As rates of overweight and obesity have been rising steadily, health professionals are scratching their heads trying to determine the cause. Is it genetics? Maybe. What about simple sugars like High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)? Possibly. Our sedentary lifestyles? Also a likely contributor. But none of these truly hold the key to stopping this epidemic. What if it all came down to portion size?
It has been estimated that over the past 20 years, the portion sizes of some of our favorite foods have dramatically increased. When compared to foods that were available in the 1980’s:
- The average restaurant hamburger is now 23 percent larger
- Sodas are now 52 percent bigger
- Pre-packaged snack foods like chips and pretzels are 60 percent larger
(Source: USA Today, 2003)
Researchers are discovering that when we presented with larger food and drink portions, we tend to consume more. When we are given less, we consume less. Additionally, when we are served a smaller portion we typically report the same level of satiety as if we had eaten the larger portion. These phenomena have been replicated by researchers time and again. If you are looking to cut back on your portions, there are simple ways to go about it. But first, we need to understand portions of some common foods along with some helpful reference sizes.
When you are on the go and cannot consult your entire set of measuring cups, use the reference sizes above. These will help provide you with a reasonable estimate of whether your portions are adequate or if they need to be trimmed down. When dining out, another helpful tip is to immediately cut your entrée in half and have the server place it in a to-go container. If your meal remains in front of you as you wait for the check, you will likely continue to pick at it and finish it off. That may equate to an extra 100-150 calories!
Another simple tip to help keep your portions under control is to simply serve your food in smaller bowls and cups and on smaller plates. A standard-sized plate is about 9 inches in diameter. When you purchase paper plates at the supermarket, most are this size. But when you dine out, restaurants often serve appetizers and entrées on plates that are twice this size. This often results in overeating. When we eat and drink from smaller dishware we typically eat less and feel just as satisfied afterwards.
Lastly, when we think about staying trim and eating nutritious foods it can be helpful to take a moment and examine your plate before you eat. When about half of that 9-inch plate is filled with brightly colored vegetables like spinach, red bell peppers, carrots, and tomatoes you are on the right track. Then, take a look at your grain and protein portions. About one quarter of the plate should contain a lean protein like fish, chicken, turkey, beans, or lentils. In the last section of your plate, be sure you have a whole grain carbohydrate like brown or wild rice, quinoa, or whole wheat pasta.
Large portions may be the new norm, but you now have the knowledge and resources to be a critical consumer. The simple steps outlined above, when followed over time, can lead to lasting health and wellness!