Learning About Cutting Calories

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How do calories affect your weight?

Food gives your body energy. Energy from the food you eat is measured in calories. This energy keeps your heart beating, your brain active, and your muscles working.

Your body needs a certain number of calories each day. After your body uses the calories it needs, it stores extra calories as fat.

To lose weight safely, you have to eat fewer calories while eating in a healthy way.

How many calories do you need each day?

The more active you are, the more calories you need. When you are less active, you need fewer calories. How many calories you need each day also depends on several things, including your age and whether you are male or female.

Here are some general guidelines for adults:

  • Less active women and older adults need 1,600 to 2,000 calories each day.
  • Active women and less active men need 2,000 to 2,400 calories each day.
  • Active men need 2,400 to 3,000 calories each day.

How can you cut calories and eat healthy meals?

Whole grains, vegetables and fruits, and dried beans are good lower-calorie foods. They give you lots of nutrients and fiber. And they fill you up.

Sweets, energy drinks, and soda pop are high in calories. They give you few nutrients and no fiber. Try to limit soda pop, fruit juice, and energy drinks. Drink water instead.

Some fats can be part of a healthy diet. But cutting back on fats from highly processed foods like fast foods and many snack foods is a good way to lower the calories in your diet. Also, use smaller amounts of fats like butter, margarine, salad dressing, and mayonnaise. Add fresh garlic, lemon, or herbs to your meals to add flavor without adding fat.

Meats and dairy products can be a big source of hidden fats. Try to choose lean or low-fat versions of these products.

Fat-free cookies, candies, chips, and frozen treats can still be high in sugar and calories. Some fat-free foods have more calories than regular ones. Eat fat-free treats in moderation, as you would other foods.

If your favorite foods are high in fat, salt, sugar, or calories, limit how often you eat them. Eat smaller servings, or look for healthy substitutes. Fill up on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Eating at home

  • Use meat as a side dish instead of as the main part of your meal.
  • Try main dishes that use whole wheat pasta, brown rice, dried beans, or vegetables.
  • Find ways to cook with little or no fat, such as broiling, steaming, or grilling.
  • Use cooking spray instead of oil. If you use oil, use a monounsaturated oil, such as canola or olive oil.
  • Trim fat from meats before you cook them.
  • Drain off fat after you brown the meat or while you roast it.
  • Chill soups and stews after you cook them. Then skim the fat off the top after it hardens.

Eating out

  • Order foods that are broiled or poached rather than fried or breaded.
  • Cut back on the amount of butter or margarine that you use on bread.
  • Order sauces, gravies, and salad dressings on the side, and use only a little.
  • When you order pasta, choose tomato sauce rather than cream sauce.
  • Ask for salsa with your baked potato instead of sour cream, butter, cheese, or bacon.
  • Order meals in a small size instead of upgrading to a large.
  • Share an entree, or take part of your food home to eat as another meal.
  • Share appetizers and desserts.

Where can you learn more?

Go to http://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

Enter V914 in the search box to learn more about "Learning About Cutting Calories".

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.