from your food intake, you can lose about 1 pound per week. If you exercise on top of this, you may lose a bit more. Adopting this approach not only makes sense for adults, but it is a good way to teach children about a healthy lifestyle that they can practice for the rest of their lives too.