Your Health

Portion distortion

How to eat healthy in a supersized world

Portion distortion
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Perfect plate

How much is enough?

Information on portion sizes

Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, January / February 2011

Did you know that the hamburger you order today is twice the size of what you would have been served 25 years ago?

And burgers aren't the only things that have been supersized over the years.

The average bottle of pop, for example, has gone from 192 ml to 591 ml in two decades. A bagel that used to be three inches is now six inches.

And, restaurants, of course, are constantly competing with each other to provide consumers with the best value, which often translates into bigger portions for less money. Even the dinner plates we use at home are bigger than they used to be - one and half times bigger, according to some studies.

These incremental changes are important because there is reason to believe that the growth in portion sizes has affected our understanding of what an appropriate portion of food actually is. This is known as "portion distortion."

A study done by Rutgers University published in 2006 underscores the point. It found that students at the school who self-selected portions of food chose much larger helpings than students who had participated in a similar study 20 years earlier. Other studies have come to a similar conclusion: as portions increase, people see the larger size as normal.

What does this mean? If our portions of food have increased, then we may be choosing to eat more than required to get the nutrients we need. Indeed, if the Rutgers study is any indication, you may not even realize that your portion sizes are larger than they need to be.

Fortunately, there are ways to right-size our meals.

The most important thing is to distinguish between a portion and a serving. A portion is the amount of food that you put on your plate and plan to eat.

A serving is the amount of food recommended in Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide to maintain a healthy weight. Understanding the difference between portions and servings is critical to developing healthy eating habits.

Of course, how much we need to eat depends on several factors, including age and gender. The chart accompanying this column offers a guide for a 35-year-old active female. Get more information by checking out Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide.

Considering the size of your plate can also help rein in portions. A right-sized plate is about the size of a Frisbee (7 to 9 inches in diameter). If you have a large plate, fill only the middle of it. Stop eating when you no longer feel hungry. It's also helpful to remember that it usually takes about 20 minutes for our stomach to tell our brain that we're full.

What you eat can also play a role in how much you eat. A balanced diet with more fruits and vegetables as part of your main meal or a snack will help satiate your appetite and reduce the risk that you will feel hungry or need to consume larger portions of food.

Colleen Rogers is a registered dietitian with the Winnipeg Health Region.


About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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