Do you know how many minutes of exercise it would take to burn off that cheeseburger or chocolate bar? Our registered dietitian Susan Bowerman reveals the calories in your favourite foods and their exercise equivalents…
“If you’re watching your weight, you probably check the calorie counts of most of your foods, and use that information to help you decide whether or not you can eat it and still stay within your daily calorie budget. But, as useful as it is to know how many calories a food contains, it’s not always easy to put that number in perspective. So, here’s another way to think about your calories – instead of looking at just a number, it might be helpful to take a look at how much exercise you’d need to do in order to burn off the calories in the food you’re about to eat.
Let’s say you’re on a 1500 calorie diet, and you had a reasonable breakfast of about 300 calories. It’s coming up to lunchtime, and you’re considering a pretty hefty lunch – one that could cost you about 800 calories. You might think to yourself, “800 calories sounds like a lot, but I can probably fit it in if I’m careful the rest of the day”. But, do you think you’d make the same decision if you knew that in order to burn off those 800 calories; you would need to swim nonstop for nearly two hours?
Researchers1 tested this idea among 300 students; giving students one of three different menus, all with the same food and beverage items. One of the menus had no calorie information, another menu had the calorie counts listed for every food, and the third menu listed the calories and their exercise equivalents; telling them for example that it would take 50 minutes of brisk walking to burn off one serving of onion rings. (Brisk walking was used as the exercise equivalent, as it is an activity that everyone can relate to.)
Students who had just the calorie counts listed on their menus ate about the same amount of calories as the students who had no information on their menus – in other words, just seeing the number on the menu didn’t really make much difference when it came to food choice. But, those who had the calories listed in exercise equivalents made more careful food choices and ate fewer calories (about 160 fewer calories per meal) than those who had no calorie information at all.
A similar study2 was also done to see if providing the exercise equivalents of the calories in sugary drinks would have any effect on beverage choices among teenagers. In this case, different signs were posted in several supermarkets – one sign simply listed the calorie count of sugary beverages, another sign listed the calories as a percentage of the recommended daily intake, and the third provided the physical activity equivalent of the calories contained in the beverage, such as “Did you know that working off a bottle of fizzy drink or fruit juice takes about 50 minutes of running?”
Results showed that when just the calorie content was listed, the teens were less inclined to buy sugary drinks, but in cases where the exercise equivalent was posted, their odds of purchasing the beverages dropped by an amazing 50%!
Food and Exercise Calorie Equivalents of Popular Foods
Maybe you’ve never thought about your foods this way, so here’s your chance to test it out for yourself. Below are some “brisk walking equivalents” for some foods that you probably consume everyday. Hopefully, knowing how many minutes of brisk walking it would take to burn off them off will make you think again before reaching for that unhealthy food!”
Please note: The calories burned are based on a body weight of 150 pounds (68kg). Heavier people will burn more calories per minute; lighter people burn fewer calories per minute.
|To burn off the calories in…||You’d need to walk briskly nonstop for…|
|30 salty crisps (200 calories)||33 minutes|
|Double cheeseburger with bacon (1250 calories)||208 minutes|
|2 slices pepperoni pizza (650 calories)||108 minutes|
|Large blueberry muffin (500 calories)||84 minutes|
|750ml fizzy sugary drink (250 calories)||42 minutes|
|1 cup vanilla ice cream (525 calories)||88 minutes|
|Large chocolate chip cookie (450 calories)||75 minutes|
|Large mocha coffee with whipped cream (580 calories)||97 minutes|
|Cream cheese bagel + medium mocha coffee (800 calories)||133 minutes|
|1 slice chocolate layer cake with icing (550 calories)||92 minutes|
|30g cheddar cheese + 8 crackers (150 calories)||25 minutes|
|Croissant sandwich with ham, eggs, cheese (475 calories)||80 minutes|
|1 medium carrot (25 calories)||4 minutes|
|1 cup raspberries (65 calories)||11 minutes|
|4 cups raw spinach (30 calories)||5 minutes|
|1/2 medium grapefruit (40 calories)||7 minutes|
Susan Bowerman is Director of Nutrition Training at Herbalife. Susan is a Registered Dietitian and a Board-Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics.
1 James A, Adams-Huet B, Shah M. Am J Health Promot. 2014 Feb 27. [Epub ahead of print]
2 Bleich SN, Herring BJ, Flagg DD, Gary-Webb TL. Am J Public Health. 2012 102:329-35.