How much food you should eat depends on many factors, including your height, age, sex, general state of health, job, leisure time activities, physical activities, genetics, body size, environmental factors, body composition and what medications you may be taking.
How much food you eat relates to the daily calorie intake requirement - consume more each day than you use up, and you will usually put on weight, consume less, and you will lose weight.
This article explains how much individuals should eat and what types of foods should be included in a healthy diet.
Contents of this article:
Here are some key points about how much food to eat. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.
- If you consume more calories than you burn off, you are likely to put on weight
- To lose weight, reducing calorie intake and increasing the number of calories you burn is essential
- It is important to eat a variety of natural foods to stay healthy
Daily calorie requirements
The amount of food a person should eat each day depends on a huge variety of factors.
How much you should eat also depends on what your aims are: to maintain your body weight, lose, or gain weight, or prepare for a sports event.
Any focus on food intake is closely linked with calorie consumption.
Calories are a measure of how much energy there is in the food we eat. By understanding calories, it is possible to work out how much food we need to eat.
Different foods have a varying number of calories per gram or ounce of weight.
Below are some general daily calorie requirements for males and females. A low active level means taking part in 30-60 minutes of moderate activity each day, such as walking at 3-4 miles per hour. Active level means at least 60 minutes of moderate activity each day.
Daily calorie requirement for males (Source: Health Canada):
|Age||Sedentary level||Low active level||Active level|
Daily calorie requirement for females:
|Age||Sedentary level||Low active level||Active level|
People aiming for a healthy body weight will need to check the calorie content of the food they eat so that they can compare how much they are burning against their consumption.
You can learn more about daily calorie intake in our article: How Many Calories Should I Eat a Day?
How much food do I need per day?
This section explains how much of each food type we should eat per day - such as fruit, vegetables, grains, milk, and meat (or dairy/meat alternatives).
According to Health Canada, people should consume these recommended numbers of servings each day (for information on serving sizes check the next section):
Age 2-3 years
Fruit and vegetables 4, Grains 3, Milk (and alternatives) 2, Meat (and alternatives) 1
Age 4-8 years
Fruit and vegetables 5, Grains 4, Milk (and alternatives) 2, Meat (and alternatives) 1
Age 9-13 years
Fruit and vegetables 6, Grains 6, Milk (and alternatives) 3-4, Meat (and alternatives) 1-2
Age 14-18 years (male)
Fruit and vegetables 8, Grains 7, Milk (and alternatives) 3-4, Meat (and alternatives) 3
Age 14-18 years (female)
Fruit and vegetables 7, Grains 6, Milk (and alternatives) 3-4, Meat (and alternatives) 2
Age 19-50 years (male)
Fruit and vegetables 8-10, Grains 8, Milk (and alternatives) 2, Meat (and alternatives) 3
Age 19-50 years (female)
Fruit and vegetables 7-8, Grains 6-7, Milk (and alternatives) 2, Meat (and alternatives) 2
Age 51+ years (male)
Fruit and vegetables 7, Grains 7, Milk (and alternatives) 3, Meat (and alternatives) 3
Age 51+ years (female)
Fruit and vegetables 7, Grains 6, Milk (and alternatives) 3, Meat (and alternatives) 3
This is a reference amount to help us determine how much of the four groups of foods we should consume each day. Look at the examples below:
Half a regular-sized can of vegetables such as chickpeas constitutes one serving.
- Fruit and vegetables: 1 piece of fruit, ½ cup of fruit juice, ½ can of canned/frozen fruit/vegetables, 1 cup leafy raw vegetables/salad
- Grains: ½ bagel, 1 slice of bread, ½ tortilla, ½ pitta, ½ cup cooked couscous, rice or pasta, 30g cold cereal, ¾ cup hot cereal
- Milk (and Alternatives): 1 cup milk, 1 cup soy drink, ¾ cup yogurt, 1½ ounces cheese
- Meat (and Alternatives): 2½ ounces cooked fish, lean meat, poultry or lean meat, 2 eggs, 2 tablespoons peanut butter
Consuming fruit and vegetables - experts say you should consume at least one dark green and one orange colored vegetable each day. Examples of dark green vegetables include, spinach, kale, and broccoli.
Go for fruit and vegetables with either no sugar, salt, or fat, or at least as little as possible. Steam, bake, or stir fry the vegetables, don't deep fry them. Fruit and vegetables are better for you than their juices.
Consuming grains - health authorities say we should aim for whole grains for at least half our grain consumption. Go for variety, including wild rice, quinoa, oats, brown rice, and barley. Whole grain pasta, oatmeal, and breads are better than those made from refined cereals.
A good grain should not have a high sugar, salt, or fat content. Alternatives to grains that contain many of the same nutrients are beans, legumes, quinoa, and starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes and peas.
Consuming milk (and alternatives) - go for low-fat milk, consume 2 cups per day for good vitamin D and calcium intake. If you don't drink milk, have fortified drinks. When selecting dairy products, select low-fat ones.
Meat and alternative - make sure you are eating alternatives, such as tofu, lentils, and beans regularly. Have fish at least twice a week. Beware of certain types of fish for mercury exposure. Opt for lean meats, do not add salt. Do not eat poultry skin.
Rather than frying, try roasting, baking, or poaching. If you are eating processed/prepackaged meat, select low-salt and low-fat ones. Limit your overall intake of processed meats since you may have an increased risk for cancer with regular intake.
When eating carbohydrates, go for good ones, also known as slow-release or high-fiber carbohydrates. Avoid saturated fats and trans fats as much as possible; plant oils, fish, and nuts are the best sources. Make sure to get plenty of fiber. When eating fruit and vegetables, eat a variety of colors. If you are not a great milk-drinker, make sure your consumption of calcium is adequate.
If your main concern is to know how much (quantity) food you should eat, you still have to be aware of their calorie values. With high-calorie foods, the quantity will have to be less, while with lower-calorie ones you can eat more.
Severe calorie restriction
Some people claim that severely limiting daily calorie intake can extend overall lifespan. Previous studies found that half-starved roundworms live much longer than well-fed ones. Other animal studies have come to similar conclusions.
Scientists from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge explained in the journal Nature (August 2012 issue) that the two main factors that influence lifespan are good genes and a healthy, well-balanced diet.
The researchers, led by Don Ingram believe that many previous studies were flawed; they compared bad high-calorie diets with very-low-calorie bad diets. In other words, there was no control.
They explained that their 25-year study using rhesus monkeys on very-low-calorie diets did not help them live longer.
Conversely, five portions of fruit and vegetables per day help people live longer - a team from the Karolinska Institute, Sweden, reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (July 2013 issue) that if you eat your "five-a-day" portions of fruit and vegetables, you are likely to live longer.