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Know the calorie cost of food on your plate

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By Gabriella Boston
Special to The Washington Post
If you knew that a 12-ounce chocolate chip frappe (530 calories) would cost you up to two hours of brisk walking, would you still order it?
New research shows that when we have "exercise cost" information readily available, we are less likely to make unhealthful food choices.
The research, by Meena Shah at Texas Christian University, shows that when restaurants give not only the calorie content but also exercise-cost information, customers tend to make better choices.
"It's helpful because it puts calories in context," said Scott Kahan, director of the National Center for Weight and Wellness.
Without that exercise-cost context, people tend to underestimate calorie content in various food and overestimate the number of calories burned while exercising, said Nicole Brown, a dietitian with practices in Washington, D.C., and Springfield, Va.
For example, it would take a 130-pound person two hours and 35 minutes of housecleaning to burn about 525 calories, about the amount in that frappe.
Or do you prefer vigorous jumping jacks?
A little over an hour of those and our 130-pound person will have burned off that drink. Vigorous bicycling? We're looking at just under an hour.
"If a client wants to lose weight, we look at ways to promote a calorie deficit," Brown said. Most of that deficit will come from the "food part," but the moving part will also play a role, she said.
Kathy Glazer, a dietitian and owner of, says she's not convinced that the exercise-cost menu information will work for everyone.
"A very overweight teenage kid who eats for comfort probably won't skip the cheeseburger because the menu has the calorie count and the exercise cost posted," she said.
If you do go to a restaurant, be prepared, Glazer said. Look for code words such as "crispy" and "crunchy" (generally fatty) as well as "grilled," "baked," "steamed" and "dressing on the side" (more healthful food choices).
Story tags » Nutrition

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