What Does 2,000 Calories Really Look Like?

In-N-Out Cheeseburger | Photo: jussi, with some heavy editing/Flickr/Creative Commons License

In our society, there are a few "magic numbers" that just seem to hold a little more weight than the rest. Some of them are lucky (16 is both my birth date and Joe Montana's jersey number, meaning it's the best number of all time), some are unlucky (13 and 666 are both harbingers of doom), and some of them just are (without 23, we wouldn't be able to distinguish fans of Michael Jordan, without 1099 we'd never remember to do our taxes, without 1999 we'd never know how to party, and without 3.14 we'd never be able to do, well, whatever it is architects use it for). But in the food world, there's one number that stands out above all others:


Look at any nutritional information on any food you have lying around and there it is. See where it says that such-and-such number of sugar grams are such-and-such percentage of a daily recommend allowance? That percentage is based on the number 2,000, which the FDA believes is the amount of calories an adult should be ingesting on a daily basis in order to be healthy.

Now, the actual legitimacy of that number is certainly up for debate. The Atlantic has a pretty compelling case that the number should actually be a tad higher:

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. The agency requested public comments on this proposal and on alternative figures: 2,000, 2,300, and 2,400 calories per day.

2,000 ended up winning the argument for a number of reasons -- for example, it's close to the caloric requirement for menopausal women, a group that's prone to weight gain -- but most importantly, it was simply a nice, round number people could remember. 2,350? Who knows what that means. 2,000, though? That's so full of zeroes it's easy to understand!

Except, it's not really. 2,000 is a number, not a piece of food. You can't eat "2,000." So, what does that look like in real food? The folks over at Buzzfeed put together a video that puts the 2,000 calorie count in visual terms. Despite the fact that they're most likely using data that's certainly inaccurate, the video sure is an eye-opener:

For those of you who are too scared to click play on the above video for fear of your boss catching wind of your Internet-surfing ways, a few highlights: You can get your 2,000 daily calories from a mere 2.27 Cinnabons, 3.8 Big Macs, 18.2 bottles of Budweiser, 285 almonds, 60 carrots, or a whopping 50 strips of bacon! (If you had to choose to get your calories from one item, who wouldn't pick the bacon option?)

Now, taking their lead, it's time to give this calorie counting a little L.A. bent and see how many iconic foods around town you can fit into your 2,000-calorie day if you were to take the plunge and only eat one:

- In-N-Out cheeseburger, loaded, with onions: 4.1666
- Philippe's French Dip sandwiches: 4.76
- Glazed donut from Randy's Donuts: 5.55
- Lost Abbey The Angels Share barley wine at, say, someplace like Mohawk Bend: 5.33 snifters
- Pastrami sandwiches at Canter's Deli: A tad over 3
- Barbacoa taco with lamb at Valentino's: 5.81
- Chili cheese fries at Pink's: 2.5
- Black coffee from Intelligentsia: 40
- Salmon Veggie Bowl from WaBa Grill: 4.88

Keep in mind, all of the above calorie counts are estimated, with most of the numbers coming from third-party calorie counters rather than the restaurants themselves. But, still. I think the big lesson we've learned from all of this is maybe let someone else order those chili cheese fries at Pink's. But feel free to eat a bunch of bacon instead!

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About the Author

Rick Paulas has written plenty of things, some of them serious, many of them not, scattered over the vast expanses of the Internet. He lives in Los Angeles and is a White Sox fan.
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