Information on the nutritional content and calories in common Nigerian foods are very scarce. Without this information, it is difficult to get a reliable estimate of how much energy you consume in a day. You may also find it difficult to lose weight if you’re trying to follow a calorie-controlled diet.
What is a Calorie?
When you eat food, your body breaks it down into energy to fuel your cells and tissues. Nutritionists and scientists count the amount of energy your food provides in units of Calories (Cal]). By eating 1g of carbohydrate for example, you provide your body four Calories (kcal) of energy.
Kilojoules is another way to quantify the energy from food, but many scientists and food manufacturers prefer to use Cal. Moreover, diet magazines usually use Cal, so we are all used to seeing energy quantified that way.
How many Calories should you be eating?
The amount of Cal you should be eating depends on your gender, your level of activity and your basic metabolic rate (BMR). Your BMR is the amount of energy you burn in day without doing any activity, basically sitting or lying down all day.
You can calculate your BMR by doing this simple calculation:
Men: 10 x weight (in kg) + 6.25 x height (in cm) – 5 x (age in years) + 5
Women: 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (in cm) – 5 x (age in years) -161
A 25 year old lady who weighs 55kg and is 160cm has an estimated BMR of:
(10 x 55kg) + (6.25 x 160cm) – (5×25) – 161 =1,264 Cal
For this lady to stay alive, she needs to eat at least 1,264 Cal per day. She will need to eat a bit more so that she has enough energy to carry out normal day-to-day activities, and even more if she exercises.
If she is sedentary or has an office job where is sits down for most of the day, she will need to eat her BMR x 1.2 = 1517 Cal
If she is lightly active: BMR x 1.375 = 1,738 Cal
If she does high intensity exercise: BMR x 1.55 = 1, 959 Cal
If she does very high intensity exercise (athlete level): BMR x 1.95 = 2, 465 Cal
|Activity Type||Calories you need daily|
|Sedentary (Office job with little or no activity)||BMR x 1.2|
|Lightly active (Walking 1 - 2x per week)||BMR x 1.375|
|Moderately active (High intensity activity 3x per week)||BMR x 1.55|
|Highly active (Athlete level)||BMR x 1.95|
If you who want to lose weight, you should subtract 500 Cal from your BMR, but you should never eat less than 1000 Cal in a day if you’re a woman, and 1200 Cal if you’re a man, without medical supervision.
How many Calories in Nigerian foods?
Scientists/nutritionists work out the Cal content of a food by determining the amount of carbohydrates, protein and fats it contains per gram. They do this with the help of an equipment known as a calorimeter.
- Carbohydrates provide 3.75 Cal/g
- Proteins provide 4 Cal per/g
- Fats provide 9 Cal/g
- Alcohol provides 7 Cal/g
Packaged food in Western countries usually provide the kcal content of food per 100g. So, if you eat 50g of the food, you can easily calculate how many kcal you have eaten.
Unfortunately, the same is not true for food in Nigeria, but some of this information is available. The kcal content of some common Nigerian food is presented below.
Calorie content of common Nigerian foods
|Food||KCAL / 100g||Protein / 100g||Fat / 100g||Carbs / 100g||Fibre / 100g|
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Determining the Calorie content of a cooked Nigerian meal
When you cook a portion of food, its Cal content will depend on the amount of each raw ingredient you use. For instance, if you cook a pot of jollof rice with:
- 250g of raw white rice – 889 Cal
- 50g of groundnut oil – 412 Cal
- 600g of raw tomatoes – 108 Cal
The number of Cal in the whole pot will be approximately 1409 Cal. You don’t need to count the calories in seasonings and spices including onions, garlic, because they’re negligible.
If you eat the whole pot of rice, you would have consumed all of the Cal, but if you eat half of it, you’ll only have 705 Cal.
In Nigeria generally, we don’t measure the amount of ingredients we cook with. So, most people are unaware of the number Cal in their food. In addition, no two people cook the exact same way. So even though your pot of jollof rice contains 1409 Cal, another person’s may contain 2000 Cal or 1000 Cal. Put simply, you will never have a good estimate of how many Cal there are in your food unless you measure out your ingredients.
The reason I’m explaining this is because I often see websites stating that a portion of food (egusi and beef for example) contains a defined amount of Cal. Once again, the number they state will only be true if they measured the amount ingredients they used prior to cooking it.
They will also need to have calculated how many Cal the whole pot provides, and how many people it will feed. Then after that, determine how many Cal there are per portion. Only then will the figure they state be accurate.
Considering that most of us don’t have access to the number of Cal in each of our traditional foods, it is highly unlikely that the figures that they state are accurate. Secondly, and as I mentioned earlier, recipes and cooking styles vary from person to person. So I implore you to ignore those figures and do your own calculations based on your cooking methods.
Should you count the Calories in your food?
If you’re trying to lose weight or maintain your weight, counting Cal may be a good idea. It will give you a rough estimate of the amount of food you should be eating to achieve your goal.
However, I wouldn’t suggest that you keep counting Cal for the rest of your life. Once you can measure by eye how much food you should be eating, stop counting Cal. You could put yourself at risk of developing an eating disorder if you become too obsessed with counting Cal.
My advice to the above question is this: count Cal to help you determine how much food you should be eating. Once you get a good idea of that, stop counting and only use them as a reference when you eat something new or if you’ve lost track.
I hope this post has given you more of an insight into what Cal are and how to count them. If you have any questions about this post, feel free to contact me.