42 McNuggets or 2.27 Cinnabons: What 2,000 Calories Looks Like

A video explores the mysterious FDA recommendation on all nutritional information labels.

Inspired by a post on WiseGeek, this Buzzfeed video set out to see how far 2,000 calories actually goes when you eat, say, only carrots or M&Ms. If you're worrying that these "meals" just don't look like that much food, relax: 2,000 calories is "only enough to sustain children and postmenopausal women." Marion Nestle explains the rationale behind the FDA's recommendation: 

From USDA food consumption surveys of that era, the FDA knew that women typically reported consuming 1,600 to 2,200 calories a day, men 2,000 to 3,000, and children 1,800 to 2,500. But stating ranges on food labels would take up too much space and did not seem particularly helpful. The FDA proposed using a single standard of daily calorie intake--2,350 calories per day, based on USDA survey data ...

Despite the observable fact that 2,350 calories per day is below the average requirements for either men or women obtained from doubly labeled water experiments, most of the people who responded to the comments judged the proposed benchmark too high. Nutrition educators worried that it would encourage overconsumption, be irrelevant to women who consume fewer calories, and permit overstatement of acceptable levels of "eat less" nutrients such as saturated fat and sodium. Instead, they proposed 2,000 calories as:

  • consistent with widely used food plans
  • close to the calorie requirements for postmenopausal women, the population group most prone to weight gain
  • a reasonably rounded-down value from 2,350 calories
  • easier to use than 2,350 and, therefore, a better tool for nutrition education

For more videos from Buzzfeed, visit the YouTube channel

Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg is the executive producer for video at The AtlanticMore

Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg joined The Atlantic in 2011 to launch its video channel and, in 2013, create its in-house video production department. She leads the development and production of original documentaries, interviews, and other video content for The Atlantic. Previously, she worked as a producer at Al Gore’s Current TV and as a content strategist and documentary producer in San Francisco. She studied filmmaking and digital media at Harvard University.

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