30 April 2013 Burn Off that Cheeseburger!

It's a safe bet that if you're using MyNetDiary, you're counting calories. But what if there was a different way to think about the energy value of food. What if you counted minutes of exercise per food instead? A clever new study from Texas Christian University suggests that minutes of exercise may be more informative.

Here's how this study went:

  • The subjects, men and women aged 18-30, were divided into 3 groups.
  • Each group was given a menu and told to order food. The food on all the menus was the same, and included burgers, fries, salads, desserts, chicken sandwiches and beverages.
  • One group got a standard menu. One group got a menu with calorie counts posted next to the items. The third group got a menu with an unusual measure: minutes of brisk walking to burn off the food (MBWTBOF).

In fact, minutes of walking is really just another way to say “calories”, since exercise is fueled by calories. But now those calories are put in a real world context. And apparently it got the attention of the research subjects. While people ordering from the regular and calorie count menus chose roughly the same amounts of food and calories, the people with the MBWTBOF menus ordered lower calorie meals.

Brisk walking is in the 3+ mph range. The faster you walk, the more calories the activity will burn per minute. Here's a look at how many minutes of an activity a 150 lb person would need to burn off various popular food items

Food Walking(3 mph) Jogging (10 min mile) Bike ride Moderate effort
McDonald's Double Quarter Pounder with cheese 180 min 64 min 90 min
Starbuck's Grande Mocha Latte 80 min 30 min 40 min
8 oz bag potato chips 295 min 105 min 150 min
14” Pepperoni Pizza — 2 slices 155 min 55 min 80 min
1 cup (1/2 pint) Ben & Jerry's chocolate ice cream 120 min 43 min 61 min
1 cup raw broccoli 4 min 1 min 2 min

Are you more inspired to avoid eating that handy 8 oz bag of potato chips because it will take you 5 hours to burn off? Or because the label says 1230 calories? Actually, the label probably does not say 1230 calories. It will say “one serving (1 oz): 154 calories”. But will you just eat 1/8th of that bag?

In fact, using a MBWTBOF measure on a food label has some problems, aside from the very awkward name. First, the value is not absolute. It will vary according to age, weight, gender, fitness level and your definition of “brisk” walking. Second, it doesn't account for basal metabolism, which users of MyNetDiary know is their individual basic daily calorie requirement. Exercise calories are in addition to that requirement. So thinking about a food as something you have to burn up only with exercise is wrong. Some of those calories would be used for basal metabolism. And again, since all of this varies according to age, gender, fitness, health status, height and weight, it would be impossible to put all this on a food label.

Which takes us back to calories. The amount of calories in a food is an absolute number. If you understand your own calorie requirement, you can make use of that information, whether you find it on a food label or a menu. And whether your exercise of choice is brisk walking or stationary cycling or dancing or swimming.

Here are 10 of the top calorie burning activities:

  1. Bicycle riding, very fast (15 mph or faster)
  2. Rowing machine, very vigorous effort (200 watts)
  3. Running 8 minute miles or faster
  4. Running up stairs
  5. Jumping rope (100+ skips per minute)
  6. Kayaking, rowing or canoeing with vigorous effort (competitive)
  7. Swimming — training or competitive
  8. Ice skating competitively
  9. Cross country skiing
  10. Snowshoeing

But you don't have to take on any of these demanding activities. A brisk walk is just fine for health, fitness and burning off some of that cheeseburger.

Donna P. Feldman MS RDN

Nutrition journalist at Radio Nutrition

Co-host: Walk Talk Nutrition podcast.

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Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.


Dining Out/Portion Size & Calories Exercise/Aerobic & Cardio

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