Nutrition

Calories, protein, carbohydrates and fat: how much do I need?

By: Cara Rosenbloom, RD

Getty Images Author: Canadian Living Credits: Getty Images

Nutrition

Calories, protein, carbohydrates and fat: how much do I need?

By: Cara Rosenbloom, RD

Not sure you're getting enough? Pretty sure you're getting too much? Use this crib sheet to help you improve your nutrition by ensuring you're getting the right amount of calories, protein, carbs and fat.

Track your daily calorie, protein, carbohydrate and fat intake using our online Food Journal.

Just like your car, your body needs fuel. But how much and what kind?

Calories
Calories provide energy to the body. Your daily calorie requirements depend on your age, gender, height, weight and exercise level.

The average Canadian woman requires 1,500 to 2,200 calories each day, with about 1,800 calories being the norm.  

If you're trying to lose weight, pay attention to your calorie intake. If you eat more calories than your body needs, you'll gain weight. Eat fewer calories than required and you will lose weight.

Calories come from protein, carbohydrates and fat.

Protein
You need to get 10 to 35 per cent of your calories from protein. This means you'll need roughly 50 to 145 grams of protein each day.

Protein requirements are based on body weight. To figure out the minimum amount of protein you need, multiply 0.8 grams of protein by your weight in kilograms. (If you don't know your weight in kilograms, find it by dividing your weight in pounds by 2.2).

Getting enough protein each day is easy. A 75 gram serving of meat, chicken or fish has about 18-22 grams of protein. A cup of milk, a 50 g serving of cheese or ¾ cup of beans has 10 grams. Vegetables, fruit and grains also have protein. It all adds up to help you meet your daily needs.

Carbohydrates
The average 1,800-calorie diet should contain between 210 and 290 grams of carbohydrates each day, which is equal to 45 to 65 per cent of your daily calories.

Many people are surprised to learn that the need for carbohydrates is so high – it's about half of your daily calories! Since carbohydrates are the main source of energy for the body and brain, they are an important component of a healthy diet. If you've tried a low-carb diet and felt lethargic or your thinking felt a little 'fuzzy', you've felt the effects of low carbohydrate intake.

Carbohydrates are not technically essential to your diet since the body can make fuel from fat and protein. However, removing carb-rich foods will limit your meal selection and could result in fibre, vitamin and mineral deficiencies. While there is no doubt that low-carb diets can help with weight loss, studies show that low-fat diets are equally effective.
 

Types of carbohydrates:
• Complex: these come from vegetables, grains (such as bread, pasta, cereal) and legumes (like beans and lentils)
• Nutrient-poor simple: sugars
• Nutrient-rich simple: fruit, milk
• Fibre: whole grains, vegetables, fruit and legumes

For an optimal diet, limit your intake of nutrient-poor simple carbohydrates and choose more fibre-rich carbohydrates. Fibre is a non-digestible carbohydrate, which means that our body does not break it down. Instead, the fibre creates intestinal bulk and helps keep our bowels moving regularly. Aim for 25-35 grams of fibre each day.

Fat
The average 1,800-calorie diet should have between 40 and 65 grams of fat per day (20 to 35 per cent of calories). The type of fat you eat is very important.

Bad fat: Saturated fat, found in full-fat dairy products and meat, should account for no more than 10 per cent of your total calories (that equals no more than 20 grams each day for an 1,800 calorie diet). Your intake of trans fat, which is found in processed foods made with partially hydrogenated oil, should be close to zero. High intakes of bad fat can increase your cholesterol levels and raise your risk of heart disease.

Good fat: The main sources of your dietary fat should be oils, nuts, seeds and fatty fish. The Canada Food Guide recommends a small amount – about 2 to 3 tablespoons – of unsaturated fat each day. Unsaturated fats are found in oils (like olive, canola, sunflower and peanut) and products made from oil, such as non-hydrogenated margarine and salad dressing. Eating unsaturated fat instead of saturated or trans fat can help lower your cholesterol levels and decrease your risk of heart disease.

Since fat is essential in the diet, it's important to include good fats every day. It's also vital to meet your daily need for essential omega-3 and omega-6 fats. Omega-6 fat is easy to get since it's found in virtually all types of oil. Omega-3 fats are harder to find. For women to meet the daily recommended intake of 1.1 grams, their diet should contain fatty fish, canola oil, flax, walnuts and omega-3 enriched products like milk, cheese, eggs.

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Nutrition

Calories, protein, carbohydrates and fat: how much do I need?