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There's no doubt that the portion sizes of restaurant meals and packaged foods has increased in the last twenty years. There's a lot of discussion about "supersizing" and the effect that it has had on the rise in obesity in our culture. Many feel that the larger portions that we are served has an effect on what we will serve ourselves.
Portion Control: It Works
People's waistlines have increased right along with the increasing sizes of food servings in restaurants. Portion control, then, is just one of the tools advocated for successful weight loss. "A four-ounce serving is about the size of your palm," says the dietitian.
Portion size is the single most important key to eating healthy. You read every day that there has been a dramatic increase in the size of portions. Everything from fast food to candy has been "supersized" in the last 30 years. The good news is that there are also a lot of great ingredients that have been produced with less fat and fewer calories.
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Researchers at Chapel Hill, North Carolina sought to find out whether the conventional wisdom--that portion sizes have been getting bigger--is true or not (JAMA 2003;289(4):450-453).
The researchers made use of three nationally representative surveys that had taken place between 1977 and 1998. Among the data collected were information about what foods were eaten, the portion size, where the food was eaten (at home, at a restaurant, or at a fast food restaurant), and whether the food was a meal or a snack. They also paid specific attention to what they termed "key foods," which included salty snacks like potato chips and pretzels, soft drinks, french fries, burgers, pizza, and Mexican food.
You won't be surprised to find out that portion sizes ARE getting bigger, and that the largest portion sizes in 1994-1998 were at fast food restaurants. However, the largest portion sizes for desserts and burgers were those eaten at home. Restaurants, on the other hand, consistently had the smallest portion sizes overall.
A few examples of the increases: the average portion size of salty snacks increased from 132 calories to 225 calories. A portion of french fries increased from 188 to 256 calories. And a portion of Mexican food increased from 408 to 541 calories. It's easy to see why almost one-third of the adult U.S. population is obese, since an extra 10 calories a day, every day, adds up to an additional one pound of weight per year.
the single most important thing you can do to control your weight is to control your portion size. Three tips: make use of the portion guidelines I wrote about yesterday in my "Dr. Tim Says..." article; don't be afraid to ask for a doggie bag in a restaurant; and if you must eat at a fast food restaurant, take along my "Eating Healthy at Fast Food Restaurants" tip sheet.
First posted: June 13, 2006