women eating
photo: iStock

Of the many phrases we read over and over again in our lives (“Are you sure you want to shut down your computer now?”), this one may take the cake: “Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.”

It’s printed on every nutrition label of every piece of pre-packaged food you eat. And according to government research, it could be totally off base.

According to data from the National Institute of Medicine, compiled by FitFolk, the vast majority of people need way more than 2,000 calories a day.

average calorie graph
photo: FitFolk

Researchers from the Institute followed 382 women, ages 20-70, and charted how many calories they burned per day. The researchers found that the average woman burns 2,365 calories per day.

That’s right: The typical American woman burns almost 2,400 calories over the course of a day. That 2,000-calories-a-day suggestion? Bogus.

Plus, the 2,400-calorie mark is only suggested for women in the middle of the pack. Those who are taller, more active, or just have higher metabolisms could need a lot more. In fact, the researchers found that 65% of women have an average calorie need between 2,000 and 2,800 calories a day. Only 20% of women need less than 2,000.

So where did this 2,000-calorie lie we keep repeating actually come from? Straight from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

According to Marion Nestle, author of “Why Calories Count: From Science to Politics,” the FDA actually fudged its numbers way back in 1993. At that time, the National Academy of Science (NAS) recommended an average of 2,200 calories a day for women, and 2,900 for men.

When the FDA set out to make a standard nutrition label for all packaged foods, they suggested a 2,350 calories a day as a jumping-off point for both men and women. Consumers revolted. In public comments, they said 2,000 calories was much more in line with what they ate. (Studies show most people largely underestimate the number of calories they eat.)

The FDA buckled. They ignored the scientific evidence and put the 2,000-calorie recommendation on their labels.

“It was the best of a bad situation,” Michael Jacobson, Ph.D., executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told The Huffington Post. “In order to put out a label at all, we had to draw a line in the sand somewhere.” 

The moral of the story is, nutrition is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor.

According to the Medical Institute data, women can require anywhere from 1,200 to 3,600 calories a day. So listen to your body. Eat when you’re hungry. Stop when you’re full.

Don’t let a nutrition label run your life.

Graph courtesy of FitFolk

h/t LifeHacker