Thursday, March 1, 2012

Eating Trends and Tips for Energy Balance

March is National Nutrition Month, so it is a great time to think about balancing food intake and physical activity, a key factor for energy balance, or weight management. We know it is an ongoing challenge, but we will look at some new research and ways to make it easier.

Let’s look at both sides of this calorie balance issue. Many people are unaware of how many calories they should consume each day. The total number of calories a person needs each day varies for each person. Age, gender, weight, height and level of physical activity must be considered. For women, it is estimated that they need between 1,600 to 2,400 calories a day, while men need 2,000 to 3,000 calories a day. For a good estimate, go to the new Super Tracker found You can also track your energy balance by adding your daily food and physical activity. There are also many free weight management apps for smart phones and tablets. Look for those that have a solid nutrition analysis (including iron, fiber, calcium, potassium since many are lacking) and let you monitor your progress over time.
A good tip for how much to eat at a meal is to choose no more than one third of your total daily calories. Many restaurants, prepared foods, and newer recipes are listing the nutrition information per serving. Consider how much you will eat compared to the serving size provided; sometimes you may be eating double the calories based on the smaller serving size listed. When choosing foods, look at the ingredients and serving size provided, and choose a smaller portion size, especially when the calories are high. When you are trying to monitor your caloric intake replace foods that are high in calories with foods that are more nutrient-dense (more nutrients per calories) and beverages that are low- no calories like water. Unfortunately, according to recent studies from the National Cancer Institute, most of the top five sources of calories for all ages are more calorie dense than nutrient dense: grain-based desserts (cakes, cookies, pies), pizza, sodas/energy/sports drinks, yeast breads, and chicken/chicken mixed dishes. In this case, we recommend always to “Enjoy you food, but eat less,” the new quarterly message from USDA’s MyPlate.

Research has shown that the percentage of carbohydrates, protein and fats in our diets to manage our calorie balance or lose weight is not as important as the overall amount of calories consumed and maintained over time. Carbohydrates include sugars, fibers and starches. Sugars and starches can be found naturally in foods and can also be added to foods. Although the largest percentage of our diets is carbohydrates, which our body needs for energy, many people consume too much added sugar and refined grains and not enough fiber. There is moderate evidence increasing nutrient dense and low energy dense whole grains, fruits and vegetables will help with achieving calorie balance and healthy weights. Reducing added sugar from drinks and prepared foods has strong evidence, especially in kids, to reduce weight gain and maintain calorie balance.

Adding protein to meals and snacks can help with reducing hunger by slowing meal digestion. Animal sources include seafood, meat, poultry, eggs, and milk products while some plant sources include beans, peas, nuts, seeds and soy products; consuming more plant-based and fish sources are encouraged, as they are lower in calories and promote heart health.

http://www.choosemyplate.govAnother way to increase nutrient density and lower caloric density is reduce fried foods, and higher fat cuts of meats and milk products. Choose fat-free or lower fat cheese, milk, salad dressings, or make your own with healthier olive or canola oil. Compare food labels and choose products with lower fat, saturated fat, and no trans-fat.

Having a balance between the food consumed and physical activity will help a person to control their weight and health. Studies continue to show many people do not get the recommended physical activity; at minimum 60 minutes daily for children and 75 (intense) -150 (moderate) minutes weekly for adults. Becoming physically active also has health benefits such as reducing the chances of premature death, many chronic diseases, and risk factors that cause disease.
Setting a goal to walk more with a friend, or family member to exercise with, will increase your chances of improving your energy balance and leads to more success. Likewise, consider signing up for a new exercise or nutrition/cooking class with your family or friends. Making one small step towards a healthy change with a fun, new activity will increase the chances everyone will benefit. For more information, go to and click on health and nutrition for classes in your county or 4-H programs, or contact your local office.


  1. Thanks Lynn for the article on energy balance. I started losing weight successfully when I started counting my daily calorie intake and exercising. Many people will focus much on exercising and ignore how much they eat.

    Eating most of your calories in the morning and afternoon will help you loss weight. Reason being you have the whole day to burn those calories.

    Thanks for sharing

  2. This is a good common sense Blog. Very helpful to one who is just finding the resources about this part. It will certainly help educate me.

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