Portion sizes began to increase in the 1980s and have been sky rocketing ever since. Our perception of portions has become so distorted over time that, research shows, it’s hard for us to recognize what a normal portion looks like.
Take bagels, for example. Twenty years ago, the average bagel had a 3-inch diameter and 140 calories. Today, bagels have a 6-inch diameter and 350 calories. Eat one and you’ve just consumed three servings of grains — that’s half the recommended number of grain servings for the entire day.
In fact, we’ve become so desensitized to “big food” that we don’t think twice when restaurants offer us things like never ending pasta bowls, bottomless fries, or 52-ounce mugs of soda. And we don’t think is strange that, in some instances, we can’t even order a “small” anymore — just variations of big, bigger, and biggest.
The price we pay for such overabundance is high. Kids and adults who consistently overeat are at risk for developing weight problems and the medical problems associated with being overweight, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, bone and joint problems, breathing and sleeping problems, and even depression. Later in life they are at greater risk for heart disease, heart failure, and stroke.
One reason that kids and adults eat too much at meals is that they tend to eat what is on their plate. Thus, as portions have gone up, so have the calories consumed. So it is helpful to understand the difference between serving sizes and recommended amounts of different foods.
The serving size on a food label is not telling us the amount we should be eating. The serving size is a guide to help us see how many calories and nutrients, as well as how much fat, sugar, and salt are in a specific quantity of that food.
When it comes to foods that are high in calories, sugar, or fat, the serving size is a useful guide to alert us that we may be getting more than is healthy. If you consume a 20-ounce bottle of soda in one sitting, the amount consumed is 20 ounces. But if the label shows the serving size is 8 ounces, not only did you have 2½ servings, you also had 2½ times the listed calories as well as 2½ times the sugar.
The recommended amounts of the different food groups and nutrients depend on the person’s age, sex, and activity level. The recommended amounts are based on a 2000 calorie diet. A Registered Dietitian can help determine what your specific daily calorie needs are.
Read the label!
This is why reading food label is so important in managing our nutrition. All the information we need from the product we are about to consume is in the food’s nutrition facts label. And when eating out, ask for the nutrition information on the foods whenever possible (many restaurants now have the information ready available), or request for the plate to be divided in half and bring the other half home.
Get used to filling half your plate with vegetables and the rest with lean protein and whole grains. Remember to stay well hydrated throughout the day and have a tall glass of water before your meals. And always remember that YOU control what goes into your body.