How much does caloric intake matter in a healthy lifestyle?

According to WHO (World Health Organization), one of the main risk factors for cardiovascular diseases is an unhealthy diet that leads to obesity. In recent years, more and more studies show us that the most effective method to control our weight is restricting our caloric intake.

However, caloric intake is not the only thing we need to take care of if we want to lead a healthy life. On the contrary, the improper restriction of calorie consumption can lead to various complications. So how much does caloric intake matter, and how can we make sure we’re giving our bodies the energy they need to perform their functions properly?

What are calories?

Calories are the unit of measurement that we use to describe how much energy we get from food and drinks. You will always be able to check how many calories a product has on their label.

Your body needs a certain amount of energy to perform three major functions:

  • Digestion – your body will use part of the energy provided by food to digest and metabolize it properly.
  • Physical effort – calories are the ‘fuel’ you feed your body in order to be able to exert physical effort (through doing sports, through your job work or any other intense day-to-day activity).
  • Basal metabolic rate – this defines the amount of energy your body needs to maintain the normal functioning of the main organs (heart, kidneys, brain, etc.)

The number of calories needed for these functions is different from person to person, and depends on factors such as gender, age, and body type. The average level of physical activity will also lead to different caloric needs – a person with a sedentary lifestyle will not need as many calories as a person with an active lifestyle.

The Dahna app provides the caloric intake of each recipe

The Dahna app can tell you your necessary caloric intake depending on your body

What are the dangers of restricting your caloric intake?

At first glance, caloric intake can seem very mathematical and precise:

  • If you consume more than you need, you will gain weight
  • If you consume less than you need, you will lose weight

This is why people limit their caloric intake when trying to lose weight. Indeed, limiting your caloric intake will inevitably lead to weight loss – but not necessarily to a healthy lifestyle.

Here are some reasons why excessively restricting calories below the minimum required can be harmful to health:

It can slow down your metabolism

As mentioned earlier, your body uses some of the calories you consume in the digestion process.

Well, studies show that when we consume a low number of calories, the number of calories used in digestion also decreases by up to 23%. This change can persist after the diet is stopped – which may explain why most people will gain weight back very quickly after ending a calorie-restrictive diet.

It can lead to nutritional deficiencies

Many people, when trying to lose weight, only focus on the number of calories they eat, without paying attention to what they eat. As a result, many people experience various nutritional deficiencies after calorie-restricted diets. Major deficiencies of proteins, iron, vitamins, etc. can lead to weakening of the muscles, immune system, and internal organs.

A low-calorie diet without much nutritional value will not be much better than overeating when it comes to a healthy lifestyle.

It can reduce fertility

Studies have shown that the levels of estrogen and luteinizing hormone in the female body depend on your caloric intake. Thus, it has been shown that reproductive function is reduced in women who eat 22-42% fewer calories than their body needs.

Low estrogen content may also decrease regional blood flow, resting systolic blood pressure, and heart rate in premenopausal women.

The effect of caloric restriction on male reproductive function is not that well known – more studies are needed on this topic to draw a conclusion.

It can weaken bones

A low level of hormones caused by restricting your caloric intake can also lead to long-term bone weakening. This process is irreversible, and can lead to problems such as fractures and chronic pain.

It can decrease immunity

Extreme calorie restriction can also lead to immune system problems.

A study showed that there is a difference in the quality of the immune system between athletes who try to maintain a certain body weight (e.g. gymnastics, boxing) and those who do not need such restrictions. Athletes who dieted to maintain or reduce their body weight in this study had an increased risk of infections and illnesses such as colds and flu.

This study shows that there is a possible link between the combination of calorie restriction with high physical exertion, and a low immune system.

How do we lose weight healthily in a caloric deficit?

Consuming less calories is necessary in managing your body weight, but excessive restriction can lead to other health complications.

The best way not to endanger our health is to combine a moderate caloric restriction with moderate physical exercise. Thus, if you are advised to reduce your calorie intake by 500, 300 of these can be reduced from food while the other 200 can be reduced through exercise.

 

Dahna is your best friend when it comes to healthy nutrition. In our app, you can easily calculate your daily calorie requirement to reach a suitable weight without starving yourself or harming your health. At the same time, you will receive personalized menu recommendations for your body, as well as their complete nutritional list.

Bibliography

Adaptive thermogenesis in humans – PMC

Luteinizing hormone pulsatility is disrupted at a threshold of energy availability in regularly menstruating women

Magnitude of daily energy deficit predicts frequency but not severity of menstrual disturbances associated with exercise and caloric restriction

Long-term estrogen deficiency lowers regional blood flow, resting systolic blood pressure, and heart rate in exercising premenopausal women

Dose-response relationships between energy availability and bone turnover in young exercising women

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