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Posts Tagged ‘ obesity ’

Portion control made easy for summer

Below is my blog for Huffington Post “Portion control made easy for summer.”

You can also read it here.

wine glasses

Summer is here and it’s a perfect time to manage our food portions to help keep our calories under control and our weight in check. As a nutritionist, I am huge fan of portion control and believe that how much we eat is more important than what we eat when it comes to managing our weight.

Below I highlight some of the most recent research findings on portion control to keep you from eating too much this summer.

1. Try a reduced-portion entrée next time you eat out.

Large portion sizes especially in restaurants and take-out eating establishment have helped fuel the obesity epidemic. Large portions contain more calories than smaller ones and may encourage people to eat more calories than they need.

The high calorie content of restaurant meals can also be attributed to the oversize portions we are served. In fact, it is not uncommon for a restaurant portion to often contain over 1000 calories, more than half of the calories many of us should eat for an entire day.

Because we eat more food when we are served more, strategies to help us reduce our portion may help us consume fewer calories and lose weight. A recent study published by University of Minnesota researchers in Public Health Nutrition found that when people selected a reduced-size entrée in a restaurant or work site setting, they consumed fewer calories and also wasted less food. This is certainly a winning combination!

Take home message: Whenever possible, order a reduced-portion entrée or make a meal out of an appetizer portion which is probably more than enough food.

2. Make a fist and use your hand as a portion guide.

For years, I’ve used the “handy method” to help clients assess their portion sizes. As I wrote in my book The Portion Teller Plan, using your hand is a great way to guesstimate how big your portion should be.

After all, when you go out to a restaurant you always have your hand. And, no one wants to go out to dinner and bring along measuring cups and a food scale.

Since so many of us overdo our starch portion (think rice, pasta, and potato), I advise clients and readers to make a fist to enjoy a healthy 1-cup portion instead of banning starch altogether. Want to include meat in your diet, without overdoing it? Think a palm’s worth. And, add lots of colorful veggies to your plate.

Now new research from University of Sydney found that using your hand to estimate your food portion is indeed, a good way to assess how much food is on your plate. The researchers found that finger width used as a ruler to help gauge the food dimensions combined with various geometric formulas of volume and food density factors resulted in an “acceptable accurate” estimate of food weight.

Take home message: While not an exact science and we all have different size hands, taking a look at your hand while you eat, may indeed help you gauge jut how big the portion on your plate should be.

3. Make a nice size smoothie, but keep it thick.

Summer is a time for milkshakes and smoothies. It is important, however, to watch the calories which tend to add up very quickly when you make it with ice cream and syrup. Now, a small yet interesting study conducted by Dutch researchers from Wageningen University found that to feel full, you don’t need a smoothie loaded with lots of calories. The solution, it seems, lies in the consistency of the shake.

Subjects given a frothy low-calorie (and just 100 calories!) milk shake that was thick felt more full than those given a thinner shake containing 500 hundred calories.

Take home message: The thicker and frothier the smoothie, the fuller you will feel. So next time you want a shake, make it with low fat Greek yogurt, lots of fresh fruit (including banana), and add plenty of ice. Not only will you get protein and fiber, but the thickness of this smoothie will keep you feeling full. A yummy summer treat! And, you don’t have to eat a tiny portion.

4. Pour your glass of wine into a smaller goblet.

Who doesn’t love an occasional glass of wine with dinner? The problem of course, is that the calories add up quickly when we use oversize goblets, which is the norm these days.

Researchers from University of Cambridge found that people drank more wine overall when the glass was bigger, even when the same amount was served per glass. A larger wine glass may change our perception of how much wine constitutes a portion, perhaps leading us to drink faster and to order more.

The researchers tracked consumers’ wine purchases from a restaurant over several months. The restaurant alternated between 8-ounce, 10-ounce and 12-ounce wine goblets. The researchers found that when the restaurant used the larger wine glass, they served approximately 10% more wine.

Take home message: Want a glass of wine without excessive calories? Pour it into a smaller goblet and you may end up drinking less.

Have a healthy summer and enjoy a perfect portion of your favorite food and drink.

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Larger serving sizes on food labels may help us eat less!

Below is my blog for Huffington Post  “Larger serving sizes on food labels may encourage us to eat less.”

You can also read it here.

Food label-new 2014

In February 2014, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) unveiled plans to overhaul the Nutrition Facts panel required on packaged foods in the U.S. Among the proposed updates, FDA plans to revise the serving sizes to reflect more typical serving sizes. Because portions we currently eat are larger than food label serving sizes, consumers may be confused when reading labels and trying to determine ow many calories are in the foods they eat.

Indeed, typical portion sizes available in the marketplace have increased over the past several decades. Should serving sizes on food labels reflect these larger portions?

As FDA states, “These updates would reflect the reality of what people actually eat, according to recent food consumption data. By law, serving sizes must be based on what people actually eat, not on what they ‘should’ be eating.”

While there are clearly advantages to FDA requiring that manufacturers use larger, more realistic serving sizes, unintended consequences may arise. For one, consumers may view food label servings as recommendations even though they are not.

Indeed, according to one study, larger serving sizes may encourage people to eat more.

Now, a new study found that larger serving sizes on food labels will encourage us to eat less and may actually help fight the obesity epidemic.

Researchers from Georgetown University conducted several experiments published in the journal Appetite and found that subjects viewing larger serving sizes on packaged foods thought that they were more representative of typical marketplace portions. The subjects also had a lower health perception of the foods with larger serving sizes on the labels. Finally, subjects shown a larger serving size label ate less than those shown the current serving size label.

The authors wrote, “The studies find that the specific nutrition information provided with foods has a significant impact on perceptions of health, guilt, and estimated caloric intake. Providing consumers with easier to comprehend and more accurate information on all foods served in all contexts could reduce overeating. Decreasing caloric intake, through changing perceptions of health or increasing guilt, could improve public health.”

They concluded that “the proposed increase in serving size on Nutrition Facts panels could lower the consumption of high calorie foods.”

Let’s hope that this occurs in reality if FDA does, in fact, increase the serving sizes on food labels (which the agency proposed doing for nearly 17% of packaged foods).

For example, FDA is proposing to increase the serving size of ice cream from ½ cup to 1 cup. Rather than view the 1 cup serving as a recommendation, I hope that instead, consumers pay attention to the calories and view the larger serving size as a signal to eat less.

Whatever FDA ultimately decides to do, I think it is important that the agency follow up with an education campaign to teach people how to use the serving size information on a label and how to better understand the relationship between serving sizes, calories, and weight gain.

And, I hope that the agency pro-actively address concerns about any possible unintended consequences that some consumers view the serving sizes as recommendations for how much to eat.

As I suggested in my comments to FDA, “I strongly recommend that the FDA include clarifying language on the label by either: 1) denoting the serving size provided as a “typical” serving size or 2) including a footnote to clarify that “the serving size is based upon the amount typically consumed, and is not a recommended portion size.”

While we patiently await the release of the updated food label, I suggest paying attention to how much food is actually on your plate, eating fewer processed foods, and more fruits and vegetables. And, as USDA’s food guide myPlate suggests, fill half of your plate with vegetables and fruit.

After all, no one got fat eating to many carrots.

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5 Tips to Keep Your Restaurant Meal Way Under 1,000 Calories

Below is my blog for Huffington Post, “5 tips to keep your restaurant meal way under 1000 calories.”

You can also read it here.

pasta primavera

Americans love eating out. Unfortunately, most restaurant meals exceed calorie recommendations. It’s no surprise that we have an obesity epidemic in this country.

Chain restaurants in the U.S. are currently required to post calorie counts on their menus. Hopefully, this information will nudge us to make healthier choices and also encourage chains to re-formulate their menu items.

In the meantime, more than half of restaurants are not chains, and therefore, are exempt from calorie labeling.

So just how many calories do these meals contain?

To answer that question, researchers from Tufts University conducted a study on the calorie counts of non-chain restaurants between 2011-2014 in three metro areas (Boston, San Francisco, and Little Rock).

Here’s what they found. Most restaurant meals are super-sized and contain very high calorie counts, similar to those in chain restaurants. Nine out of 10 meals from non-chain restaurants exceeded calorie recommendations for a single meal. The average meal contained 1,200 calories (yikes!), which amounts to more than a half a day’s worth of calories. American, Italian, and Chinese cuisine fared the worst, with meals averaging 1,500 calories.

While we would expect some meals to be high in calories, such as tempura dishes (which are fried), the high calorie counts in other dishes such as chicken teriyaki may come as a bit of a shock to some people. The researchers found that even a Greek salad contained nearly 1,000 calories.

As a long time portion-size researcher, I am not at all surprised. Most meals at both chain and non-chain restaurants are much too big, and therefore, provide far too many calories.

The researchers wrote: “This study extends previous work and indicates that restaurants in general, rather than specific types of restaurants, can facilitate obesity by exposing patrons to portion sizes that induce overeating through established biological mechanisms that are largely outside conscious control.”

Indeed, it would be a great idea to cook at home more often. But if you do want to dine out, here are some simple tips to help you trim down the calories of your favorite meals.

1. Share, share, and share!

This is a great portion-control trick and will help you save calories. Share a main dish with your dinner companion and you will get half the number of calories. To avoid feeling deprived, start with a healthy salad or appetizer.

2. Order an appetizer as your main meal.

You may not want to eat the same thing as your dining companion, so sharing may not be possible. Many restaurants these days offer half portions or appetizer sizes which I promise you is enough food for one. If you are still hungry, you can always order more.

3. Order sauces on the side.

So often, it is the dressings and sauces that cause the calorie counts of your favorite meals to jump. Three simple words — “on the side” — can make a huge difference. Just one tablespoon of oil contains around 120 calories, and many salads contain at least 4 tablespoons of dressing! If you order sauces and dressings on the side, you do still get to enjoy the flavor while using less.

4. Wrap it up.

Leftovers make for a great accessory! Just because your favorite restaurant serves a super-size portion doesn’t mean you have to finish it. My research found that many pasta entrees, for example, contain 3-4 cups pasta! (No wonder people think carbs make us fat.) If you ate half that amount, and wrapped up the rest, you’d probably be satisfied (instead of super stuffed).

5. Order more veggie-based dishes.

In some cases, you can enjoy a big portion without breaking the calorie bank. Veggie based dishes are often the way to go. A generous portion of veggies goes a long way. Not only are veggies high in fiber which signals you to stop eating, but they are so low in calories, that as long as they do not contain too much sauce, you can certainly keep your dish way under 1,000 calories. For example, I’m not worried about the calories in a jumbo plate of spaghetti squash primavera.

I provide additional portion control tricks here.

And I offer smart swaps for your favorite restaurant cuisine here.

We would love to hear some of your favorite tricks to minimize the calories in restaurant portions.

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Drop a few sizes with these simple portion-control tricks

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post “Drop a few sizes with these simple portion-control tricks.”

You can also read it HERE.

Courtesy of Scott Chan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Photo courtesy of Scott Chan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

With the start of the New Year, losing a few pounds is often high on many people’s “to do” list. You may even be thinking of trying the latest fad diet, a version of the Paleo diet, or a juice cleanse.

Having spent the past 20 plus years counseling people trying to shed unwanted pounds, I know that losing weight is the easy part. Keeping if off and developing long-term healthy habits you can stick with is a far greater challenge.

If you have previously read my advice to dieters, you know that practicing portion-control is, in my opinion, by far one of the simplest and most effective ways to shed unwanted pounds for good. Ultimately, regardless of which method you try, in order to succeed at weight loss, you have to eat fewer calories.

Many fads work initially because you end up eating less, often because you omit entire food groups from your diet. By practicing portion control, however, you get to eat the foods you love (just not huge amounts every day) without cutting out certain food groups entirely. In my opinion, this is a much healthier and balanced approach. And, with a bit of planning, if you choose your foods wisely, you can often even eat more.

I’ve rounded up some portion-control tricks which can help you get 2016 off to a great start and help you shed unwanted pounds. Many of these tricks are rooted in behavior change which serve as cues to gently remind us to eat mindfully…to eat when hungry…to eat more slowly…and to eat less.

1. Go retro.

If we can return to eating smaller portions like we did several decades ago, we’d probably be a lot thinner. Back in the 1950s, portions were smaller and so were we. I’ve spent a good part of my career tracking how our food portions have grown — and how our waistlines have too. Rates of obesity increased as portions rose. This CDC graph, based on my research, illustrates this point. Large portions have more calories than small portions, so if we can trim our portions, we can cut out lots of calories which can help us to lose weight.

2. Eat a small breakfast.

I recommend that dieters eat within two hours of getting up. It doesn’t have to be a huge feast though. In fact, a smaller breakfast may actually be best. A study found that dieters who ate a small breakfast, as opposed to a large one, ended up eating less over the course of the day. Often, we think if we eat a big breakfast, we’ll eat less for lunch or dinner. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out that way.

My takeaway message is: eat a light meal in the morning. If you are not much of a breakfast eater, no worries. Make it a brunch and ok to eat something small. I suggest you include protein and fiber, which help you feel full. Some of my favorites are a Greek yogurt and berries, a slice whole grain toast with a thin schmear of peanut butter, or a bowl of oatmeal with chopped walnuts or a little milk.

3. Cut your pizza pie into smaller pieces.

We tend to eat in units. Most of us don’t share a slice of pizza, a bagel, or a soda (or other foods which come in units) with a friend. Instead, we tend to eat the whole thing. An interesting study offers up this trick: cut your pizza pie into smaller pieces and you may end up eating fewer calories. In this particular study, when a pizza pie was cut into 16 slices — instead of the typical 8 slices — people ate less. I invite you try it.

4. Beware the health halos.

So often we get caught up with labels such as “low-fat,” “gluten free,” and “organic.” Many of us also think that if a food is good for us, we can eat as much as we want. This study found that people who thought alcohol was heart-healthy drank nearly 50% more alcohol than those who did not.

My suggestion for 2016: keep an eye on your portion size even if you think a food may be good for you. Low-fat cookies are still cookies and gluten-free crackers are still crackers. And both products do indeed contain calories which add up pretty quickly.

5. At times, you can eat more to weigh less.

Good news if you are a volume lover. As I referred to them in my book, The Portion Teller Plan, volume eaters like a large portion of food. A solution: fill up on fruits and veggies which tend to be low in calories (while also being nutritious.) Good options include berries, melons, citrus fruit, leafy greens and, cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower and broccoli. Enjoy a large colorful salad. Just ask for the dressing on the side.

6. Souper-size it!

I am a huge fan of eating soup and “souping” seems to be a popular trend these days. What I like most about including soups in your diet is that they are filling and often times, you can eat a large portion without too many calories. In fact, people who eat a large vegetable-based soup as an appetizer often end up eating fewer calories at the rest of the meal. My favorites — minestrone, tomato kale, lentil soup, and white bean. Several caveats: skip the cream soups and go easy on salt.

7. Take out the measuring cups once in a while.

It’s a great idea when you are eating at home to occasionally measure out your food to get an idea how much you typically eat. While it is not exactly practical to measure your food when you are eating out, and I don’t suggest you weigh your food daily, finding out just how big — or small — your portion is can be quite an eye opener. For example, I’ve had clients pour their typical ready-to-eat cereal into their oversized bowl and think they are having one serving, or around one cup. After measuring it out, they are shocked that their “healthy” cereal portion is closer to three cups. Yikes!

8. Take a look at your hand.

While you don’t always have measuring cups with you, you always have your hand. Which is why I created the “handy guide” to estimating your portion size. A 3 ounce portion of meat or chicken looks like the palm of your hand and a fist looks like 1 cup pasta or rice. This method is not an exact science, but does come in handy.

9. Downsize your food packages.

Considerable research has found that we eat more if our packages are larger. Instead of surrounding ourselves with temptation, I suggest buying single-serving packages or pre-portioning your favorite snacks and putting them into baggies which you can grab when you are hungry.

10. Slow down.

When we eat more slowly, we tend to eat more mindfully, and, in turn, eat less. One way to slow down is to count your bites. A small study found that study subjects who cut their daily bites by 20 percent lost around 3.5 pounds in a month. While counting your bites may not be the most pleasurable thing to do, especially if you are hoping to enjoy your food, paying attention to how many bites you are taking ultimately slows you down which leads to eating less. While I don’t suggest you count your bites regularly, it may be ok to try once in while.

11. Eat off of grandma’s dishes.

Food portions are not the only things that grew over the years — our plate sizes have too. And research has found that we eat more if plates or glasses are large. A solution: use grandma’s dishes. A client of mine did this and lost 20 pounds, effortlessly. If we downsize our plate, we tend to eat less. A small looks bigger on a smaller plate. I invite you to eat a salad of of a big plate and a pasta or meat dish off of a smaller plate. This study found that halving plate size led to a 30 percent reduction in amount of food consumed.

12. Commit to cooking more in 2016.

When we cook, we often make healthier food choices. A recent study found that cooking was associated with a slightly lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The researchers also found that in eight years of follow-up, those who ate more home-cooked meals had smaller weight gains and a lower risk of obesity. These findings don’t surprise me. Restaurant portions tend to be larger than amounts we would typically prepare at home. Foods eaten out also tend to be more caloric than home cooked meals.

We would love to hear portion-control tips that have worked for you.

Here’s to a happy — and healthy — 2016!

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5 sensible tips to keep from becoming an obesity statistic

Below is my blog for Huffington Post, “5 sensible tips to keep  from becoming an obesity statistic.”

You can also read it HERE.

We received bad news from the Center of Disease Control (CDC) about the current state of obesity in the United States (U.S.). Despite some improvements to our current food environment (soda consumption is down, food manufacturers are removing artificial ingredients), obesity is still on the rise. Compared to 2003 when just 32 percent of Americans were obese (defined as a body mass index greater than 30), the most recent data collected in 2014 reveals that 38 percent of the U.S. population is obese. These results come from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NANES), the largest federal health and dietary intake survey conducted by CDC.

The report also reveals a drastic health inequality between genders and ethnicities. About 38 percent of adult women were obese from 2011 to 2014 as compared with 34 percent of men. And obesity rates were highest among black and Hispanic women.

Clearly, our food environment remains to be challenging for many of us. We are surrounded by temptations, food is available 24-7, portion sizes are too big, we eat out, we don’t cook enough, and junk food is cheap and heavily advertised. These, and other factors, help to explain why we eat too much. And, on top of that, many of us don’t get enough exercise.

While lots more needs to be down on a policy level — subsidizing fruits and vegetables, capping oversize portions, taxing soda and junk food, and limiting food marketing to children — there are lots of things YOU can do to keep from becoming an obesity statistic.

Here are five sensible tips to get you started.

1. Don’t go hungry.

Eat regular meals and snacks. (And keep them healthy, of course.) By eating at regular intervals, we tend not to get too hungry which helps us resist temptations. As a practicing nutritionist, I advise my clients to pack healthy snacks such as an apple and a small bag of nuts or baby carrots and a single-serve hummus to keep hunger at bay.

2. Rightsize your portions.

I’ve been convinced for years that oversize food portions are one of the leading contributors to obesity. Large portions contain more calories than small portions and the more we are served, the more we eat! Practicing portion control is, in my opinion, one of the most important steps you can take to help you lose weight. Wrapping up leftovers, purchasing smaller sized snacks, and eating off of smaller plates are a few simple things you can do.

3. Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables.

I like the advice of the U.S. Department of Health’s (USDA) ChooseMyPlate.gov which suggests that we fill up half of our plate with fruits and veggies. Not only are fruits and veggies healthy and low in calories, when we fill up on them, we tend to eat less of other less nutritious foods. I always suggest having a colorful plate!

4. Create a healthy kitchen environment.

Keeping a fruit bowl on the kitchen counter, making junk food invisible, and putting that box of cereal in the cupboard are a few things you can do to keep your kitchen healthier.Decluttering your kitchen counter and keeping healthy foods handy may even help to prevent weight gain.

5. Cook more.

When we cook more, we tend to make healthier food choices. A recent study found that cooking meals at home was associated with a slightly lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The researchers also found that in eight years of follow-up, those who ate more home-cooked meals had smaller weight gains and a lower risk of obesity.

We would love to hear healthy tips that have worked for you.

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

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Size Matters! Simple Strategies to Overcome Portion Distortion

Below is my post for Huffington Post, Size Matters! 10 simple strategies to overcome portion distortion.

You can also read it HERE.

I’ve been convinced for years that oversize food portions are one of the leading contributors to obesity.

When results of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a federal survey assessing the health of Americans, were released back in the mid-1990s with the scary statistic that the average American adult gained 8 pounds, I immediately suspected that it was due, at least in part, to growing food portions. However, back then, virtually no one was talking about portion sizes, at least as it related to obesity.

So I decided to conduct my doctoral dissertation exploring U.S. portion sizes and trace the history of food portions. Indeed, my research found that American food portions began to explode in the 1980s continuing through the 1990s and into the present. This increase in portion sizes parallels rising obesity rates, and is a perfectly logical explanation to explain rising obesity rates in the U.S.

Now, 20 years later, a comprehensive report from researchers at the Behaviour and Health Research Unit (BHRU), University of Cambridge, analyzed results of over 60 studies involving more than 6,700 participants and found that larger portions and oversize tableware contribute to overeating. The study, published on Sept. 14, 2015, in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, found that people consumed more food and drink when given bigger portions, plates, or silverware. And they ate more food regardless of if they were thin or overweight, male or female, hungry or not hungry.

We know that eating too much can lead to obesity, which increases our risk for chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

As a long-time portion size researcher and educator, I believe that if we can make changes to our environment to reduce the availability and appeal of large portions and practice portion-control strategies on an individual level, we can make great strides to reduce obesity.

The University of Cambridge researchers concluded that efforts to reduce portion sizes could reduce caloric intake by up to 29 percent and (527 calories a day) among U.S. adults and up to 16 percent among U.K. adults. That is pretty significant and can make a huge difference in helping us all slim down!

As written in the University of Cambridge news release: “Our findings highlight the important role of environmental influences on food consumption. Helping people to avoid ‘overserving’ themselves or others with larger portions of food or drink by reducing their size, availability and appeal in shops, restaurants and in the home, is likely to be a good way of helping lots of people to reduce their risk of overeating,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Gareth Hollands, a behavior and health researcher at the University of Cambridge.

“There has also been a tendency to portray personal characteristics like being overweight or a lack of self-control as the main reason people overeat,” Dr. Hollands added.

The study suggests that legislation, price incentives, and marketing strategies may be needed to help bring about significant reductions in our food portions. As I wrotehere, I couldn’t agree more.

In the meantime, here are some simple things you can do to combat portion distortion.

1. Purchase single-serving portions.

2. Eat off of your grandmother’s dishes. They are sure to be smaller than your current plates.

3. Use smaller glasses and utensils too.

4. Avoid serving food family-style. Plate out your portion in the kitchen. If you are still hungry, you can get up for more.

5. Fill up half of your plate with nutritious fruits and vegetables. No one got fat eating too many carrots or berries.

6. When eating out, share an entrée with your dinner companion. Order an extra salad or vegetable side dish.

7. Wrap up leftovers. They make a great accessory.

8. Steer clear of all-you-can eat meals and deals. Resist the bargain. And remember, volume does not mean value!

9. Eat mindfully–sitting down, without distractions such as watching TV and talking on the phone. And do not straight out of the container.

10. And, finally, wherever you are, eat slowly and enjoy your company.

For more strategies to avoid oversize portions, I offer tips here and here.

We would love to hear your tricks on how to overcome oversize 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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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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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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