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How many calories do you need a day?

Why do we need to know our daily calorie needs?

Because everyone’s calorie needs are different. Our calorie requirements depend on our age, gender, current weight, activity levels, metabolic health, lifestyle, and other factors. 


Why is it important to know our calorie needs?

Because if we eat fewer calories than we need, we won’t have enough energy to maintain our metabolism and perform vital tasks.

But if we eat more than we need, then we’ll risk weight gain and disease. Finding a healthy sweet spot is key.

Before we continue, let’s look at the meaning of calories so that we understand what we are actually calculating.


What is a calorie?

A calorie is a measure of the energy that we obtain from food and drinks.

In food labels (Nutrition Facts), Calories are sometimes labeled as Energy and are indicated in units called kilocalories. One kilocalorie (kcal) = one Calorie. 

For the geeky ones like us, here’s another definition: a kilocalorie is the amount of heat required to increase the temperature of one kilogram (kg) of water by one degree Celsius (°C). 


What do we need calories for?

Contrary to popular belief, calories are not there just to make us fat. 

About 70 – 75% of our daily calories go into supporting vital functions such as the performance of our brain, heart, lungs, and digestive system [1]. If our calorie intake is lower than our requirements, these vital functions will suffer.

Only the remaining 25 – 30% is used by our body for physical activities like walking, taking the stairs, standing, and exercising. Naturally, if we eat more calories than required, we need to move more to burn the excess up!


Calculate your daily calorie needs

Now is time to find out how many calories you need per day. Fill in your details in our calculator below:

What do these results mean?

The number you’ve gotten from the calculator tells you how much energy, in calories, your body will need in a regular day. 

In other words, how many calories you’ll burn while carrying out your normal daily activities, according to your current age, gender, size, and activity levels.

Now you can use those results to choose your food and drinks in order to gain, lose, or maintain body weight. In broad terms, this is how it works:

  • To maintain your current weight, eat to fulfill your calorie requirements per day. 
  • To lose weight, eat fewer calories than your body needs per day. 
  • To gain weight, eat more calories than your body needs per day. 

Of course, this is an oversimplified explanation. 

Healthy body weight isn’t only the result of good eating habits. Adequate exercise levels and a healthy lifestyle also play a crucial role. 

But by carefully monitoring your intake of quality calories, you can easily keep your weight under control and reduce your risk of life-threatening conditions like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Keep reading to learn how to choose food according to your calorie needs. And don’t forget to always talk to your medical doctor before making any drastic reductions to your calorie intake!


The sources of calories

The food and drinks that we consume provide the energy (calories) we need to carry on with our daily lives. 

But not all foods give us the same amount of calories. It depends on what they’re made of. Here’s how many calories we get from some key nutrients in food and drinks:

  • Carbohydrates: 1 gram of carbohydrates provides 4 kcal 
  • Protein: 1 gram of protein provides 4 kcal 
  • Fat: 1 gram of fat provides 9 kcal
  • Alcohol: 1 gram of alcohol provides 7 kcal 


Calories in common Malaysian foods

Calories or kcal are taken from [2] and [3].

Key: healthy food has around 200 kcal per portion.

Calories (kcal)
Teh tarik, one cup (230 ml) 98
Milo, one cup (230 ml) 118
Coca Cola, personal size (330 ml) 139
Thosai 168
Curry puff 190
Apam balik 282
Pizza, 1 slice 300
Durian, 6 seeds 300
Roti canai 302
Asam laksa 377
Bak kut teh 457
Big Mac, burger only 522
French fries, small serving (71 g) 222
French fries, medium serving (117 g) 365
Hokkien mee 522
Beef rendang 545
Murtabak 564
Nasi lemak 572
Curry laksa 613
Hainanese Chicken Rice 666
Char kway teow 742

Here are some example meals using the foods on the list: 

  • Breakfast with nasi lemak and teh tarik: HIGH CALORIE

572 + 98 = 670 Calories

→ If you need 2,000 kcal per day, this breakfast alone fulfills one third (34%) of your daily calorie requirements.


  • Breakfast with a bowl of granola (40 g), 1 cup of low-fat milk (230 ml) and a banana: LOW CALORIE

196 + 102 + 90 = 388 Calories

→ If you need 2,000 kcal per day, this healthy breakfast fulfills only one fifth (19%) of your daily calorie needs.


  • Lunch with Big Mac, a small portion of fries, and a Coca Cola (330 ml): HIGH CALORIE

522 + 222 + 139 = 883 Calories

→ If you need 2,000 kcal per day, this lunch alone fulfills almost half (44%) of your daily calorie requirements.


  • Lunch with mixed rice consisting of 1 cup of white rice, 1 portion of green vegetable, and 1 portion of steamed fish (200 g): LOW CALORIE

205 + 16 + 300 = 521 Calories

→ If you need 2,000 kcal per day, this healthy lunch fulfills about a quarter (26%) of your daily calorie requirements.


If you want to know the calorie content of your favorite packaged foods, check the Nutrition Information Label for details.

Exercise and health

You can become an expert at calorie counting but when it comes to healthy body weight, calorie count alone just won’t do.

A balanced lifestyle that includes exercise is key.

Exercise boosts our metabolism, making it easier to burn extra calories. And the health benefits don’t stop there! Here are some examples of what regular exercise can do for us: 

  • Improve our mood by stimulating the release of neurotransmitters in the brain
  • Build and maintain the strength of our muscles and bones
  • Reduce the risk of chronic diseases and premature death
  • Improve brain health and memory
  • Boost our energy levels
  • Keep skin healthy
  • Reduce chronic pains
  • Protect our mental health


So, how much exercise do we need to stay healthy? 

It depends on your age and overall health. But in general, unless a medical condition dictates  otherwise, here’s the recommendation for adults aged 18 – 64 [4]:

At least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, 


At least 75 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise.


Take-home messages

  • Counting calories can help us achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, but it shouldn’t become an obsession. Focus on the quality of your food rather than on any numbers. And don’t forget to move more!
  • Many people dislike counting calories, and with good reason. If counting calories isn’t your thing, just follow the golden rule: eat less, exercise more.
  • Eating less doesn’t mean starving. It just means eating fewer high-calorie meals. You can indulge in a delicious calorie bomb once in a while, but reduce portion sizes and frequency.
  • One last thing: losing weight can be hard. Besides diet and exercise, many genetic and environmental factors can affect the outcome. But don’t lose hope: wise food choices and moderate exercise will still be tremendously beneficial to your health, even if your body seems reluctant to shake those extra Kgs off. 
  • Eat more whole foods and less processed carbohydrates and fats. Check our Grain Forest recommendations for wholesome and nutritious options for you and your family!

Low-calorie recommendations for you

  1. Harvard Health Publishing. Counting on calories. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/counting-on-calories 
  2. https://www.myfitnesspal.com/
  3. https://www.nutritionix.com/
  4. WHO. Physical Activity and Adults. 2015. 

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