Cold, hard numbers are hard to translate into real life experience, so they often lose their meaning. They are just too abstract. That’s why the calories per serving listed on food labels do not dissuade many people from eating them. Also, they can sometimes be misleading, as one small soft drink can be split into 2 or 3 servings, making the calorie count appear smaller than it actually is.
So what if instead of the number of calories, food companies listed the amount of time it would take to burn off those calories through exercise? Walking at the reasonably brisk speed of 3 to 5 miles per hour and running at 5 miles an hour would be a great way to measure.
Just imagine. A sugary soft drink, listed at 138 calories doesn’t seem like a huge splurge. But when you take into account that you have to spend an extra half hour on the treadmill, it might give you pause before indulging.
Another example is a chicken and bacon sandwich, which rings in at 445 calories but requires one hour and 22 minutes of walking or 42 minutes of running to burn it off. And maybe you should pass up that blueberry muffin unless you plan on spending 48 minutes walking or 25 minute running to burn it off.
This sort of real-life representation might lead people to eat less in lieu of spending more time in the gym. Because, let’s face it, we only have so much time and energy to exercise. You can’t burn off the sandwich, the soda AND the muffin you had for lunch, in just one sweaty session, without going super hard.
We can call this innovative type of labeling, “calories with consequences”. And just maybe, it would make it harder to eat mindlessly and with ignorant bliss. Sure, this wouldn’t dissuade people who don’t watch their health or weight anyway, but for people who are concerned, it’s a much better way to communicate the consequences of what they are eating.
Of course, food companies are not too motivated to make this switch. Their aim is to sell you as much food as you can possibly eat. So if you are intrigued with this way of representing calories you can make the conversion yourself in your head. If 100 calories means 20 minutes of brisk walking or 10 minutes of running, you can do the math yourself. So next time you are eyeing that small bag of potato chips, that ring in at 171 calories, ask yourself if you are willing to spend an extra 31 minutes walking or 16 minutes running to burn it off?
Lastly, if you are interested in maintaining your health or weight loss, don’t just take calories into account. The quality of the food you eat is also very important. Eating sugary foods with fat but little protein or fiber, will stimulate your insulin response and cause your body to store more fat.
Besides, it’s all too easy to slurp down 150 calories of soda, but it’s a lot more work to eat the equivalent calories in baby carrots, as you’d have to consume 45 carrots in a sitting. That’s hard to do, even with yummy dip.
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If you are trying to eat clean and healthy it’s important to pay attention to not just the chemicals and preservatives intentionally put in your food, but also to the ones found in the food packaging and manufacturing materials used to make it.
The problems with some processed foods is that they are made in factories where they come into contact with vinyl gloves worn by workers or can run through plastic factory tubing. This exposes the food to chemicals known as phthalates, which are used to make plastics more flexible and durable. These chemicals can also be found in soaps, cosmetics, flooring, window blinds and other products.
So what’s wrong with phthalates? The health consequences are not fully known, but research in rats have shown that they can disrupt the male reproductive system. The Environmental Protection Agency is concerned about phthalates because of how pervasive they are and the evidence of their toxicity. In other words, phthalates are everywhere, so people need to make extra effort to avoid them.
The Japanese government has banned the use of vinyl gloves in their food prep factories because of their concern about DEHP, one of the common forms of phthalates. The European Union has also limited the use of these chemicals in the production of food and children’s toys.
While the U.S. also limited the use of DEHP in the production of children’s toys in 2008, no such restrictions apply to food. This is likely because agencies like the American Chemistry Council says they’ve thoroughly studies phthalates and they don’t pose risk to human health at typical exposure. But there are other studies that contradict their findings.
One such study found alarming results. This recent study looks at how fast food companies expose consumers to chemicals like phthalates. They analyzed data from 9000 people from federal nutrition surveys. The data used urine samples along with a questionnaire. They discovered that people who ate fast food in the last 24 hours had elevated levels of industrial chemicals in their bodies. The top three chemicals found in their bodies were two forms of phthalates and BPA, a chemical used to line aluminum cans.
The study can’t conclusively say that fast food exposure is responsible for the elevated levels of chemicals in their body but the correlation is strong. So for people who are interested in reducing their exposure to environmental chemicals like phthalates, it’s not enough just to avoid junk foods. They should also be more conscious of how their prepared food is processed and handled.
According to Leo Trasande, associate professor of pediatrics, environmental medicine, and population health at NYU School of Medicine, people who are concerned about phthalates should avoid eating highly processed and highly packaged foods. Canned vegetables or organic milk that’s been piped through plastic tubing could carry the same chemical risks as unhealthy foods.
Canned foods should come in BPA-free containers and it’s always best to buy organic foods that are fresh and in their original form, like the kind your great grandparents used to eat. Shopping at a farmers market guarantees your food is minimally processed. Cooking from scratch is the best bet to avoid chemical exposure. And according to the researchers of the fast food study “it’s always best to try to eat lower on the food chain.”
And if you are concerned about your past exposure to chemicals phthalates, it’s always a good idea to do a cleanse to get the toxins out of your body. The 21 Day Body Makeover is a great cleanse to start with.