In your quest for a healthier body and better eating habits, you've run your stats through a calorie calculator and found that you should be eating 1,500 calories per day. It's a good place to start, but how do you know what should make up those calories? Nutrition experts from the U.S. Department of Agriculture have figured out how much of each type of food you need to feel your best.
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Between 45 and 65 percent of your calories should come from carbohydrates -- for a 1,500-calorie diet, that's between 675 and 975 calories. The carbohydrate content of food is listed on the nutritional panel in grams, not calories, so it's important to know that carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram -- that brings your range to between 169 and 244 grams of carbs per day. Aim toward the higher end of the range if your physical activity is endurance-based, such as distance running or cycling, but stick to the lower end of the range if you do more strength-related activity such as weight lifting. Start off around 55 percent, or 206 grams of carbs per day, and adjust it up or down based on your energy levels.
Of course, it's important to choose your carbohydrate sources wisely to stay within your allowance. Fruits and vegetables are carbohydrates, and are full of vitamins and minerals that will help you feel your best. They are also low-calorie, so you can virtually pig out on them without exceeding either your carb or calorie allowance. Fiber is also an important consideration and it comes from carbohydrate foods. Men need about 34 grams of fiber per day, and women need about 28 grams. Fruits and vegetables contain fiber, but so do whole grains -- but whole grains also contain about twice as many calories per serving. About half of the food volume you eat should be fruits and vegetables, and about a quarter should be grains.
Between 10 and 35 percent of your calories should come from protein -- that's between 150 and 525 calories in a 1,500-calorie diet. Like carbohydrates, protein also has 4 calories per gram, so your daily protein allowance should fall between 37 and 131 grams of protein per day. Most people do well at about 25 percent, or about 94 grams. Weightlifters should stay toward the higher end of the range because they need more protein for muscle repair, and those with impaired kidney or liver function should stay toward the lower end to avoid placing additional burden on those organs.
Choose lean protein sources such as fish, poultry and lean meats to avoid exceeding your calorie intake. Many cuts of meat are high in fat -- fat has nine calories per gram, so it makes your calorie intake climb quickly. About 20 percent of your calories should come from fat -- that's about 300 calories, or 33 grams of fat per day. Some cuts of meat can have half a day's worth of fat in a single serving, which will derail your diet plans. Additionally, most of the fat in meat is saturated fat, which should be no more than 10 percent of your overall calories -- that's 150 calories, or 17 grams.