What Does the “2,000-Calorie Diet” Really Mean?

I often look at nutrition labels on food products. Sometimes, I want to know what all the ingredients are. Other times, I’m curious or concerned about the fat, sodium or sugar in what I am about to buy or eat.

One thing I’ve noticed each time is that, in the small print, it says the information provided for the daily values is based on a 2,000-calorie diet. It can be confusing–does that meant we should eat 2,000 calories daily, or is there a better way to use this information?

The 2,000-calorie diet explained

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) uses the 2,000-a-day-calorie diet as the example it bases its percent daily value and daily values for food labels on. This is actually not a recommendation to eat 2,000 calories a day. It also isn’t meant to imply that a diet of 2,000 calories daily is necessarily worse or better than other diets, such as 2,500 or 1,200 calories per day.

The FDA uses this figure because many Americans will, in fact, eat around 2,000 calories day. So, by using this figure, the nutritional information provided on food labels is likely to be useful to the widest audience.

What should your diet be?

Your daily calorie needs are actually somewhat unique to you. They are based on gender, activity level, personal weight goals and body sizes. A women who is moderately active and 30 years old, for example, would consume around 2,147 calories each day to maintain her current weight. However, a taller man of about 70 who is sedentary would need to consume just 1,828 calories daily to maintain his current weight.

If you want to lose or gain weight, you would adjust your calorie intake down or up accordingly. If you’re not sure how many calories you are consuming right now, keep a detailed food diary for a typical week. Log everything you eat and drink, including portion sizes, and be sure to include everything. Once your week is up, research the items you’ve listed to estimate your calorie count for each day. For an average, add all the calorie totals together from the whole week and divide that figure by seven.

Once you know how many calories you consume each day, you can adjust your diet so it’s in line with your current weight goals. You may be surprised to find just how many calories you consume some days!