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The Supersized Nation

The Supersized Nation
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Portions are out of control at many restaurants and at our dinner tables.  Here’s how to “Down-size” for the best nutrition and weight management.

The National Institute of Health has just released some alarming statistics as it relates to portion sizes at restaurants.  In the last 20 years portion sizes have doubled and calorie counts have more than doubled for single serving entrees, sides and soft drinks.

According to the federal government more than 130 million Americans are overweight or obese.  Our eating habits are out of control.  The CDC indicates that an average male who is 20 pounds heavier for his age and height is considered overweight, and if he is 40 pounds over the norm for his age and height he is considered obese.

To complicate things further, plates of food at restaurants are typically piled high with carbohydrates; fat percentages have increased in entrees including trans-fats, and all-you-can-eat buffets are allowing people to binge on all of the above for $10.00 or less.

Bacon has become America’s new condiment and seems to top everything in addition to piles of “melty” cheese.  More and more restaurants are giving the people the chance to “double the meat,” or “super-size.”

McDonald’s has agreed to stop promoting “super-sizing,” but all fast food restaurants continue to offer “triples and doubles” on many regular offerings and bacon continues to be everywhere.

And it happens at home as well                        

As a culture, Americans have the worst eating habits.  We pile our plates high, don’t blink when someone has seconds and tend to eat more meat and starches than vegetables or fruit.  Regardless of the food source, we eat more at every meal than we need to.

In Asia, meat is thought of as a condiment.  Beef or pork is used to top a bed of noodles or rice with a blend of vegetables in a stock or sauce.  Strips of meat are an accent to the meal and the portions are typically small based on the bowl or plate.

Managing portions with plate size

In a study done at Cornell University, people who were given smaller plates ate less and felt like they ate more because they perceived the amount on the plate was greater.

People given larger plates ate more and perceived that they had eaten the same amount of food.  In actual fact, the larger plates delivered twice the calories and after 15 minutes both groups felt their hunger was satisfied.

In fact, you can buy Portion control plates that allow you to measure appropriate amounts to help you manage portion control better at home.

Stop eating family style     

This sounds un-American but more and more dieticians are encouraging people to get the big platters of food off the table.  They recommend that people serve themselves on smaller plates and then take them to the table.

What should the portions be?

According to the Palo Alto Medical Foundation the chart below indicates the Approximate Daily Amounts, Adjusted According to Appetite and Activity in Adults 51 to 70 yrs


Adult Female: 51 yrs or more Adult Male: 51 yrs or more Food Group
Sedentary 1 1/2 cups 2 cups Fruit
Moderate 1 1/2 cups 2 cups
Active 2 cups 2 to 2 1/2 cup
Sedentary 2 cups 2-1/2 to 3 cups Vegetables
Moderate 2 1/2 cups 3 cups
Active 2-1/2 to 3 cups 3 to 3-1/2 cups
Sedentary 5 ounce/ servings 6 to 7 ounce/ servings Grains
Moderate 6 ounce/ servings 7 to 8 ounce/ servings
Active 6 to 7 ounce/ servings 8 to 10 ounce/ servings
Sedentary 5 ounce/ servings 5 to 6 ounce/ servings Meat/Beans
Moderate 5 ounce/ servings 6 to 6-1/2 ounce/ servings
Active 5-1/2 to 6 ounce/ servings 6-1/2 to 7 ounce/ servings
Sedentary 3 cups 3 cups Milk
Moderate 3 cups 3 cups
Active 3 cups 3 cups
Sedentary 5 teaspoons 6 teaspoons Fats and Oils
Moderate 5 teaspoons 6 to 7 teaspoons
Active 6 teaspoons 7 to 8 teaspoons


How labeling and mislabeling misleads

It’s not just the restaurants piling it on our plates, it’s packaged goods processors as well.  You really need to read the label to understand the amount of servings that are contained in any package.  Some of the worst offenders will package a single item with all of the nutrition facts and then indicate that this single item is in fact two servings in the fine print.  That means that a single item that appears to be 300 calories is in fact 600 calories.  And while you’re at it you can double the fat, sugar, salt, carbohydrates and everything else on the nutrition label.

It happens again at the grocery store with larger sized packages.  For some reason we eat more from a bigger package than we do from a regular sized or smaller package.  You may save a little when you buy big, but if you’re eating more are you really saving?

If you must buy a super-size bag of pretzels or other types of snacks because of your family size or budget, try repackaging the items in smaller, resalable plastic bags.  Everyone will eat less and you’ll save more because it will last longer.

And while you’re at it, don’t eat out of the box or bag when you’re watching TV.  Pour it into a bowl and eat slow.

Another super-sizing tactic in grocery stores relates to baked goods.  A regular size bagel is about two ounces but how often do we see the monster bagels that weigh in at 6 ounces.  You could cut it in half but do we really do that?

Getting a handle on portions

It can be a bit difficult to look at something on any serving platter at home and figure out what one and half ounces of mashed potatoes looks like.  Fortunately, various organizations have created some easy analogies to help us estimate and manage proper portions and proportions.

The Dairy Council of California made a pretty good effort to create some simple analogies for recommended portion sizes with the following chart:

serving size

The chart doesn’t cover every food, but if in doubt remember that less is better.

The American Heart Association recommends that any serving of meat that we consume should be no larger than a deck of cards.  That includes beef, pork, fish and poultry and may be the most important analogy to remember.  Good luck finding a piece of meat that size at a restaurant these days.

Soft Drinks create the same problems

There are 10 teaspoons of sugar in a 12 ounce can of cola.  This is actually a conversion because most soft drinks use high fructose corn syrup as a sweetener.  Most other soft drink varieties have about the same proportion.  That’s almost a teaspoon of sugar for every ounce!  But wait a minute, what happens when that increases.  Anyone recognize the term “Big Gulp?”

The Gulp sizes range from 20 ounces to 64 ounces.  Imagine how much sugar is going into those giant size cups.  Would you ever remotely consider adding 50 or so teaspoons of sugar to 64 ounces of anything at home?  By the way, there are 48 teaspoons in a cup.

And it’s not just about soft drinks

How many of us sip that Grande cappuccino in the morning?  Coffee shops have jumped on the super-size bandwagon and while you can control the amount of cream and sugar in a regular coffee, most of the shops offer complex and pre-mixed blends from latte’s to frappucinnos. Maybe it’s time to downsize or go back to go old-fashioned American coffee.

Is it okay to eat more of anything?

Actually, yes:  vegetables.  Fresh or frozen.  In fact the new thinking is that vegetables should occupy 50 percent of our plate.  Starches like potatoes, pasta or rice about 30%, and as far as proteins like beef, chicken, pork or fish       -remember the deck of cards rule.

What’s curious when you consider the size of these portions is that they exactly reflect the proportions of an Asian diet.  And may be that’s a solution to the many problems with the American diet.  Just make sure you avoid one of those all you can eat Chinese buffets.


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