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How much exercise does it take to burn off food?

We looked at 7 menu items from popular restaurant chains to see what it would take

by James Grosz ConsumerAffairs Research Team
how much exercise does it take to burn off food

More than 70 percent of American adults are overweight, and 40 percent meet the criteria for obesity. This epidemic has many contributing factors: genetics, socio-economic environment, physical activity or inactivity and food marketing promotion.

Many consumers assume if a product is advertised as “natural” or “organic” then it must be healthy. When surveyed, about 30 percent of Americans said they prefer organic foods, and nearly 70 percent said that they had purchased some kind of organic food in the last month.

However, it’s debatable whether organic foods are always safer or healthier than inorganic foods. The Center for Global Food Issues, which is part a conservative think tank called the Hudson Institute, reported that organic foods account for only 1 percent of the food supply, but 8 percent of all E. coli cases in the United States. In comparing the health effects of organic vs. conventional foods, the Annals of Internal Medicine concluded, “The published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods. Consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.”

Since the FDA does not regulate words like “natural” and “organic” on food labels, it can be hard to tell what’s good for you vs. what’s just good marketing.

When it comes to losing weight, this is what we know for sure: your body will store untapped energy for later, and the calorie surplus is what makes you fat. Put another way, calories consumed – calories burned = calories gained.

What does it take to burn off your food?

Below are 7 popular menu items from national restaurant chains, and a guide for how long you would have to exercise to achieve a calorie balance. Calculations are based on a 155-pound, 5’10’’ adult male, so the results may vary somewhat by weight and gender.

subway

1. Subway’s 6’’ Veggie Delight + White Macadamia Nut Cookie

Nutrition count: 460 calories, 13.5 grams of fat, 73 carbs

How to burn it off: 50 minutes of burpees, 3.9-mile jog or 180 flights of stairs

Let’s say you get a 6’’ Veggie Delight sandwich on 9-grain wheat bread. That’s just bread and two servings of (non-organic) vegetables, and it’s 230 calories, 2.5 grams of fat and 44 carbs. The average person will burn that away with just 25 minutes of burpees, a.k.a. squat thrusts, or a two-mile jog. Think you deserve a cookie now? One white chocolate macadamia nut cookie from Subway has just as many calories as the 6’’ Veg, 11 grams of fat and 29 carbs. Your lunchtime dessert just doubled your evening jog. Or, you could climb 180 flights of stairs—same as the First National Bank Tower in Omaha, Nebraska—to break even.

chipotle

2. Chipotle’s Chicken Burrito

Nutrition count: 1,105 calories, 40.5 grams of fat and 119 carbs

How to burn it off: 118 minutes of burpees, 9.5-mile jog or 221 flights of stairs

Like Subway, Chipotle makes your food in front of you, and so orders are highly customizable. If you get a flour tortilla with chicken, brown rice, black beans, queso, tomatillo-red chili salsa and sour cream (skip the guac to save coin and 230 calories), you’re looking at 1,105 calories, 40.5 grams of fat and 119 carbohydrates. That’s enough energy for 118 consecutive minutes of burpees or a 9.5-mile jog. Or, you could climb up all the stairs in the New York City’s Bank of America Tower—twice!

panera bread

3. Panera Bread’s Lentil Quinoa Bowl with Chicken

Nutrition count: 400 calories, 9 grams of fat and 49 carbs

How to burn it off: 42.5 minutes of burpees, 3.4-mile jog or 84 flights of stairs

Panera, ranked the healthiest fast food restaurant by CBS News, has been promising customers healthy options for years. Their Lentil Quinoa Bowl with Chicken comes in at 400 calories, nine grams of fat and 49 carbs. You could spend those calories on a short-ish jog (3.4 miles), 42.5 minutes of burpees or you could take the stairs to the very top of a 42-story building, most preferably the Sky Pool in Houston, Texas.

starbucks

4. Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte

Nutrition count: 200–510 calories, 0–21 grams of fat and 39–66 carbs

How to burn it off: 21–54 minutes of burpees, 1.6–4.5 miles of jogging  or 40–102 flights of stairs

A lot can go wrong this Pumpkin Spice Latte season. Even the most basic healthy person needs to understand the nutritional consequences of their seemingly inconsequential ordering habits. Considering a Tall Pumpkin Spice Latte with nonfat milk and no whip contains 200 calories, 0 grams of fat and 29 carbs, you’d have to do burpees for 21 minutes or jog for 1.6 miles to burn that off. To expend the 510 calories, 21 grams of fat and 66 carbs of a Venti Pumpkin Spice Latte with whole milk and whipped cream, however, you’d need to perform 54 minutes of burpees or jog for 4.6 miles.

Or, think of it this way: to burn off the 200 calories of the smaller, non-fat seasonal favorite you’d have to take the stairs to the 20th floor of the Olympic Tower in Manhattan, but to burn off the larger, fattier option you’d have to climb all the way to the top, 51st floor.

chick fil a

5. Chick-Fil-A’s Original Chicken Sandwich

Nutrition count: 490 calories, 19 grams of fat and 40 carbs

How to burn it off: 52 minutes of burpees, 4.2-mile jog or 98 flights of stairs

For a hand-breaded boneless chicken breast on a toasted, buttered bun with dill pickle chips, 440 calories, 19 grams of fat and 40 carbs doesn’t sound so bad. Adding Zesty Buffalo Sauce brings the calorie count up to 490, enough energy for a four-mile jog, 52 minutes of burpees or to climb all 98 flights of stairs in the Wynn Las Vegas.

mcdonalds

6. McDonald’s Southwest Grilled Chicken Salad

Nutrition count: 350 calories, 11 grams of fat and 27 carbs

How to burn it off: 37 minutes of burpees, 3-mile jog or 70 flights of stairs

Boneless chicken on a blend of lettuce, spinach and kale with roasted corn and tomatoes, Poblano peppers, black beans, lime juice and cilantro isn’t the worst thing you can order at McD’s, and at 350 calories, 11 grams of fat and 27 carbs, it’s not the worst thing for you either. Burn it off with 37 minutes of burpees or a three-mile jog—the same distance from Yankee Stadium to the Bronx Zoo. Or, take the stairs to the top of the 32-floor Beau Rivage Casino Hotel, the tallest building in Mississippi.

cheesecake factory

7. Cheesecake Factory’s Outrageous Cheesecake

Nutrition count: 1,530 calories and 85 grams of fat

How to burn it off: 162 minutes of burpees, 13-mile jog or 306 flights of stairs

This cake has everything. It has chocolate cake, coconut and pecans, creamy chocolate frosting, golden brownie pieces and, of course, cheesecake. It also has 1,530 calories and 85 grams of fat, which means you’d have to jog for 13 miles, do burpees for a grueling 162 minutes or climb 306 flights of stairs to burn away just one slice. That’s 50 more flights of stairs than the second-tallest building in the world, the 128-floor Shanghai Tower. Consider splitting this with a friend, or at least someone you can jog with.

Takeaways

It’s shocking that a lunch at Chipotle is almost as many calories as a decadent dessert at Cheesecake Factory, especially since Chipotle’s menu is chock-full of (unregulated) phrases like “pasture-raised.” Something to look forward to: Chick-Fil-A announced that by the end of 2019, none of their chicken products will be treated with antibiotics. In the meantime, it never hurts to be a little skeptical of embellished labels and advertising buzzwords.

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by James Grosz ConsumerAffairs Research Team

James is a junior data scientist on the ConsumerAffairs Research Team. When he's not combing through data, James enjoys coding games and playing with his cat Simba.