Most people don’t really pay attention to the calories on food packaging. But what if your favorite snacks were labeled “workout brands,” would that affect our eating habits? How long exactly do you need to exercise to burn off a certain snack? Nutritionist Hella Van Laer and running coach John Rooms explain.
There are several guidelines that indicate how many calories we can consume per day to maintain or achieve a healthy weight. It also seems simple: a calorie is a measure of energy, and if you eat more energy than you use, you will gain weight. But numerous studies show that the calorie label on the packaging has little meaning for many consumers, and that few actually count their calories per day, unless they are on a diet.
In the search for an effective way to make consumers aware of their food choices and stop the obesity epidemic, both American and British researchers came up with the idea of sticking exercise labels on the packaging. Think of high-calorie foods in the form of walks, and the consequences become hard to ignore.
Unconscious eating behavior
An idea that food researcher Hella Van Laer is in favor of. “People often have a certain eating behavior unconsciously. By confronting them with the facts, they make more informed choices. By linking foods to how long you have to exercise to burn them off, you can create a more conscious attitude. When you see that frozen pizza will take you hours of exercise, you already know there can be more nutritious choices out there.”
Sticking training labels on unhealthy food can therefore raise awareness, says Van Laer. Six out of ten Europeans are overweight, the World Trade Organization (WHO) warned last year. “The time has come for more drastic measures.”
Exercise should not be an excuse to stuff yourself with junk food before or after
The world upside down
However, she also has reservations about the method. “It’s good to realize that you have to walk for 22 minutes or walk for 42 minutes to burn off a Snickers, but of course it’s not meant to be deliberately compensated for unhealthy eating through exercise. It’s the world upside down. Exercise should not be an excuse to stuff yourself with junk food before or after. These labels can also be harmful to people with eating disorders.”
Furthermore, one calorie is not the other, says Van Laer. “Calories from an avocado have a different effect on our body than those from, for example, a Twix. After you eat the last one, you will experience a sugar spike. Your body produces insulin that affects your fat burning. You will also consume almost no nutrients.”
An avocado, which provides the same number of calories, will not have these negative effects, according to Van Laer. “And that ensures that you get a lot of nutrients. In addition, you will experience a feeling of satiety, while a Twix will only make you even hungrier. So you have to look critically at the whole calorie story.”
You need to slow down to take in enough oxygen and to keep the combustion going
Age and weight also determine
Running coach John Rooms also points out that it is not so easy to put training marks on food. “Many factors – from age, weight to hormones – play a role in how much you actually have to go to burn certain foods. For example, fat burning releases about twice as much energy per gram as carbohydrate burning.”
So it seems more efficient to burn fat when you walk, especially if you want to lose weight. “But it takes more oxygen to burn it, which means you have to go slower to absorb enough oxygen to keep the burn going,” says Rooms. “On average, you can say that a person weighing 80 kg, who walks for 30 minutes at a pace of 6 km/h, burns about 200 kcal.”
It would be a mess if all these parameters got a place on the motion label. But averages that express high-calorie foods in the form of physical activity have the potential to change behavior, the experts say.
Snacks expressed in kilometers
• Donut (55 g): 200 kcal = 2 km run
• Twix (50 g): 248 kcal = 2.5 km run
• French fries (100 g): 262 kcal = 2.6 km run
• Sandwich: (2 white sandwiches) 380 kcal = 3.8 km run
• Bag of chips (100 g): 530 kcal = 5.3 km run
• Big Mac: 557 kcal = 5.5 km run
• Kebab sandwich (300 g): 654 kcal = 6.5 km run
• Bag of acid mats (200 g): 738 kcal = 7.4 km run
• Oliebollen (5 pcs): 805 kcal = 8 km run
• Pizza margherita (350 g): 812 kcal = 8.1 km run
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