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6 handy tips to help get you slimmer by summer

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post “6 handy tips to help you get you slimmer by summer”

You an also read it HERE.

With summertime right around the corner, as a nutritionist helping people shed unwanted pounds, I get calls from clients for simple tricks to lose weight, whether to be able to fit into last summer’s bathing suit or just be healthier.

Indeed, we have far too many overweight people who need to lose weight, not just in the U.S. but throughout the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that since 1980 worldwide rates of obesity have doubled, and in 2014, more than 1.9 billion adults were overweight. Yikes!

The key to losing weight — and keeping it off — is not following the diet de jour of the day. Rather, it is to be able to trim your portions and be mindful of how much you eat.

Having spent a good part of my career studying the link between portion sizes and obesity, it has become obvious to me that if we can learn to recognize how much food we should be eating (and then actually eat that amount), we would be much thinner, and would not need the wacky diets being promoted today. (After all, who want to walk around hungry and grumpy as Jeb Bush reported feeling when following The Paleo Diet?)

When people think of portion control, however, they often think of measuring cups and food scales, and then want to run the other way. However, I do not regularly recommend weighing food for the long term, especially because it is not practical. And because we eat out so often, where portion-control becomes all the more important, we need simple tools to help us guesstimate our food portions.

When I developed my Portion Teller program, I developed the “handy method” to help you guesstimate your portions: comparing your foods to different parts of your hand. It’s not a perfect comparison because everyone’s hand is a different size, but even if it’s not an exact science, it is very useful. And if your hand is larger than average, you can probably can eat more food than someone with a smaller hand.

Here are six handy tips to help you estimate just how much of your favorite foods you should be eating.

1. Cereal flakes

It is very easy to pour too much cereal into your favorite bowl. A tight fist is around a cup of cereal, which is an appropriate portion for most of us. Top the cereal with fat free milk and berries and your bowl will fill up fast.

2. Meat, poultry, or fish

Most restaurants serve us far too much meat, often giving us nearly an entire pound’s worth. The palm of your hand is around 3-4 oz. Eat no more than 1-2 palms’ worth of meat, fish, or chicken per meal. The trick is to fill up half of your plate with veggies.

3. Mixed nuts

Nuts make for a great snack. Because they are high in fat and calories, however, it is so important to watch your portion. If you eat shelled peanuts or pistachios, you can see the shells, thereby unconsciously getting you to eat less. Many of us, however, carelessly nibble on nuts and end up overeating without realizing. My recommendation is to spread one layer of nuts on your palm (around ¼ cup) and stop there! Don’t fall into the trap of just picking at nuts straight from the bag… because, before you know it, the entire bag will be empty.

4. Cheese

It is very easy to eat too much cheese, especially if you are at a cocktail party. We nibble on cheese with a glass of wine, and before we know it, we’ve eaten more than 1,000 calories. With my “Handy Method,” however, just grab two index fingers’ worth of cheese (approximately 2 ounces) and you are set. Just think of a peace sign! And remember, if you’ve eaten more cheese than you have fingers, you definitely overate.

5. Peanut butter

Who doesn’t love eating peanut butter straight from the jar?! It can be a dangerous practice, however, if you are trying to watch your calories. On my program, you can eat peanut butter and still lose weight. Just follow my “rules of thumb” for a healthy serving of peanut butter. Aim for three thumb tips’ worth of peanut butter which equals around one tablespoon (3 teaspoons).

6. Popcorn

When we think of popcorn, we often think of the movie theater — a typical food trap, with its bottomless bags of popcorn. A bag of popcorn at the movie theater often holds 20 cups, far too much food for one person. Many of us are watching a movie and absent-mindedly digging into our oversize bags grabbing piece after piece. Before we know it, we’ve eaten the entire bag.

If you want an idea of how much popcorn you’re eating, scoop out one rounded handful. That’s about 1/2 cup. Or, cup both your hands together, and scoop out a mound of popcorn. That’s a cup. A healthy popcorn serving contains 3 cups of popcorn. Hold the butter.

We’d love to hear from you if you have a “handy” tip or a favorite trick to help control your portions.

Follow Dr. Lisa Young on Twitter: www.twitter.com/drlisayoung

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Calorie counts on menu boards may help us eat less

Below is my latest blog post “Calorie counts on menu boards may help us eat less.”

You can also read it on Huffington Post by clicking HERE.

After much anticipation, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finally announced its final regulations requiring food establishments with 20 or more locations, including restaurants, fast-food chains, movie theaters, and pizza places, to state the number of calories in their menu items. And those calories will be visible; the font size of the calorie counts must be, at least, the same size as the food item name and/or price.

The regulations came out of a 2010 provision of Obamacare. Americans spend nearly half their food budget on foods eaten away from home, and these foods make up nearly a third of the calories consumed. We ought to know how many calories are in these foods.

New York City, California, Vermont, many New York State counties, Philadelphia, King County (WA), and others have already implemented calorie labeling policies. And a handful of restaurants, such as McDonald’s, Au Bon Pain, and Panera already post calories on menu boards nationally.

Next year when these rules are set to take effect nationally, if you go to a movie theater, you will see how many calories are in your oversize jug of soda and a bucket of popcorn, both large enough to feed an entire family. I hope that after seeing this information, you will consider skipping these treats or sharing them.

FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg said in the press release: “Making calorie information available on chain restaurant menus and vending machines is an important step for public health that will help consumers make informed choices for themselves and their families.”

Will posting calories actually help us make better choices and eat less?

While the evidence is mixed, I remain optimistic and so do other nutrition policy experts.

New York City has required chain eating establishments to post calorie counts on menu boards since 2006. As a New York City resident, I have been able to see some of the results. I recall seeing one of my favorite Starbucks treats, the marshmallow dream bar, originally contain around 400 calories when posting calories first went into effect. Today, at my local Starbucks, the treat weighs in at 240 calories.

I hope that requiring eating establishments to post calories will encourage companies to make their products smaller and reformulate them to contain less fat, sugar, and ultimately fewer calories.

Some companies, in addition to Starbucks, are already marketing healthier choices, perhaps, at least in part, as a result of calorie labeling, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a nutrition advocacy group in Washington D.C. Several popular chains have introduced smaller portions on their menus, such as: California Pizza Kitchen’s “Small Cravings,” The Cheesecake Factory’s “Small Plates & Snacks,” and T.G.I. Friday’s “Right Portion, Right Price.” Other eating establishments cut calories from some of its menu items. The chain Cosi, for example, introduced a new “Lighten Up! Menu,” featuring lower-calorie versions of menu items.

And if we have absolutely no idea how many calories our favorite foods contain, we sure will know when calorie counts are posted at our favorite eating chains nationwide.

Marion Nestle , my NYU colleague, author, and nutrition policy expert says “Calorie counts work for people who look at them and understand what they mean. They certainly work for me. If I see that a slice of pizza is 750 calories (not impossible), I don’t buy it. That’s more than a third of what I can eat in a day. Everyone is always saying that education is the first line of intervention in obesity and that people have to take personal responsibility for what they eat. Calorie labeling ought to help with that.”

Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at CSPI, issued a similar sentiment. She told me that “Menu labeling will allow people to make their own choices about what and how much to eat. It also provides an incentive for restaurants to improve their menus and add items lower in calories. Unfortunately, most restaurants’ regular and children’s menus are dominated by high calorie choices that are hard to fit into a healthy diet, especially given how much most people eat out these days.”

It is my hope that when adopted nationwide, requiring chain eating establishments to post calorie counts of our favorite foods will help us make better food choices and order smaller sizes while also encouraging these establishments to market healthier options with fewer calories. And, we can do as Dr. Nestle does: don’t buy foods that comprise a third of our daily calorie budget. These are certainly steps in the right direction to help reverse the obesity epidemic.

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5 easy tricks to avoid portion distortion

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post “5 easy tricks to avoid portion distortion.”

You can also read it HERE.

The portion sizes of foods we commonly consume are too big. Look around and just about everything is available in jumbo sizes. Soft drinks, French fries, coffee drinks, steaks, burgers, bagels and muffins have all grown in size. Indeed, many food portions are now two to five times larger than they were 50 years ago. I discuss this phenomenon known as “portion distortion” in great detail in my book The Portion Teller Plan and my research papers.

Why are large portion sizes such a problem? Large portions are particularly problematic because the more we are served, the more we eat. Eating more translates into more calories, and ultimately, many of us, gain weight. And lots of it. It is no surprise that we have an obesity epidemic in the U.S. and around the world.

An extensive review from Bond University found that we eat more if we are served more. The researchers reviewed 88 existing studies on the topic. They found that when people are given a portion twice as big, they will eat around a third more food. that is pretty significant and can translate into many more calories in the course of a day, a week, and a year.

Steven Holden, one of the Bond University authors, wrote on his blog, …”In addition to being substantial, the effect is robust, even pernicious. Larger portions lead to greater consumption even across conditions of bad food, where the portion size is not visible, and among people who should know better.”

So, the next time we go out to eat, or even eat at home, how can we not fall victim to this portion size trap?

Here are five easy tricks.

1. Choose the smallest size available.

These days, many foods come in multiple sizes. The small size is your best option, and is probably not even small. Consider the smallest Starbuck’s cappuccino. It is 12 ounces and labeled “tall.” It is not even called “small” ( a word often considered taboo in our oversized food culture.). Next time you have a choice on a size, order a “small” or whatever the small size may be called.

2. Steer clear of bulk sizes, at least when it comes to food.

Many of us like shopping in Costco and other warehouse stores where just about everything comes in bulk and in jumbo sizes. Bigger sizes cost less per unit (or per ounce so) they are appealing. However, try avoid them when you can. As it is often hard to resist eating a reasonable size portion. If you want to buy tissues and paper towels in bulk, no problem. But limit the cookies that come 50 to a box, or muffins that are jumbo sized and come in an eight-pack. Your waistline will be happier.

3. Mind your plate size.

The bigger the plate, the more we tend to pile on and eat. And plate sizes have increased right along with our food sizes and waistlines. Here is how you can use plate size to your advantage. Eat your salad (dressing on the side, of course) off of a larger dinner plate, and use a smaller plate for your entree. This can encourage you to eat more of a lower-calorie healthy salad and a smaller portion of your main dish, which so often consists of meat and mashed potatoes. Similarly, try using a larger bowl for your fresh berries and a smaller bowl for your breakfast cereal which most of us usually tend to over pour.

4. Eat with your stomach, not your eyes.

You know the expression, “your eyes are bigger than your stomach”? It certainly applies to how so many of us deal with our portion sizes. We pile on the food, taking more than we need, and then we are… stuffed. I suggest tuning in to your internal bodily signals and eat till you are satisfied. Wait before taking doubles or feeling the urge to finish what is on your plate. Eat slowly and put your fork down between bites.

5. Fill up on fruits and veggies.

Focus on including more healthy fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the day. Because fruits and vegetables are relatively low in calories, you can have a larger portion, and the fiber will make you feel full. This may make it easier to resist the urge to overeat on processed foods and unhealthy desserts. Try including a fruit or vegetable serving with each meal and snack.

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5 healthy foods you can easily overeat

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post “Portion alert: 5 healthy foods you can easily overeat.”

You can also read it HERE.

As a nutritionist, I counsel many clients who know what foods to eat to lose weight and be healthy. However, even the most educated of consumers may have trouble determining how much to eat of these foods. It is possible that eating too many of even the right foods can prevent you from losing weight. Hence, the need for a reality check and tips for portion control!

Here are five foods that are easy to overeat along with my suggestions.

1. Ready-to-eat cereal.

We know to stay away from sugar-sweetened cereals and choose a cereal where the first ingredient is a whole grain. However, pouring your healthy whole grain cereal into an oversize bowl can often spell disaster. It is a bigger problem for dense cereals like granola. In fact, it is easy to consume several hundred calories of granola in one sitting without realizing it.

As I discuss in my book The Portion Teller Plan, I advise clients watching their weight to eat approximately one ounce of ready-to-eat cereal. A one ounce serving of cereal can range in volume from ¼ cup of granola to approximately 1 cup cereal flakes to 2 cups puffed wheat.

My tip: It is important to read the food label and measure out the volume of cereal you plan to eat before pouring it in your bowl.

2. Nuts

Nuts are healthy. They contain healthy fats and also help us to feel full. However, it is easy to eat too many nuts. Especially if you are eating them straight from an oversize jar or at a bar when having a drink with a friend.

The recommended serving of nuts to eat is 1 ounce. That translates into a handful (a golf ball’s worth) or the amount that can fit into an Altoids tin.

My tip: When home, I suggest portioning out several servings worth and placing them in baggies to avoid over-nutting.

3. Olive oil.

We hear that a green salad drizzled in olive oil is healthy. This is true. After all, greens are super nutritious and olive oil contains monounsaturated heart healthy fat. But… olive oil still contains calories, at least 100 calorie per tablespoon.

The recommended serving of olive oil or an olive oil based salad dressing is 1-2 tablespoons, an amount that will fill a shot glass. When eating out, we are often served a salad with at least 4 tablespoons of salad dressing!

My tip: Next time you order a salad out, ask for the dressing on the side.

4. Hummus

Hummus, or chick pea dip, is a super healthy snack. Hummus contains protein and healthy fats. Fresh veggies dipped in hummus makes for a great snack. However, it is easy to overdo it, especially if you buy the jumbo tubs of hummus or if you are nibbling at a cocktail party.

I suggest eating approximately 2 tablespoons worth of hummus as a snack. This looks like a walnut in a shell.

My tip: Add baby carrots, celery, and red pepper for crunch, volume, and a boost of nutrients.

5. Fresh squeezed orange juice

I’ve written previously I suggest swapping a glass of juice for an orange. You will gain fiber and the mere fact that you are chewing your food helps you consume fewer calories. but fresh squeezed OJ can be healthy. However, it is easy to guzzle down a pint’s worth in the blink of an eye. Especially since it is hard to buy a smaller size.

The suggested serving size for juice is 4-6 ounces. That is approximately half a glass worth.

My tip: Next time you buy a pint of fresh squeezed juice, share it three ways or save the rest for another day.

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Court rejects NYC portion cap for sugary drinks

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post “Court rejects NYC portion cap for sugary drinks.”

You can also read it HERE.

New York City lost its final appeal to limit the sale of sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces.

In a 20-page report, the New York State Court of Appeals issued its final decision on the Portion Cap Ruling. Justice Pigott wrote:

We hold that the New York City Board of Health, in adopting the “Sugary Drinks Portion Cap Rule,” exceeded the scope of its regulatory authority. By choosing among competing policy goals, without any legislative delegation or guidance, the Board engaged in law-making and thus infringed upon the legislative jurisdiction of the City Council of New York.

The Portion Cap Ruling, commonly known as the soda ban, was to restrict the sale of sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces in restaurants, movie theaters, sports arenas and delis.

The decision is disappointing and a defeat to public health advocates urging the government to curb the sale of oversize sugary drinks thought to be a major contributor to America’s obesity crisis.

Dr. Mary Bassett, the commissioner of health for the city, issued the following statement:

Today’s ruling does not change the fact that sugary drink consumption is a key driver of the obesity epidemic, and we will continue to look for ways to stem the twin epidemics of obesity and type 2 diabetes by seeking to limit the pernicious effects of aggressive and predatory marketing of sugary drinks and unhealthy foods.

Mayor Bill De Blasio also expressed his disappointment in the court’s decision. As written in Capital New York:

“We are extremely disappointed by today’s Court decision that prevents the city from implementing a sugary drink portion cap policy,” de Blasio said in a press release. “The negative effects of sugary drink over-consumption on New Yorkers’ health, particularly among low-income communities, are irrefutable.”

As a nutritionist and portion size advocate, I too was disappointed with the court’s decision.

Portion sizes have grown exponentially over the years and rates of obesity have skyrocketed. In the 1950s, a soda at McDonald’s was 7 ounces; today, the company sells a quart-size soda nearly five times larger than its original size. KFC sells a half-gallon size with nearly 800 calories.

As I told Food Navigator USA:

From a consumer perspective, this was not about banning soda. This was about how much is reasonable for one person. There are a lot of factors that contribute to obesity. One very major one is the fact that what used to be a normal size is now called “mini.”

Indeed, we need to change our food environment if we want to reduce obesity rates and encourage consumer to select healthier food choices. That means selling smaller size portions of foods and drinks that provide no nutritional value. In my opinion, curbing the sizes of sugary drinks was certainly a good place to start.

I applaud the health department’s efforts and hope that we can all work together to promote a healthier food environment for our children to grow up in.

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Want to eat less? Choose single-serving packages

Below is my latest blog post for Huffington Post “Want to eat less? Choose single-serving packages.”

You can also read it HERE.

New research published in the online Feb. 18 issue of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reports some promising findings for overweight individuals. Eating foods packaged in single servings may help overweight people eat less. Eating less means fewer calories, and hence the opportunity to lose weight.

University of Tennessee researcher Holly Raynor and colleagues wanted to know if single-serving packages would give people cues about what is considered an appropriate amount of food to eat (aka an appropriate portion size).

As reported in Reuters Health:

Half the participants received a box of 20 single-serving packs of pretzels, each just under one ounce. The rest received two standard-size bags of pretzels, each 10 ounces. Researchers told everyone to take the pretzel bags home for four days, eating as much or as little as they preferred, then return them. Participants were also asked to fill out a form detailing when and where they ate the pretzels.

Overweight subjects who received the single-serve packages ate considerably less than those receiving the large packages.

The findings make perfect sense. People tend to eat more when served more and when eating from bigger packages. Single-serve packages offer built in portion control.

It is important, however, for consumers reading food labels to be able to understand what they are actually consuming. With the food labels getting a makeover, this will hopefully be possible.

As I’ve previously written here,, FDA has proposed that single-serve packages generally consumed in one sitting — small bags of snack foods, a 20-ounce soda bottle — be labeled as one serving. This will enable consumers to see the calories and nutrients found in the entire package, which most people eat.

I’ve been a big fan of single-serving packages and have recommended them to dieters trying to lose weight and gain an awareness of portion control. They have a built in stop sign which signals us to stop; this is important especially in today’s world of supersize portions.

Take home message: Divide and conquer!

Try buying single-serve packages when you can. Since many single-serve products cost considerably more than oversize packages, if you prefer to purchase a large package, I suggest repackaging the contents into single-servings. For example, when you open a large bag of pretzels, divide the contents into 1-ounce single-portions (approximately a fist full) and place them in small baggies. This way, when you crave a snack, you just grab a small baggie and resist the temptation of overeating.

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Hawaii to cap sizes of sugary drinks

Below is my latest blog post for Huffington Post “Hawaii to cap the sizes of sugary drinks.”

You can also read it HERE.

In New York City, we are patiently awaiting the court decision on whether or not a 16-ounce soda will become the default “large” at eating establishments including fast food restaurants delis, and movie theaters.

I am pleased that Mayor Bill de Blasio said that he would move forward with many of former Mayor Bloomberg’s initiatives, including a cap on the sizes of sugar sweetened beverages.

Now, it looks like Hawaii may cap the sizes of sugary drinks. The Hawaii State Senate recently introduced a bill that would prohibit the sale of sugar-sweetened drinks in containers larger than 16 ounces anywhere in the state.

As written in the bill:

The purpose of this Act is to promote the consumption of healthy beverages by ensuring that healthy options are available and accessible, and to reduce incentives to purchase and consume excessively large sugar-sweetened beverages.

Kudos to Hawaii!

Perhaps Bloomberg’s proposal initiated back in May 2012 was on to something. I recently wrote about the United Arab Emigrates’ proposed cap on super size beverages.

After all, does anybody really need to drink more than a pint of soda at one time? With obesity a major public health crisis in the U.S. and abroad, sodas that come in half-gallon containers may certainly be adding to the problem. Indeed, these jumbo sodas contain nearly 800 calories and 50 teaspoons of sugar, are pure liquid calories and contain more than a third of the calories many people should consume in an entire day.

And, as I’ve written before, obesity rates have increased in parallel with growing soda sizes and calorie labeling alone will not solve the problem. Consumers need an environment that encourages healthier choices. And the healthy choice must be the easy choice.

In the meantime, the NYC Department of Health continues to highlight the risks of drinking too many sugary beverages for children and adults. As part of its Pouring on the Pounds advertising campaign, the department recently introduced a new catchy ad, “A sip in the right direction.

In a continued effort to promote healthier New Yorkers, the health department is urging consumers to replace sugary drinks with water, seltzer, unsweetened teas, fat-free milk and fresh fruit.

Certainly a good idea!

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Save over 1000 calories with these simple portion swaps

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post “Save over 1000 calories with these 5 simple portion swaps.”

You can also read it HERE.

A new study published in the January issue of the Journal of Nutrition and Behavior sheds some more bad news for foods consumed outside the home. The researchers from Drexel University reviewed more than 2,600 menu items from restaurant chains and reported that a typical adult meal (comprised of an entree, side dish, and one-half appetizer) contained nearly 1,500 calories. Add a drink and a half dessert, and the calorie content of this meal increased to 2,020 calories.

To put this in perspective, the average American adult should eat around 2,000 calories a day. According to the research, you can meet your daily allotment for calories in just one meal. Yikes! No surprise that we are in the midst of an obesity epidemic.

As a nutritionist tracking portion sizes, these numbers hardly surprise me. Restaurant portions are enormous, at least double what they were 50 years ago. Burgers, steaks, and pasta bowls have increased in size over the past 50 years. So have bagels, muffins and soft drinks.

While what you eat matters (choosing grilled instead of fried chicken, for example), how much you eat (how large your portion is), matters more than many of us realize.

Here are some simple portion swaps that can save you over 1,000 calories.

1. Order an appetizer portion of pasta instead of a main dish portion.
Many main dish pasta portions contain at least three cups which translates to an entire days worth of grains. Appetizer portions contain approximately 1.5 cups of pasta. Add some fresh tomato sauce and lots of veggies and your portion is far from skimpy. A typical appetizer portion is enough food for an entire meal. Switching from a main dish to an appetizer portion of pasta can save you at least 300 calories.

2. Order salad dressing on the side.
So often, we think we are being virtuous by ordering a salad. After all, a salad contains no bread, and so many of us fear the starch these days. However, many appetizer salads in restaurants contain at least four tablespoons of salad dressing, far more than most of us need. If you order your dressing on the side, you can control how much you add. Most of us do not need more than one to two tablespoons of dressing (which translates into three to six teaspoons). Make this switch, and you can save at least 100 calories.

3. Order the small coffee drink. (Note: in some places a small is called “tall.”)
In the U.S., we seem to want our food in larger portions. Hence, even the descriptor term ‘small” is considered taboo and not used in many food establishments. For example, when you go to Starbucks and order a “small,” you get a “Tall.” We often forget that our coffee drink contain lots of calories, especially if it is in an oversize cup. Ordering the smallest size can save you lots of calories. For example, switching from a Starbucks Venti 20-oz coffee Frappuccino to a tall 12-oz size can save you around 170 calories.

4. Chose bran cereal instead of a bran muffin.
Muffins these days are oversized, often weighing in at seven ounces, and containing more than 500 calories. However, because it is just one item, and contains the healthy sounding term “bran” in its title, we often overlook its high calorie content. A simple swap such as switching to a cup of bran cereal and a cup of fat-free milk can save you around 300 calories.

5. Go single, instead of double or triple.
The fast-food industry is notorious for offering single, double, and triple hamburgers. For the good news, YOU get to choose. My suggestion: order the single instead of the double or triple size. For example, while Burger King’s Triple Whopper which is 16 oz contains nearly 1200 calories, the company’s Whopper sandwich which is 10 oz contains around 650 calories. Just making this swap can save you 510 calories. To save an additional 300 calories, switch to the Whopper Junior sandwich which weighs in at nearly 5 oz (and contains enough food for an adult) and hold the mayo.

As I previously wrote here, you can take action to rightsize your plate and save lots of calories by splitting a dinner entrée, wrapping up leftovers, and being mindful of how much food is on your plate.

I would love to hear any portion tricks and tips you may have.

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Los Angeles Health Dept Partners With Restaurants to Offer Smaller Portions

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post “LA health department partners with restaurants to offer smaller portions.” You can also read it HERE.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health launched a healthy restaurants partnership, identifying restaurants that will serve smaller portion sizes and healthier meals for kids. The program, Choose Health L.A. Restaurants is part of an effort by the L.A. Department of Public Health to curb the obesity epidemic and empower residents of L.A. County to choose health and lead healthier lives.

Choose Health L.A. Restaurants will promote menu changes that encourage healthier food choices and smaller portion sizes. The program will also offer healthier meals for children that can foster a healthy weight. The program is part of the public health department’s continued efforts to reduce the obesity epidemic by educating and empowering L.A. County residents to “choose health.”

To be part of the Choose Health L.A. Restaurants program, restaurants must offer smaller food portions and offer healthier meals for children by including more fruits and vegetables and less fried food. The health department will post decals in the windows of participating restaurants and list the participating restaurants on an interactive map at ChooseHealthLA.com.

As reported in the L.A. Times,

The program is the latest effort to attack the obesity epidemic in Los Angeles County, where about 23 percent of residents are obese. The county has also been encouraging residents to eat less and to give up soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages… ‘It’s all part of a coordinated campaign to change norms,’ said Jonathan Fielding, director of the Department of Public Health.

Dr. Fielding also told the L.A. Times that “Small changes in what we eat every day, at every meal can make a huge difference in terms of not only our weight but our overall health.”

I could not agree more. As a nutritionist counseling overweight clients, making small changes to your diet by eating a little less, skipping fried foods and adding more vegetables to your meal can make a huge difference at the end of the day.

Choose Health L.A. Restaurants sounds like a terrific program to me and appears to be a win-win solution for all. Consumers living in L.A. County can still dine out, eat healthfully and have the option to purchase smaller portion sizes, which will offer fewer calories. Restaurants can increase revenue by selling healthier food options in smaller portions and help contribute to the health of its residents.

I can’t wait to see other public health departments and restaurants across the country adopt similar campaigns. Indeed, the NYC Health Department has launched a terrific public health campaign, “Cut Your Portions, Cut Your Risk,” with subway ads in an attempt to get New Yorkers to be mindful of portion sizes, along with proposing a cap on the size of sugary drinks. (Currently in court. Stay tuned.) I was involved and an active supporter of these campaigns.

In the meantime, here are a few things YOU can do to dine out healthfully:

1. Share oversized portions with your dinner companion.

2. Start your meal with a healthy salad (dressing on the side, of course) or a low-fat soup

3. Limit liquid calories such as soda. Drink water instead.

4. Choose grilled instead of fried foods.

5. Take a stand and request that your restaurant serve smaller portions.

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Why current size labels can be deceptive

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post, “I’ll have a medium soda”–Why current size labels can be deceptive. You can also read it HERE.

As a nutrition researcher tracking portion sizes and labels manufacturers use to describe such sizes, I have seen food portions not only grow larger over the years, but the labels to describe foods and drinks have also changed.

For example, when McDonald’s opened in the 1950s, the company offered one size soda, which was 7 ounces; today’s 12 ounces is labeled a kid’s size and the 16-ounce is labeled small. Similarly, when Burger King opened, the company offered a 12-ounce small and a 16-ounce large soda. The 12-ounce is no longer sold and the 16-ounce comes as part of the value meal. Burger King’s small soda is now 20 ounces, the medium is 30 ounces, and the large is 40 ounces.

Does anyone pay attention to these label descriptors? And do they influence how much we really eat? Apparently yes, according to a new study published in Health Economics by Cornell University researchers David Just and Brian Wansink.

The study found that labeling a food as “regular” or “double size” affects how much consumers will eat, regardless of how big or small the portion size actually is.

The researchers served subjects two different portions of pasta in either a one cup-portion or a two-cup portion. For some of the subjects, the two different size portions were labeled “half-size” and “regular.” For the other subjects, the identically-sized portions were labeled “regular” and “double-size.” The labels for the first group of subjects indicated that the two-cup pasta portion was the regular size, while it was suggested to the second group of subjects that the one-cup pasta portion was the regular size.

The study concluded that varying the “regular” portions affected how much the subjects actually ate. Subjects ate more food when the portion was labeled “regular” than when it was labeled “double-size” despite the fact that the two sizes were actually the same size.

The subjects were also willing to pay more for a larger sounding portion size.

As reported in newsLI.com, “These varying concepts of ‘regular’ portions made all the difference in how much people would spend and subsequently eat,” said Just. “Participants ate much more when their portion was labeled ‘regular’ than when it was labeled ‘double-size.’ In fact, participants who thought their portion was ‘double-size’ left 10 times the food on their plate.”

How does this study affect those of us who typically eat out at eateries that offer foods and drinks in different sizes? The chart below shows the sizes of fast food soda portions at top fast-food chains.

McDonald’s

Kids 12 oz.
Small 16 oz.
Med 21 oz.
Large 32 oz.

Burger King

Value 16 oz.
Small 20 oz.
Medium 30 oz.
Large 40 oz.

KFC

Small 16 oz.
Medium 20 oz.
Large 30 oz.
Mega Jug 64 oz.

As you can see, the benign sounding “medium” soda is actually quite large. McDonald’s medium portion is 21 ounces (a pint and a half) and Burger King’s medium soda is 30 ounces (nearly a quart). But because these items are labeled medium, customers may consider themselves virtuous by not ordering the large, and may in fact order a medium order of fries to go with the soda.

My advice: Next time you visit an eating establishment that sells food in several sizes, I suggest ordering the small. Unless, you are visiting a Starbucks where the small is labeled tall.

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