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Posts Tagged ‘ portion size ’

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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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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A prize may encourage us to eat less

Below is my blog for Huffington Post, “A prize may encourage us to eat less.”

You can also read it here.

Portion sizes have grown over the past 50 years, and so have our waistlines. As I found in my portion-size research, the fact that Americans are eating too much is a perfectly logical explanation to explain the current U.S. obesity crisis. While there is some good news on the horizon suggesting that we are finally beginning to eat less, we still have a long way to go.

Researchers from University of Southern California (USC) conducted several interesting experiments encouraging both kids and adults to select smaller portions. The results, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, found that people will often choose a smaller portion when offered some kind of incentive or prize.

The researchers conducted three experiments, all offering some kind of incentive to choose the smaller portion.

As discussed in USC News, “In the first experiment, sixth-graders were offered the choice between a 9-inch sandwich and a 4.5-inch sandwich and inexpensive earbuds. The majority chose the latter. In a second experiment with adults, half-sized portions were paired with the chance to win a $100 Amazon gift card or the chance to win 10,000 frequent-flyer miles accepted by all major airline loyalty programs. The majority chose the incentive and made that choice consistently over three days. In a third experiment, the researchers got similar results in a real restaurant setting with customers who came in with the intention of buying a full-sized sandwich, but opted for the half-size and a chance to win a $10 lottery.”

As you can see, the incentive offered does not need to be anything fancy or expensive. And the subjects consistently chose the smaller portion-plus-incentive option even when it was priced the same as the larger portion.

And, best of all, at least from a public health perspective, the smaller portion will not leave you hungry.

The researchers tracked total calories consumed in the second experiment and found that subjects ate fewer calories when compared to their baseline day.

The research findings could be a great way to help reduce our calorie intake and fight obesity along with its associated health care costs.

USC marketing professor Deborah MacInnis wrote me in an email: “Incentivizing consumers to choose smaller portion sizes not only offers opportunities for lower daily calorie intake, it also has the potential to help consumers realize that smaller sized portions won’t leave them hungry.”

She also wrote, “As consumers, we value our freedom of choice. Laws and regulations remove freedom of choice and can backfire by creating resistance and reactance. Giving consumers the opportunity to choose between a full sized version and a smaller version with an uncertain incentive preserves freedom of choice while motivating policy-consistent (and health promoting) behaviors.”

Here are some take away messages.

1. As a nutritionist and portion-size researcher, what I found most interesting was that the subjects were not hungry after choosing the smaller portion. This lesson applies to all of us. We can usually be satisfied with less food. We can always order more food later if we are still hungry.

2. Consider leaving over some food, wrapping up leftovers, or sharing an entree next time you visit your favorite restaurant.

3. How about treating yourself to a reward? Perhaps splurge on a massage if you choose the smaller portion.

4. If you are a parent, try encouraging your kids to choose the smaller — healthier — portion, by offering a small non-food prize or reward. Your kids will probably prefer the prize more than the extra food.

5. It may be economically feasible for the food industry to sell smaller portions. If you are a restaurant owner, consider adding some kind of small incentive encouraging diners to choose the smaller portion. Just be sure not to offer them a free dessert, which would defeat the whole purpose.

Want to learn some portion-control tips and tricks without the reward? I discuss them here.

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

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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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FDA to update food label serving sizes

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post “FDA to update food label serving sizes.”

You can also read it HERE.

FDA (Food and Drug Administration) is seeking public comment on the proposed revisions to the food labels (NOTE: deadline August 1).

You can still comment on the following:

1. Serving Sizes: Docket FDA-2004-N-0258

2. Nutrition and Supplement Facts Label: Docket FDA-2012-N-1210

Below are my comments on FDA’s proposal to update the serving sizes.

Dr. Margaret Hamburg
Commissioner
Food and Drug Administration
10903 New Hampshire Avenue
Silver Spring, MD 20993

Re: Food Labeling: Serving Sizes of Foods That Can Reasonably Be Consumed at One-Eating Occasion; Dual-Column Labeling; Updating, Modifying, and Establishing Certain Reference Amounts Customarily Consumed; Serving Size for Breath Mints; and Technical Amendments; Docket No. FDA-2004-N-0258 (Formerly Docket No. 2004N-0456)

Dear Commissioner Hamburg:

I strongly support the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) proposal to revise the Reference Amounts Customarily Consumed (RACCs) for certain food and beverage products. I have been researching trends in growing portion sizes as well as educating clients and students on understanding information about food label serving sizes and the relationship between portion sizes, calories, and weight management.

Below I make the following points:

I. I strongly support the FDA’s proposal to revise the Reference Amounts Customarily Consumed (RACCs) for certain products;
II. FDA should revise serving sizes for additional foods;
III. FDA should pro-actively address concerns about the possible unintended consequence that some consumers view serving sizes as portion recommendations.
IV. FDA should require that serving size information be displayed in ounces instead of gram weights.
I appreciate the chance to comment. I urge FDA to expeditiously finalize this rule, as well as the companion proposal regarding revisions to the Nutrition Facts Panel.

I. I strongly support the FDA’s proposal to revise the Reference Amounts Customarily Consumed (RACCs) for certain products.

I strongly support the FDA’s proposal to revise the serving size for certain foods and beverages to reflect the way Americans eat today. Labels that list the nutrition information for outdated serving sizes may be deceptive to consumers, and I commend FDA for its recognition of the need to revise the RACCs for specific foods. I also commend FDA’s proposal to require that packaged foods and drinks typically consumed in one sitting be labeled as a single serving, and that manufacturers declare the calorie and nutrient information for the entire package.

As FDA notes, the original RACCs were established using U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) survey data from 1977-1978 and 1987-1988. Consumption patterns have changed over the past few decades. For example, on average, American adults aged 20 and older consumed 240 more calories per day in 2009-2010, when compared to levels in 1971-1975, mostly due to increased portion sizes of foods and beverages.

The portion sizes of commonly consumed foods have increased considerably since the late 1970s; one reason for the increase in obesity rates may be that people are eating larger food portions, and therefore, more calories. The trend toward growing portion sizes has been observed for packaged foods and drinks as well as energy dense foods served in the highest selling takeout places, restaurants and fast-food outlets. Many food portions are now two to five times larger than their original size.

II. FDA should revise serving sizes for additional foods.

Using consumption data from the most recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES), 2003-2008, the agency proposes to modify an existing RACC if the median consumption increased or decreased by at least 25 percent, compared to the RACC established in 1993. The FDA states that it also took into account other factors when deciding to modify an existing RACC, including information from citizen petitions, industry comments, and market trends. I urge the FDA to consider:

• Pegging the proposal to set new RACCs only for changes of 25 percent or greater neglects some categories that deserve re-evaluation due to their impact on public health. Under the law, FDA is required to define the reference amounts for foods based on the amount of food customarily consumed. See Pub. L. 101.9(b)(1); 58 F.R. 44039 et seq. Therefore, I urge FDA to update the RACCs based on actual food consumption data as opposed to allowing for a 25% or greater change

III. FDA should pro-actively address concerns about the possible unintended consequence that some consumers view serving sizes as portion recommendations.

I recognize that the RACCs used to calculate serving sizes are required to be based on the amount of food people customarily consume, and are not recommended amounts of food to eat. However, given the likelihood of confusion among some consumers, 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.”
Other ideas for communicating a similar distinction should also be tested in consumer research by the agency. I also support additional education efforts to increase consumer understanding of the meaning of the change in serving sizes, as FDA suggests in its proposal.

IV. FDA should require that serving size information be displayed in ounces
instead of gram weights.

From my experience as an educator and clinician, few people understand the meaning of gram weights, as we do not rely on the metric system in the U.S. While I applaud listing food amounts in common household measures ( cups, tablespoons) as well, I urge the FDA to require that serving size information be displayed in ounces instead of gram weights. The term “ounces” as opposed to “grams” is used by USDA’s MyPlate.gov and is also more easily recognizable to US citizens.

References

Food and Drug Administration, Food Labeling; Serving Sizes, Jan. 6, 1993, 58 FR 2229, at 2236-2237.

Ford ES, Dietz WH, “Trends in energy intake among adults in the United States: findings from NHANES. Am J Clin Nutr 2013;97:848-53.

Young LR , Nestle M. Reducing Portion Sizes to Prevent Obesity: A Call to Action. Am J Prev Med 2012;43:565-568.

Young LR, Nestle M. The contribution of increasing portion sizes to the obesity epidemic. Am J Pub Health 2002;92:246-249.

Nielsen SJ, Popkin BM. Patterns and trends in food portion sizes, 1977-1998. JAMA 2003;289:450-453.

Young LR. The Portion Teller Plan. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press, Random House, 2005.

Young LR, Nestle M. Expanding portion sizes in the US marketplace: Implications for nutrition counseling. J Am Diet Assoc 2003;103:231-234.

Food and Drug Administration, Food Labeling: Serving Sizes of Foods That Can Reasonably Be Consumed at One-Eating Occasion; Dual-Column Labeling; Updating, Modifying, and Establishing Certain Reference Amounts Customarily Consumed; Serving Size for Breath Mints; and Technical Amendments, Mar. 3, 2014, 79 FR 11990, at 12008 (hereinafter, 79 FR at _______).

Juan W, “Memorandum to file: Consumption estimates for foods for infants and children 1 through 3 years of age and for the general food supply for individuals ages 4 years and older in the United States by general category and product category using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2003-2008 (NHANES 2003-2008) compared to the 1993 RACCs, and Proposed Changes to RACCs.” Feb. 11, 2014.

79 FR at 12007.

US Department of Agriculture. MyPlate. Washigton, 2011. www.choosemyplate.gov

Lisa R. Young, PhD, RD, CDN

Author, The Portion Teller Plan (www.portionteller.com)
Nutrition Consultant/Registered Dietitian in private practice
Adjunct professor of nutrition, Dept of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, New York University

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5 Ways to Build a Better Burger

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post. “5 Ways to Build a Better Burger.”

You can also read it HERE.

Summer is the season for barbecues. That often means burgers and hot dogs. As a nutritionist, I suggest limiting our intake of red meat and processed foods. However, if you want to indulge in an occasional burger, here are five ways to build a better one.

1. Top your burger with sliced tomato.

Instead of using ketchup, opt for fresh tomatoes, which are low in calories and sugar and contain the antioxidants lycopene and vitamin C.

2. Add fresh avocado to your burger.

Instead of adding mayonnaise to your burger, try adding several slices of fresh avocado instead. Not only is avocado moist and delicious, it offers up health benefits as well. A UCLA study found that eating one-half of a fresh medium Hass avocado with a lean burger, rather than eating a burger alone, may curb the production of compounds that contribute to inflammation. Inflammation is a risk factor that may be associated with heart disease. An added benefit to eating avocado is that it contains heart-healthy monounsaturated fat and the antioxidant vitamin E.

3. Choose a whole wheat bun.

Instead of grabbing for a white bun, use a whole wheat bun instead. A whole wheat bun is more nutritious, boosting your fiber intake and your intake of vitamins and minerals including magnesium and folate. Current guidelines suggest that we limit our intake of refined grains and choose whole wheat products instead.

4. Go single.

Watch your portion size by choosing a single hamburger patty instead of the double and triple burgers we so often see at fast-food chains. Indeed, a double burger will give us twice the calories and fat as would a single burger.

5. Try a veggie burger.

Eat a bean-based veggie burger instead of a regular hamburger. Bean and legumes are a great plant based protein while also contributing to heart health. Not only do veggie burgers taste great, they are rich in soluble fiber and devoid of saturated fat and fairly low in calories.

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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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Buyer Beware: Five Ways to Steer Clear of Health Haloes

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post “Buyer Beware: Five Ways to Steer Clear of Health Halos.”

You can also read it HERE.

New research soon to be published in the International Journal of Obesity by researchers at University of Ulster in Northern Ireland found that subjects eat more when food is labeled with a term perceived as healthy such as “reduced fat.”

Nearly 200 adult subjects were presented with pairs of foods, one food labeled with a “healthy”-sounding term such as “reduced fat” and the other food a regular brand item. The pairs of items had the same number of calories per 100-gram portions. Foods studied were reduced-fat and luxury coleslaw, semi-skimmed milk and Sprite, and Frosties and Special K cereals.

The subjects served themselves a larger portion of the healthy-sounding foods. This translates into the fact that they actually ate more calories from the products perceived as healthy. The subjects also underestimated how many calories were in these portions.

I have seen this phenomenon quite a bit in my private practice. Clients often think that if a food is labeled with a healthy-sounding term, they can eat more. For example, just because cookies are labeled reduced-fat, organic or gluten-free, people often think that somehow the calories do not count. But after all, cookies are cookies, regardless of whether they are reduced-fat, organic, gluten-free, or labeled some other way. And usually, when products are labeled as “reduced-fat,” manufacturers compensate by adding sugar. When products often marketed for diabetics are labeled as sugar-free, they may contain added fats or sodium.

At the end of the day, it is important to remember that very often marketing is at play here. As reported in Reuters:

“Foods are marketed as being healthier for a reason, because food producers believe, and they correctly believe, that those labels will influence us to eat their products and perhaps eat more of their products,” said Dr. Cliodhna Foley Nolan the director of Human Health and Nutrition at Safefood, a government agency in Ireland.

The takeaway message: Don’t be fooled by food label traps. Here are several ways to avoid such pitfalls.

1. Read food labels. Look at the calories per serving along with the other nutrients, such as fat, sodium, and sugar. The order of ingredients matters, too. Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. If the first few ingredient contain unhealthy ingredients, regardless of the promise made on label, I’d suggest limiting this product or skipping it entirely.

2. Pay attention to your serving size. Be mindful as to how much you actually eat. For example, if you must indulge in a cookie, go for one cookie instead of two cookies, regardless of how they are labeled. Reduced-fat, sugar-free, or gluten-free cookies still have calories. Reduced-fat or reduced-sugar coleslaw, for example, may still have the same number of calories as the regular version. And the more you eat, the more calories you will be taking in. It is that simple.

3. Eat more whole food. This includes unprocessed foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables — which do not have food labels touting these products as healthy, low-fat, reduced-fat, gluten-free, or some other “healthy”-sounding term.

4. Cook more. By preparing your own food, you are able to know exactly what ingredients, and how much of each, is going into the final product.

5. Avoid “diet” food. Oftentimes, diet foods such as baked goods labeled low-fat, reduced-calorie, or fat-free do not taste great. And you may end up eating more to compensate for the mediocre taste. My advice: Stick to the real thing, and eat a smaller portion of a food you really enjoy.

Finally, always remember that there is no free lunch.

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