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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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Restaurant survival guide

Below is my blog post  Restaurant survival guide: 10 tips for healthful dining for Huffington Post. You can also read it HERE.

Restaurant survival guide: 10 tips for healthful dining

Being a nutritionist in New York City, with so many good restaurants on almost every block, so many clients that I counsel eat out more often than they eat at home. Whether dinner parties, business meetings, or just catching up with friends, eating out has become one of our favorite activities. While I always recommend that it is good to cook (or learn to cook) and eat home on occasion, so much of my time is spent coaching clients on how to eat out healthfully in restaurants.

It is possible to eat out and consume upward of 2000 calories in just one meal. However, it is also entirely possible not to break your calorie budget and to eat healthfully while eating out. The key is to be mindful of your food choices and to choose wisely. Here are my top tips for dining out healthfully.

1. Mind your portions. Portions have grown tremendously over the years and it is most noticeable in restaurants. As I wrote in my book, The Portion Teller Plan, many steaks often contain a pound of meat (yes that is 16 oz!), overflowing pasta bowls often hold 3 or more cups, and some sandwiches contain over 1000 calories. However, you do NOT need to eat an entire dish yourself. YOU can practice portion control by splitting an entrée in half and share with your dining partner, wrapping up leftovers, or ordering appetizer portions.

2. Order a salad or vegetable soup to start. Instead of eating the entire bread basket which we often do when we sit down in the restaurant and wait for our main dish to arrive, order a healthy appetizer. A salad with mixed vegetables (order dressing on the side) or a vegetable-based soup is a great way to start a meal. The veggies are fairly low in calories and will fill you up as they are rich in fiber (not to mention healthy).

3. Order dishes grilled, broiled or baked. How a meal is prepared is so important to determining the healthfulness—and calorie count—of the meal. Try to stick with baked chicken or grilled fish, for example. Steer clear of fried dishes such as deep fried chicken.

4. Choose red sauce over cream sauce. We all love eating at our favorite Italian restaurant and we may want to enjoy an occasional bowl of pasta. Besides minding our portions, it is also important to choose the right sauce. Marinara or tomato sauce is relatively low in fat and calories as compared to a cream sauce.

5. Order primavera. Adding vegetables to your pasta dish (or any other dish you can) is a great way to make your portion look larger, boost vitamins, minerals, and fiber content, and help you to feel more satisfied without providing unneeded calories.

6. Order “on the side.” When ordering a salad or fish dish which may appear to be healthy, if the dish contains tons of dressing and sauce, you may be getting hundreds of added calories without even realizing. To avoid this, ask for dressings and sauces on the side. I do not think it is practical to eat everything bland and steamed with no sauce at all. However, if you order your favorite sauce or dressing on the side, you get to control how much you add on and you get a taste of the flavor you like.

7. Skip the soda and sugary drinks. Sodas and other sugary beverages add unnecessary calories to your meal. Opt for water or flavored seltzers instead.

8. Think ONE. If you want to indulge in an occasional glass of wine, think ONE. One drink on occasion is OK for most of us, but as I tell my clients, it is important not to drink several drinks daily. Not only does a lot of alcohol provide unneeded calories (as well as potential health risks), it tends to lower your inhibitions and you may end up overeating without realizing it.

9. Share dessert. It is ok to enjoy an occasional piece of pie for dessert but I suggest sharing it with your dinner companions. One great idea is to order your favorite “treat’ dessert while also ordering a fresh fruit platter. This way you can split both. The fruit adds volume so that you don’t feel deprived ordering just a few bites of pastry or pie.

10. Skip the WHITE (unless it is cauliflower). It is best to skip the white bread products which are refined and devoid of fiber and other important nutrients. Order brown rice instead of white rice, whole wheat pasta or soba noodles instead of white pasta, and limit the white bread and crackers on the table.

And, finally, remember that French fries count as a treat, and not as a vegetable.

Enjoy.

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Plate size matters

Below is my blog post Portion Size Matters for Huffington Post.

You can also read it HERE.

A new study out of Temple University suggests that one solution to helping kids eat less is to give them smaller plates. With childhood obesity rates so high, we need effective strategies to help youngsters eat more healthfully and eat less.

The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, found that plate size matters, at least for first-graders. The research was conducted at lunchtime on first-graders. Eighty percent of children served themselves 90 more calories when using large, adult-sized plates than when using smaller plates. And the students ate about half of the additional calories that they piled onto the plate. According to the researchers, the additional calories on these bigger plates were probably carbohydrates or protein, as kids did not usually serve themselves extra vegetables.

These results make perfect sense to me as a nutrition researcher tracking portion-size trends. As I wrote in my book The Portion Teller Plan, the sizes of plates have increased in recent years, and could certainly be an additional contributor to the obesity epidemic in our country. When given a larger plate, consumers tend to pile on more food.

Indeed, research from Cornell University conducted on adults found that people eat more off of larger plates. They found that a food portion looks smaller when it is placed on a large plate. And this new study confirms this phenomenon in kids.

I often suggest to clients in my private practice to eat off of downsized dishes. Using a smaller dish makes a smaller portions look like more food. And dieters do not want to stare at a half-empty plate. It makes them feel deprived. When one of my clients started eating off of her grandmother’s dishes, she began to lose weight. She ate less without even realizing it.

Another suggestion that I offer clients is to use a larger plate for salad (a great way to increase your veggie consumption) and use a smaller plate for the main dish. This way, you do not have to go out and buy new dishes.

Divide-and-conquer is another great approach when thinking about your plate. As USDA’s dietary guidance icon MyPlate suggests, fill half of your plate with fruits and veggies, one-quarter with healthy grains such as brown rice or quinoa, and one-quarter with protein-rich foods such as grilled fish or chicken.

One caveat: When using a smaller plate, remember not to pile on your food. If food can fall off of the plate, you probably served yourself too much.

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Holiday tip: mini-size it!

Here is my latest blog post for Huffington Post. You can also read it here.

Happy holidays!

Holiday tip: mini-size it!

Mini-size it! A great way—perhaps the best way—to cut calories is to trim your portion sizes. Especially of foods that are high in calories. That would include many treats you would find at holiday parties and events such as eggnog, specialty hot chocolates, fancy chocolates, and cakes. The good news about using portion control as a way to trim calories is that you do not have to entirely ban your favorite treats and traditional holiday foods. The key to success, especially during the holiday season is “moderation.” If you crave a fattening food, it is ok to treat yourself to a small serving.

A few healthy holiday tips:

  • If you are baking a pie for guests, try cutting it into 10-12 slices instead of 8 slices.
  • If you are baking holiday cookies, bake smaller ones.
  • Buy mini muffin pans so you have them handy so that you can bake mini muffins.
  • If you are cooking potato latkes for Chanukah, make smaller ones, and use less oil.
  • Eat off of smaller plates.
  • Drink out of smaller glasses. Sip wine, for example, out of a smaller wine glass when possible (if entertaining at home, for example) and limit refills. Liquid calories add up quickly.
  • Eyeball serving sizes using common visuals. Three ounces of meat look like a deck of cards, 1/4 cup nuts looks like a golf ball, and two tablespoons of salad dressing fills a shot glass.
  • Use your hand as a guide.  Stick with a portion of meat the size of your palm and your starch (potato or rice) should be around the size of your fist. (Of course healthy veggies, without dressing, can be consumed in generous portions.)

As the quote goes: “If you can half-it, you can have it.” Or, as I write in my book, The Portion Teller Plan, “What kind of sandwich isn’t fattening?: The answer: “a half sandwich.”

Happy holidays!

Enjoy family, friends, and of course moderate portions of your favorite foods.

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Growing portion sizes in the US: time for action

Below is my latest post for Huffington Post. I highlight key points from my latest academic paper on growing portion sizes.

The prevalence of overweight has increased in adults and children and shows no signs of decreasing. As I have previously written, large portions of unhealthy high caloric foods have indeed contributed to this problem.

In my latest paper, “Reducing Portion Sizes to Prevent Obesity: A Call to Action,” just published in the November issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine with my NYU colleague Marion Nestle, we discuss recent portion-size trends and offer several suggestions to address the problem with ever expanding food portions.

Here are some key points:

Portion sizes have continued to increase through the first decade of the 21st century. Top fast-food and restaurant chains continue to introduce new large-size portions. Food companies are introducing bigger burgers, burritos, pizzas, and sandwiches. Some of these single-serving items (meaning, they are marketed for one person) contain more than 1,000 calories. For example, Wendy’s Baconator Triple burger contains approximately 1,300 calories and Burger King Triple Whopper contains 1,140 calories.

As we illustrate in our paper, the trend toward larger portions coincides with the availability of calories in the U.S. food supply and the rising prevalence of overweight and obesity.

The food industry has not responded to pleas from public health officials to reduce portions, and most Americans have become conditioned and have come to expect larger portions. So what can we do about this continued trend toward larger portions?

We offer several approaches:

1. Education and Public Health Campaigns
Health professional should continue to advise patients on portion control and healthy eating.

2. Consistent Serving Sizes
The FDA sets standards for food labels and the USDA sets standards for dietary guidance and education. These standards are smaller than typical portions, differ from one another and may be creating more confusion. One uniform system is needed to better advise the public on the relationship between portion size, calories and weight gain.

3. Price Incentives for Small Portions
The food environment must support healthier food choices and encourage consumers to want to buy the smaller size. One way to do that would be to offer price breaks for smaller-size portions. Our current price structure encourages us to supersize. We can often get twice as much food or drink for just a few cents. We need to reverse this trend
by making the smaller size financially appealing.

4. Portion Size Limits in Food-Service Establishments
Policy approaches to limit marketplace portions should be considered. A recent policy conceived by Mayor Bloomberg of New York City, and recently approved by the Board of Health to cap the sizes of sugary drinks to 16 ounces, will be implemented in March 2013. I have been an active advocate of this policy, have previously written for Huffington Post about it, and do hope other public health departments follow in New York City’s footsteps.

In your own life, I urge you to consider such portion size strategies. Whether it be ordering a small instead of a large size, sharing a restaurant entrée, advising others to eat less, or getting active in a health and portion campaign, small steps in encouraging our food environment to support healthier food choices can ultimately result in reversing our obesity epidemic.

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