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Posts Tagged ‘ Serving size ’

FDA wants to know how much Nutella YOU eat.

Below is my blog post “FDA wants to know how much Nutella YOU eat.”

You can also read it on Huffington Post HERE.

The maker of Nutella, the chocolate-hazelnut spread loved by many Americans, wants a smaller serving size to be listed on its nutrition labels.

Ferrero, Nutella’s parent company, says that a smaller serving size will reflect how consumers currently use the product, and has been petitioning the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to reclassify the spread.

Ferrero claims that nowadays Nutella is eaten in smaller amounts as a spread on toast instead of as a topping on ice cream or a filler in cupcakes.

According to CNN, the company surveyed over 700 mothers and claims that 60% of consumers now eat Nutella on bread, up from 8% back in 1991. And, only 2% of consumers today use Nutella on ice cream, down from 27% back in 1991.

Nutella is currently categorized as a dessert topping, with a serving size of two tablespoons. Instead, Ferrero wants the sweet spread to be classified in the jam and honey category.

Why this request? They can list a smaller serving size of one tablespoon—instead of two tablespoons—on its jars.

A smaller serving size on the food label means fewer calories and less sugar. This may give consumers the perception that Nutella is a healthier spread and may influence shopper’s decisions to buy more of it.

One tablespoon or two?

Now FDA may consider Nutella’s claims, but only if Americans agree. So the agency is now asking Nutella lovers how much they eat at a time.

Two tablespoons of Nutella contain 200 calories. The two tablespoon serving size originated in the 1990s, when the spread was used more as a dessert topping on ice cream.

As a nutritionist and portion size researcher, I’ve observed that most people rarely pay close attention to their portion and tend to underestimate how much they really eat. And they will probably spread a lot more than one tablespoon of Nutella on a slice of bread.

Secondly, even if people do spread Nutella on toast, many people use it more like a nut butter (which has a two tablespoon serving size) than as a honey or jam.

The FDA is now collecting comments about how much consumers are eating in a sitting.

Clearly, Ferrero is worried that the required two tablespoon serving size makes its product look unhealthy when compared to honey or jam.

I’ve written about food label serving sizes extensively, and have discussed how after 20 years, food labels are getting a makeover. Many standard serving sizes—known as reference amounts customarily consumed (RACCs)—will be increasing to reflect how much Americans typically eat. (We eat lots more now than we used to eat.)

The serving size for ice cream, soda, and other favorites will soon be increasing to reflect our changing eating habits.

Interestingly, research on consumer perceptions of larger federal serving sizes is mixed. On the one hand, if consumers see a bigger serving size on a package label, they will be more mindful. Especially after seeing a larger calorie count. On the other hand, however, research found that after seeing a larger serving size on the food label, many consumers will view that larger serving size as a recommendation to eat more.

As I’ve written, FDA serving sizes are not meant to be recommendations for how much we should eat. Instead, they are meant to reflect how much we typically eat.

Nonetheless, serving sizes do influence consumers’ decisions and the burning question is: How will consumers view a smaller serving size on a food label of Nutella?

So FDA wants to know how you eat Nutella and how much do you typically eat?
You can weigh in here.

Measuring spoons anyone?!

My guess would be that if we pulled out our measuring spoons, most of us would find that we eat much more than one tablespoon.

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Avoid these portion pitfalls which can derail your diet

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post “Avoid these 5 portion pitfalls which can derail your diet.” 

You can also read it here. 

Image courtesy of Praisaeng at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Praisaeng at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As a portion size advocate, I believe all foods can fit into a healthy diet. However, while you can enjoy larger portions of certain foods (fruits and vegetables), you should pay attention to how big your portions are for others foods (breads, baked goods, red meat, candy and chips).

No one I know got fat from eating too many berries, apples, or carrots. Therefore, when I work with clients, I encourage them to enjoy generous portions of produce. However, we need to be more mindful of how much we eat of other foods, especially treats and sweets. It often takes retraining your brain, paying close attention to how much food really constitutes a health portion size, and developing healthy habits to avoid eating too much.

Being conscious of the following food traps is half the battle. Avoid these portion pitfalls to prevent you from overeating.

1. You buy oversize bags of chips in search of a bargain.

We all love a good bargain! After all, it is hard to resist buying the oversize bag of chips when it only costs just a quarter or so more than the smaller bag. However, while it’s great to stock up on jumbo rolls of toilet paper, the same cannot be said about food, especially junk food. Keeping your health—and your weight—in check is a top priority and the best bargain you can find!

My suggestion: Avoiding buying jumbo bags of food unless you take the time to portion out the contents into individual servings in small plastic baggies or containers.

2. You eat straight from the tub.

One of the easiest ways to overeat is to eat straight from the package. Whether it’s a tub of ice cream, a half-gallon of juice, or a bag of chips, it is very difficult to portion control your food when you eat straight from the package. And leaving it up to willpower rarely works.

My suggestion: Portion out a reasonable serving size, pour it onto a plate, savor it, and enjoy. And do eat sitting down.

3. You pour instead of dip.

One of the reasons so many of us eat more calories than we think is that we order a healthy salad but then we pour on tons of dressing. While salad greens and veggies won’t break you in the bank, salad dressing calories add up very quickly. One tablespoon of olive oil contains around 120 calories, and many salads—even appetizer sized!—contain several tablespoons worth.

My suggestion: Dip your fork into a side dish of dressing instead of pouring it all on your favorite salad. You can always add more if you need.

4. You pay no attention to serving sizes on food labels.

While food labels will be getting a makeover and many serving sizes of our favorite foods are set to increase, most people look at the calories listed but pay little attention to the serving size and the number of servings per container.

While one serving of your favorite treat may contain only 100 calories, if you eat several serving’s worth, your calorie count will much higher than just 100 calories. Yet so many of us would still say that they have only eaten 100 calories or so. I often see this pattern with many highly educated clients that I’ve counseled. Especially since many snacks that look like single servings actually contain two to three servings. Many muffins, for example contain two servings, but who eats just ½ a muffin? It’s easy to be fooled!

My suggestion: Pay attention to food label serving sizes along with the number of servings per container. I also suggest getting a measuring cup and food scale and from time to time weighing your typical portion to see how many servings are really on your plate.

5. You serve food family style.

The best way to serve food whenever possible is to plate it in the kitchen. Placing large platters of food directly on the dinner table and serving food family-style is one of the easiest ways to end up eating lots more than you really need. And the larger the serving platter and serving utensil, the more food we are likely to take.

My suggestion: Plate out a reasonable size portion in the kitchen. If you are still hungry, you can always go back for more.

For additional portion-size tips and tricks, click here and here.

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

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Will new food labels encourage us to eat…more?!

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post, Will new food labels encourage us to eat…more?!

You can also read it HERE.

In February 2014, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) along with Michelle Obama announced an overhaul to the nutrition facts label required on all packaged foods. Among the proposed changes includes updating the serving sizes.

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.”

The food labels have not been revised in over 20 years, and the current serving sizes are based on portions typically consumed in the 1970s and 1980s.

We eat larger portions than we did 20 years ago, so current serving sizes are smaller–often much smaller–than what people actually eat. As I’ve written in my book The Portion Teller Plan and research articles, these serving sizes may be confusing to people trying to follow dietary advice.

In a previous piece I wrote for Huffington Post, while I commended the FDA for using more realistic serving sizes, I also offered a note of caution: in particular, that FDA is not telling consumers to actually eat more.

“For the good news, as I discussed on CBS Morning News, the serving sizes will be more realistic and reflect what people really eat. Many people today just glance at the calories and think that whatever amount they eat is a serving. For the ice cream example, a consumer reading food labels will now see 400 calories displayed instead of 200 calories. This may mean that you would think twice before scarfing down the entire pint.

A note of caution: FDA is not telling us to eat more. At least, the agency is not advising us to eat a bigger portion of ice cream. Rather, the agency is informing us as to the calorie and nutrient content in a standard serving size which is more in line with what we really do eat…. It would be useful if FDA follow up with nutrition education materials to further educate the public on the relationship between portion sizes, calories, and obesity.”

While there are clearly benefits to FDA requiring that manufacturers use more realistic serving sizes, a new study, published in the journal Appetite, addresses some potential problems with larger serving sizes. The study explores how consumers interpret the new serving sizes, and how they affect the amount of food they would serve themselves.

In one of several experiments, the researchers showed subjects two different labels for mini chocolate chip cookies–the current label which states 3 cookies as a serving and the proposed new label which lists 6 cookies as a serving. The subjects exposed to the proposed label served themselves significantly more cookies than those exposed to the current label.

Results of all four experiments found that people misinterpret serving size information. The majority of subjects believe that the serving size on a food label refers to how much they should eat. The researchers also found that the increased serving sizes on the proposed Nutrition Facts label can lead people eat more and purchase more food.

Uh oh! This is troubling, especially in a society where many of us already eat too much.

The researchers write, “We found that people misinterpret serving size information, with the vast majority of consumers incorrectly believing that the serving size refers to how much can/should be consumed.”

Lead author Steven Dallas, a doctoral candidate at New York University’s Stern School of Business wrote me the following in an email message: “Our research shows that the increased serving sizes of the proposed label lead consumers to serve more food for themselves and others. Since excessive consumption is a key contributor to obesity, this is a worrisome effect of the proposed label.”

Results of this study confirm that consumers may incorrectly view serving sizes as recommendations. Hopefully, FDA will take these findings into account when finalizing its serving-size rulings for the new food labels.

The authors conclude in their paper, “FDA should be encouraged to consider ways to correct this misinterpretation, such as by mandating the addition of a serving size definition to the proposed Nutrition Facts label. The definition could inform consumers that the serving size refers to how much of the product a typical person consumes in one sitting, and does not refer to how much of the product can be healthily consumed in one sitting.”

I agree!

In my comments last year to FDA on the proposed serving-size change, I suggest that FDA should pro-actively address concerns about the possible unintended consequence that some consumers view serving sizes as portion recommendations. I wrote, ” 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.”

Stay tuned.

In the meantime, we would love to hear your thoughts and recommendations on the new proposed serving sizes.

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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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Nutrition panel urges American’s to eat green, limit sugar, drink coffee and more

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post on the new report from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC):  Nutrition Panel urges American’s to eat green , limit sugar, drink coffee and more.

You can also read it HERE.

new report by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC), which convenes every five years and advises the federal government on the official dietary guidelines, calls for some changes to the American diet.

The purpose of the Advisory Report is to inform the government on the scientific evidence related to diet and nutrition. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) jointly write the Dietary Guidelines, which are due out later this year.

According to the DGAC:

… about half of all American adults — 117 million individuals — have one or more preventable, chronic diseases, and about two-thirds of U.S. adults — nearly 155 million individuals — are overweight or obese … Poor dietary patterns, over consumption of calories, and physical inactivity directly contribute to these disorders.

Americans eat too much sugar, saturated fat, and salt. We don’t eat enough fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and fish.

The report further states that:

… individual nutrition and physical activity behaviors and other health-related lifestyle behaviors are strongly influenced by personal, social, organizational, and environmental contexts and systems. Positive changes in individual diet and physical activity behaviors, and in the environmental contexts and systems that affect them, could substantially improve health outcomes.

The report by the committee eased certain restrictions (those for cholesterol, total fat, and coffee) and stressed limits for other restrictions (such as those for added sugar and saturated fat).

Rather than obsess over individual nutrients, the committee urges Americans to strive for a healthy dietary pattern: a diet with more fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, seafood, and low- or non-fat dairy, and less red and processed meat, sugar-sweetened foods and drinks, and refined grains.

According to Dr. Marion Nestle, my NYU colleague, author, and nutrition policy expert: “The DGAC has produced an honest, straightforward, courageous report thoroughly based on research and at long last without mincing words.”

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a consumer advocacy group in Washington, D.C., also supports the report and issued the following statement:

The report of the DGAC is mostly unchanged from the reports of 2010 and years past, and in the ways it differs, the changes are mostly for the better. Contrary to some media accounts, the pendulum is not swinging wildly back and forth on most of these scientific questions; the basic advice to eat less saturated fat, sugar, and salt, and to eat more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, is largely the same.

Here are some of the committee’s key recommendations.

SUSTAINABILITY

The committee, for the first time, urges American’s to eat green.

The report recommends that the government consider the environment — along with their heart, of course — when advising Americans about what they should eat.

The panel wrote “The major findings regarding sustainable diets were that a diet higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in calories and animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with less environmental impact than is the current U.S. diet.”

This move could have a significant impact on how much meat people eat. Not surprisingly, the meat industry called the report “flawed” and “nonsensical.”

ADDED SUGAR

The committee stressed that Americans consume too much added sugar and recommended a daily intake of 10 percent of calories, which amounts to around 12 teaspoons for a 2,000-calorie diet. To put this in perspective, “12 teaspoons of sugar” is just a tad more than a can of soda. Americans currently consume 22 to 30 teaspoons of added sugar daily, half of which come from soda, juices and other sugary drinks. This is why the report recommends that Americans drink water instead of sugary beverages such as soda.

Previous dietary guidelines have included warnings about eating too much added sugar, but this is the first time the committee made a specific recommendation for limiting sugar. Indeed, too much sugar is linked to obesity and chronic disease.

The CSPI welcomed the DGAC suggestions to consume less sugar along with the report’s blunt advice to drink fewer sugary drinks. They said, “The strong recommendations on added sugars are important and have far-reaching policy implications.”

I also applaud the recommendation for limiting added sugar along with environmental and policy changes like those suggested by the committee. As I toldFood Navigator, “The DGAC report supports the possibility of soda taxes as an incentive to promote purchasing healthier beverages, policy changes for SNAP…and limiting food marketing to kids, all steps in the right direction to promote a healthier food environment.”

The American Beverage Association (ABA), however, issued a different sentiment on restricting sugar and sugary drinks. According to Food Navigator, the ABA said: “Numerous studies have shown that restricting one food or food group is not the best approach for achieving calorie balance and maintain a healthy weight.”

Indeed, drinking less soda would be bad for their business.

FAT

The Committee is recommending that we limit saturated fat to no more than 10 percent of total calories. Saturated fat may promote heart disease by elevating blood cholesterol levels. Americans are urged to eat unsaturated fat — found in nuts, fatty fish, olive and vegetable oil — instead of saturated fat, found in red meat, cheese, butter, coconut, and palm kernel oil. While many celebrities and Atkins devotee’s heavily promote both coconut and red meat, the committee report advocates the contrary.

The DGAC, however, dropped a suggestion from previous guidelines to restrict total fat intake to no more than 35 percent of daily total calories. While previous editions of the Dietary Guidelines have advised Americans to eat a low-fat diet, the committee suggests that reducing total fat intake does not appear to decrease our risk for heart disease. Rather, replacing saturated fat with refined carbohydrates — including low-fat cookies and cakes — increases our disease risk.

CHOLESTEROL

The committee dropped its long recommendation that Americans limit their intake of dietary cholesterol from foods such as eggs and shellfish to no more than 300 mg per day. (One egg contains nearly 200 mg cholesterol.) The committee cites research showing that cholesterol from the diet has little or no effect on blood cholesterol levels for most people.

Dr. Nestle, however, wrote a thought-provoking blog post raising several important points on the research. She states, “I’m wondering if research sponsored by the egg industry could have anything to do with this.” Furthermore, she writes, “if the Advisory Committee is dropping the cholesterol recommendation, could it be because so many people are taking statins that dietary cholesterol doesn’t appear to matter so much anymore?” These are certainly points to consider.

COFFEE

If you enjoy several cups of coffee, you are in luck. The committee advised that drinking 3-5 cups of coffee per day (or up to 400 mg of caffeine) is okay. However, I suggest you watch the size of your mug to partake healthfully in those “five cups of coffee.” As I told Food Navigator, “3-5 cups translates into 2-3 Starbucks-sized cups … I worry that the public may think they can drink more coffee than the guidelines really suggest. Education on serving size is necessary here…”

Finally, will the feds accept these recommendations, and how will we implement them?

The DGAC report states:

It will take concerted, bold actions on the part of individuals, families, communities, industry, and government to achieve and maintain the healthy diet patterns and the levels of physical activity needed to promote the health of the U.S. population. These actions will require a paradigm shift to an environment in which population health is a national priority and where individuals and organizations, private business, and communities work together to achieve a population-wide “culture of health” in which healthy lifestyle choices are easy, accessible, affordable, and normative — both at home and away from home.

According to Dr. Nestle, a former member of the DGAC:

Whether the agencies — USDA and HHS — will accept its recommendations remains to be seen. Congress has already weighed in and said that the Dietary Guidelines cannot consider sustainability in making dietary advice. Much will depend on the response to the call for public comments.

Stay tuned.

We would love to hear our thoughts on the DGAC report. And you can tell the gov’t what you think by weighing in here.

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

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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 Easy Weight Loss Tips That Really Work

Below is my latest blog post for Huffington Post, 5 Easy Weight Loss Tips That Really Work.

You can also read it HERE.

As a nutritionist, I often get clients at this time of year concerned about summer — fitting into a bathing suit, getting some new clothes and navigating holiday eating and parties. I am not a fan of rigid diets, which restrict entire food groups for a short time, but rather I advocate for healthy eating and developing simple strategies which clients trying to lose weight can stick to for the long haul.

Below are simple strategies, which I have seen work for clients trying to lose weight in time for summer and more importantly, help them keep it off and be able to enjoy meals and treats with family and friends.

1. Make smart swaps.
I am a big fan of offering clients simple substitutions for their favorite foods rather than cutting foods out entirely and leaving them at a loss for what else they can include in their eating plan. As I previously wrote here: “What I have found in my private practice is that small action-oriented steps and simple substitutions tend to work a lot better.”

For example, drinking seltzer instead of soda and starting your day with bran cereal or a Greek yogurt instead of a doughnut or an oversized muffin can make a huge difference in terms of both losing weight and eating healthfully.

2. Keep a food diary
I recommend that clients keep food diaries, at least for a month or so. Writing down what you eat helps raise your awareness about exactly what and how much you are really eating. It is an excellent behavioral tool to help you practice eating mindfully. And these days, there are so many ways to keep food records. You can stick to the old-fashioned way of writing down your food habits in a spiral pad; you can keep records in your computer or iPad; or you can download an app for your smart phone.

3. Stick to regular meal times.
One way to avoid overeating is to eat at regular intervals throughout the day and not skip meals. If you are not that hungry on a particular morning for example, it is okay to eat a smaller breakfast rather than eat nothing at all. It is best not to allow yourself to get too hungry that you will just “let yourself go” and grab anything you can find.

4. Choose single servings.
Research has found that single-serving packages can help overweight individuals lose weight. I often recommend them to dieters to help them gain awareness about portion control. While we will often take several handfuls of chips or other snack foods without paying attention, we tend to think twice before opening that extra bag of chips.

Most people tend to eat more when they are served more food and drinks or when they are given food in larger packages. A review of nearly 90 studies confirms why oversize portions may contribute to obesity: We eat more when we are served more.

As the researchers from Bond University in Australia write in the Journal of the American Marketing Association, “For a doubling of portion size, consumption increases by 35 percent on average.”

Choosing single-serve packages can certainly help to decrease consumption.

5. Make half of your plate fruits and veggies.
Dieters can actually eat more of certain foods to help them lose weight. Fruits and vegetables are a perfect example as they are relatively low in calories and rich in nutrients. Because they are high in fiber, they will help you to feel full. Adding fruit to your yogurt or cereal is a great way to add fiber, color and volume to your breakfast. Starting your dinner with a tossed salad or a veggie-based soup enables you to eat more food so that you don’t feel deprived. I suggest including at least one fruit or vegetable serving at each meal.

We would love to hear some of your weight loss tips.

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Save over 1000 calories with these simple portion swaps

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

You can also read it HERE.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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