Extra Calories Spend Wisely within Your Budget

You need calories for two key reasons: some to keep your body functioning and some to power your physical activity. Together those calories add up to your total calorie budget. For calorie basics, refer to chapter 2.

Calorie "essentials" are the minimum amount to meet your nutrient needs. Following MyPyramid advice—by choosing lean, low-fat, and fat-free forms of foods and by eating the recommended amount of oils—supplies that amount. The leftover is discretionary calories that reflect the extra energy (calories) you can eat to match your energy expenditure. Call them "your choice" calories!

Make food choices to get your nutrients, then decide how to spend the extra calories! If you made good nutrition "buys" from the food groups (nutrient rich and relatively low in energy density), you may have calories left in your calorie budget. The best nutrition "buys" are generally the most nutrient-rich. You can spend your "extra" discretionary calories on luxuries like solid fats (higher in saturated fats), added sugars, and alcoholic drinks, or on more foods from any food group. For more about nutrient density and energy density, check later in this chapter.

Your Guide to Amounts

How do 3 ounces of meat look? How about V2 cup green beans, 1 cup cooked pasta, or 1V2 ounces cheese? To guess-timate, use visual clues to compare food amounts to everyday objects.

For vegetables, fruit, dried fruit, beans, rice, pasta, cereal, yogurt, shredded cheese: V4 cup = 1 large egg 1h cup = 1 small computer mouse 1 cup = 1 3-inch diameter baseball

For milk and juice:

1 cup = 8-ounce carton V2 cup = 4-ounce carton

For meat, poultry, or fish:

2 to 3 ounces = 1 standard-size deck of cards

For nut butter, nuts, seeds, oils, salad dressing, and spreads:

2 tablespoons = 1 roll 35mm film 1 tablespoon (1 ounce) = 1 nine-volt battery

For cheese:

1V2 ounces = 2 nine-volt batteries

For bread:

1-ounce slice = 1 computer disk

For a potato:

1 small = 1 small computer mouse 1 medium = 1 baseball

For an apple:

1 3-inch diameter = 1 baseball

For French fries:

V2 cup (10) = 1 standard-size deck of cards

How It Works. Assume your calorie budget is 2,000 calories per day. Of these calories, you need to spend at least 1,750 calories on foods that deliver essential nutrients. You'd spend that many calories if you chose wisely from the food groups. You now have 250 discretionary calories yet to spend. Now think about your meals and snacks: how will you spend them? You can:

  • Eat more nutrient-rich foods from any food group—more than what you need to match your healthful eating plan.
  • Or eat some higher-calorie versions of food-group foods, with a little more solid fats or added sugars. A few examples: whole milk, cheese, sausage, biscuits, sweetened cereal, or sweetened yogurt.
  • Or flavor your meals with some added fats or sweeteners, perhaps with sauces, salad dressings, sugar, syrup, or butter—or more healthy oils.
  • Or enjoy a small portion of candy, soft drinks, wine, beer, or other calorie-dense foods.

Whatever option you choose, go easy. Many people take in more "extra" calories than they need to maintain their weight, consuming more fats, added sugars, and alcoholic drinks than their discretionary calorie allowance—perhaps even before lunch! Your discretionary calorie allowance probably isn't very big. Before you know it, those calories can get spent in higher-calorie choices, such as higher-fat meats, cheese, whole milk, or sweetened baked foods. Typically people have just 100 to 300 extra calories to spend, especially if they don't move much.

Good news: the more you get your body moving, the more "extra" calories you have to spend. Physical activity is the best way to get more discretionary calories to spend! Notice that MyPyramid also offers advice about physical activity, addressed in other chapters.

Save Calories, Spend Elsewhere. Are some of your favorite foods higher in calories—perhaps in fat and added sugars, too? You don't need to give them up, but just figure out how to fit them in. It's your food choices and calories over the course of the day or several days that count. For example, save calories so you may have room to spend discretionary calories elsewhere.

  • Enjoy a baked potato (without a high-fat topping) for supper rather than French fries, so you may fit a small dish of ice cream in your calorie budget.
  • Top homemade pizza with reduced-fat, rather than regular mozzarella, so you may enjoy a cookie later as a snack. Top French toast with sliced fresh peaches, rather than syrup, which is mostly added sugars.
  • Enjoy fruit canned in natural juices as a snack, rather than fruit packed in syrup, to save on calories for jam or honey on your dinner biscuit.
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