We are excited to share one of our fave stories from Prevention here on FitSugar!Only 12 percent of Americans can estimate the calories they eat in a day! Find out why we're so clueless and get easy ways to stop calorie confusion
By Mara Betsch, Prevention
You know what calories are, and you probably know that if you eat too many, you'll gain weight. But do you know how many are in your favorite deli sandwich? Or how many calories you should really eat each day? Most Americans don’t. Only 12 percent can accurately estimate the number of calories they should consume in a day someone their age, height, weight, and physical activity, according to a 2010 survey by the International Food Information Council Foundation. So what is it about calories that keeps us baffled? Last month, we shared some reasons you might be confused about calories — here are four more and the simple steps that will help you do the math.
1. Exercise makes you hungry
Though studies are mixed when it comes to whether exercise actually stimulates or suppresses appetite, many people think of working out as a way to eat whatever they like. "There’s definitely a mentality of 'I have sweated therefore I deserve,'" says Bonci. However, with most people burning about 100 calories per mile, a short workout won't give you a free pass to eat junk food. "If you walk two miles, eating a handful of chips post-workout can undo the calories you burned," says Bonci. As mentioned above, gym machines don’t accurately measure calories burned, either.
Stop the confusion: To stop an after-workout binge, fuel up pre-gym, Zied suggests. "Have something before — something with carbs and a little protein, like whole wheat toast and peanut butter or a banana and milk." Depending on the intensity of your workout, you may need something afterward as well. After a workout longer than 45 minutes, you should aim to eat about 200 calories.
2. Liquid calories are ignored
"People are spending hundreds of calories on beverages each day," says Zied. Unfortunately, a lot of those calories are from sugar-sweetened drinks and alcohol, not milk and 100 percent fruit juice. According to a 2007 study, beverage intake accounted for roughly 12 percent of total calories in 1965 and steadily increased to 21 percent in 2002 — that's 222 extra calories a day from drinks alone! Because bottled drinks often contain multiple servings, it’s best to either pour a serving in a glass or look for mini soda cans and juice boxes.
Keep reading for more info about calories and weight loss after the break.
Stop the confusion: The best way to minimize the calories you drink is to stick to calorie-free water and unsweetened coffee and tea. However, if you’re craving some flavor, consider making your own low-cal flavored water. Even though whole fruit is preferred over fruit juice, Bonci advises doing a glass check before pouring yourself some OJ. "Very few people have 6-ounce glasses, the recommended serving of juice. Most glasses are 10 to 12 ounces, which means you’re getting more than you need." If you don’t want to buy new glasses, Bonci recommends mixing juice with seltzer water for a bubbly treat
3. Snack time is more like mealtime
Between 1977 and 2006, Americans nibbled and noshed approximately 580 calories each day from snacks, according to information presented at the 2011 Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) Annual Meeting and Food Expo. Though researchers debate as to whether this uptick in snacking is causing obesity or not, they can agree that the foods people choose as snacks aren't always healthy choices. "Snack foods are tremendously popular, and Americans are eating tons of nutrient-poor, calorie-dense foods like energy drinks, candies, cookies, and cakes," says Zied. These items often come in oversized packaging, and not the recommended 200-calorie snack portion, leading to extra calories consumed throughout the day.
Stop the confusion: Instead of buying a huge jar of almonds and noshing all day, pre-portion your snacks ahead of time. Even healthy foods can cause you to gain weight if you eat more calories than you burn off, so portion control is key. Try filling up on lower-calorie foods as snacks — baby carrots, grapes, etc. — or saving half of your lunch sandwich to eat in the afternoon.
4. "Health" foods contain hidden ingredients
"The so-called health halos are everywhere," says Bonci. "But just because a cookie is trans-fat free doesn't mean it’s calorie free." She adds that buzzwords such as "natural" and "few ingredients" trigger people to think foods are healthier and lower in calories than they actually are. “Natural” foods still contain sugar, sodium, and other health-harming nutrients. Reduced fat and reduced calorie versions of your favorite foods should be eyed with caution too. "Usually when something gets taken away, something is added," says Zied. "Reduced in fat usually means the product has added sugar."
Stop the confusion: Chances are "natural" gummy bears are still going to be almost as unhealthy for you as plain gummy bears, but if you see the word "natural" on a loaf of bread, read the item’s nutrition label and ingredient list. Look for unhealthy ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup, large amounts of sodium, or small amounts of important nutrients.