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Calorie Needs Vary continued...

According to the formula, a 25-year-old man who exercises 30 to 60 minutes every day with moderate or vigorous activity should eat about 2,800 calories a day, while a sedentary 65-year-old woman needs just 1,600 calories. An active 45-year-old man needs 2,600 calories, while an active woman of the same age needs 2,000 (also for 30 to 60 minutes of exercise each day).

Nestle says the formula is only useful for people who "keep calorie charts in their heads or eat nothing but processed foods with labels."

But she agrees that most people are very confused about nutrition and calories.

"If I could teach one thing to people to help them maintain weight, it would be that larger portions have more calories," she says.

Borra agrees that it is simplistic and not particularly helpful to send the message that weight loss is just a matter of taking in fewer calories than you expend. She says the USDA formula is just one tool people can use to better understand their nutritional needs.

"It is just a starting point," she tells WebMD.

Carbohydrates and Sugar Blues

In addition to calories, the survey found that there is still much confusion about the role that carbohydrates play in a healthy diet.

Three out of four people surveyed said they were trying to eat more high fiber and whole-grain foods. Almost the same number said they are trying to reduce the intake of refined sugar in their diets.

Other survey highlights included:

  • Three-quarters of those surveyed described their overall health in positive terms ("good" to "excellent"), but only slightly more than half (54%) said they were satisfied with their overall health.
  • 38% report being active for health reasons three to five days a week, but 36% reported that they are not active.
  • Three out of four people said they were trying to eat more fiber and whole grains, and 44% said they were trying to eat more omega-3 fatty acids.

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