This Is What 2,000 Calories A Day Actually Looks Like

Not all calories are created equal.

19/10/2016 10:23 AM AEDT | Updated 20/10/2016 4:52 PM AEDT
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"Unhealthy food is unhealthy food, no matter how many calories it has."

Ever wondered what the recommended daily energy intake looks like in a day? And not the social media recommended diet of 500 calories' worth of fruit and acai bowls. A realistic, balanced, healthy amount of energy in a whole day.

In Australia, the benchmark figure for an adult's average daily energy intake is 8,700 kilojoules, or 2,000 calories.

But that's just a bunch of numbers to many of us. To help us understand what 2,000 calories of food actually looks like in one day, The Huffington Post Australia spoke to two dieticians.

"According to Food Standards Australia New Zealand, we eat on average around 8,700 kilojoules a day. This figure is widely used as a benchmark as the basis of food labels, such as the 'Percent Daily Intake' values," dietitian Robbie Clark told HuffPost Australia.

Although used as a guide, the amount of energy we need varies between individuals and depends on our age, height, metabolism, weight, exercise activity and more.

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Active people require more energy than those who are more sedentary.

"8,700 kilojoules has been defined as the average daily energy requirement for Australian adults. Obviously this is just an estimate as, for example, taller people, men and people who do more activity have greater needs than others," accredited practising dietitian, Jemma O'Hanlon, told HuffPost Australia.

"It's a little like body mass index (BMI) being an estimate of how healthy your weight is. It's only an estimate and is not meant to be applied to the individual person."

"The actual number of kilojoules you require will vary depending on your age, gender, life stage (if you're growing or are pregnant as this requires more energy), weight, height, disease state, how physically active you are and what type of activity you engage in," Clark added.

To find out how much energy you need each day, use this calculator as a guide.

Regardless of how many kilojoules or calories you need, it's important we get our energy from a healthy, varied diet. Despite what we believe, the calories in a pizza are not the same as calories from a healthy stir fry.

Unhealthy food is unhealthy food, no matter how many calories it has. Calories from nutrient-dense foods versus nutritionally-poor foods will have different effects on the body.

"Firstly, not all calories are created equal. This is a very common misconception -- that a calorie from fruit is the same as a calorie in pizza," Clark said.

"This may be true when they're on the plate since all 'calories' have the same amount of energy. However, the calories on paper are not necessarily the calories we actually receive due to the human body being a highly complex biochemical system with elaborate processes that regulate energy balance."

Furthermore, the calories in fat, protein and carbohydrates (the three macronutrients) have a different biological influence on satiety, metabolic rate, brain activity, blood sugar and the way our body stores fat.

"Secondly, unhealthy food is unhealthy food, no matter how many calories it has. Calories from nutrient-dense foods versus nutritionally-poor foods (for example processed or refined carbs) will have different effects on the body," Clark explained.

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This breakfast will keep you more full than a McDonald's burger of the same amount of calories.

"Healthy, nutrient-dense foods will keep hunger at bay, help maintain stable blood glucose levels, reduce cravings, and allow your brain to signal to your stomach that it's full. Nutrient-poor foods will have the opposite effect, causing hormonal dysfunction, spiking insulin levels, increasing cravings, suppressing satiety signals and encouraging overeating."

O'Hanlon agrees, saying it's important we focus on the bigger picture when it comes to our diets, and to not get too caught up in counting calories.

"All kilojoules certainly aren't made equal. We could eat two Dominos ham and cheese pizzas and hit out daily target of 8,700 kilojoules or we could eat 20 Tim Tams and have the same result, but this doesn't make up a nutritionally balanced diet," O'Hanlon said.

"It doesn't give us the vitamins and minerals that our bodies need every day, nor does it provide the right balance of carbohydrates, proteins and good fats.

"[Counting calories] is such an odd an unnatural way of eating. It would be very hard to maintain the social enjoyment of eating if the focus was purely on kilojoules."

Eugene Mymrin
This doesn't mean we can't ever have pizza or that it's 'bad', just not every day.

However tasty junk foods are, constantly eating this way could be a recipe for ill health.

"Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can also cause us to get sick. For example, if we're not getting enough iron, we can feel tired and lethargic all the time, and are more likely to catch a cold," O'Hanlon said.

By eating a variety of nutritious whole foods -- such as whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables and lean protein -- it helps your body function at its best.

"To put it simply, it's important to eat enough food so you are meeting your recommended dietary intake of nutrients to sustain good health," Clark said. "If you're not consuming enough calories or lack variety in your diet, you will be at risk of malnutrition and possible nutrient deficiencies."

"Our bodies are well conditioned vehicles, but we need to provide them with the right type and amount of fuel to allow them to function at their best," O'Hanlon said.

"If we only put half a tankful in, we're not going to be able to get very far. And there's no point in overfilling the car, because it's made to hold a certain amount."


Here's what 2,000 calories of food look like in one day for a range of different diets.

1. A healthy, balanced diet


  • ½ cup muesli
  • 3 tablespoons natural or Greek yoghurt
  • ¾ cup fresh mixed berries
  • Sprinkle of cinnamon

Morning snack:

  • Regular skim latte


A large salad consisting of:

  • 1 cup salad greens
  • 1 x 90g tin tuna, drained
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic, lemon juice and olive oil dressing
  • ¼ small avocado
  • A small handful of cherry tomatoes
  • ¼ cup capsicum
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin seeds


  • 1 apple
  • Handful of walnuts


  • 160g chicken breast, cooked
  • ½ cup steamed broccoli
  • ½ cup steamed beans
  • 1 small carrot
  • ½ cup green peas
  • ½ cup quinoa, cooked
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 glass of wine


  • 2 squares dark chocolate

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2. An unbalanced diet


  • 2 slices Turkish bread toasted, topped with butter and Vegemite
  • Large full cream cappuccino

Morning snack:

  • 1 slice banana bread from a cafe


  • Large beef burger with tomato, lettuce, cheese and sauce
  • Large fries
  • 600ml coke bottle

Afternoon snack:

  • 1 mug tea with full cream milk


  • Nothing! You've used up your total daily intake of 8,700 kilojoules

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Make sure your brekkie has complex carbs (e.g. oats or whole grain toast), protein (yoghurt or eggs) and healthy fats (nuts or avocado).

3. The 'average' daily diet


  • 2 Weet Bix
  • 1 cup reduced fat milk
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 banana

Morning snack:

  • Choc chip muffin
  • Cappuccino made with regular milk
  • 1 teaspoon sugar


  • Toasted cheese and tomato sandwich
  • Tub of strawberry yoghurt, reduced fat

Afternoon snack:

  • Muesli bar
  • Apple


  • Spaghetti with bolognese meat sauce topped with grated cheese
  • 1 glass red wine


  • 2 Tim Tams

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Swap your white bread for whole grain bread to increase the fibre.

4. A 'fast food' way to reach 8,700 kilojoules


  • None

Late morning:

  • Gloria Jean's large white chocolate mocha
  • Cafe banana bread, toasted with butter


  • McDonald's cheeseburger (without fries)
  • 375ml Coke can

Afternoon snack:

  • None


  • Supreme pizza, thin crust


  • 53g Mars Bar

From looking at these diets, it's easy to see that if you eat a lot of fast food, it won't take long to reach 8,700 kilojoules. A whole foods diet, on the other hand, allows you to eat a lot more for the same amount of energy.

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