How many calories do you need to cut each day to lose weight?

New research has a definite number of calories in mind to get healthy and lose weight, but is it really one size fits all?

Donut or apple?
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Losing weight isn't easy, but it is simple. You have to commit to a regular pattern of healthy choices – getting enough sleep, doing enough exercise, and eating generally healthy – on a consistent basis. Over time, sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly, the results will speak for themselves. 

There's quite a few ways to go about this in terms of exercise: some people like to do the best exercises for weight loss, stuffing their HIIT workouts with burpees and broad jumps. Others want to jump on the best exercise bike and do steady-state cardio, or go for a run. However, when it comes to diets, there's a simple rule to follow: in order to lose weight, you've got to eat less calories. 

So how many calories do you need to cut? Researchers from the American Heart Association found older, obese patients that exercised and cut just 250 calories a day – just over a pint of beer, for reference – found big improvements in vascular health, reducing the risk of blood clots and heart disease. Cutting even a small amount of calories in conjunction with regular exercise can be beneficial. 

However, if you're looking for weight loss, you might need to go bigger. The golden rule for losing weight is to eat less calories than you burn. So, the answer to "how many calories do I need to cut?" is "as many as you need to, depending on the amount of exercise you're doing".

Grilled chicken

(Image credit: Getty Images)

That could mean cutting a small amount of calories and doing more exercise. On the other hand, it could mean doing less exercise and cutting a larger amount of calories. However, we wouldn't recommend taking in too few calories to function properly – there's nothing wrong with three square, healthy meals a day and some low-calorie, beneficial snacks like a piece of fruit.

Instead, swap to healthier, lower-calorie alternatives. 100 grams of broccoli on the side of your steak, for example, contains less calories than 100 grams of fries. Instead of frying or roasting your food, dousing it in lots of vegetable oil full of extra calories and saturated fats, cook it in an air fryer, which circulates a fraction of the amount of oil around the contents with hot air currents. Never tried it? Check out our best air fryer guide.

Five simple, lower-calorie food swaps 

Below, you can find a selection of food swaps. The calorie counts come courtesy of food database MyFitnessPal.

  • Swap spaghetti pasta, 110 calories per 125g portion, for spiralised courgette, which is just 29 calories for the same amount. 
  • Swap Southern-fried chicken, 230 calories per 100g, for grilled chicken breast, 164 calories per 100g. 
  • Making a chilli? Swap ground beef, 250 calories per 100g, for finely chopped mushrooms instead, which are 153 calories per 100g.
  • Swap a 12oz cola (140 calories) for a sparkling water (just 13 calories per 120z). 
  • English breakfast tea with two sugars is 80 calories, whereas the same beverage with no sugar is just 24 calories.
Matt Evans

Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and is currently Fitness and Wellbeing Editor at TechRadar, covering all things exercise and nutrition on Fit&Well's tech-focused sister site. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen runner, gym-goer, and infrequent yogi. His top fitness tip? Stretch.