Keeping Portions Under Control
Bagels as big as frisbees. Muffins the size of flower pots. Bowls of pasta so deep, your fork can barely find the bottom.
It's not surprising that waistlines of kids and adults have been expanding over the last few decades. Part of the problem is undoubtedly what families eat — too much saturated fat, too much sugar, and not enough nutrients.
But another part has as much to do with quantity as quality. Are our plates simply piled too high?
Portion sizes began to increase in the 1980s and have been skyrocketing 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: 20 years ago, most bagels had a 3-inch diameter and 140 calories; today they 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 bat an eye when restaurants offer us things like neverending pasta bowls, bottomless fries, or 52-ounce mugs of soda. And we don't think it's strange that, in some cafés, we can't even order a "small" anymore — just variations of big, bigger, and biggest. No wonder car manufacturers had to start building bigger cup holders!
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.
The Truth About Serving Sizes
One reason that kids and adults eat too much at meals is that they tend to eat what's on their plate. Thus, as portions have gone up, so have the calories consumed. So it's helpful to understand the difference between serving sizes and recommended amounts of different foods.
Serving sizes. Contrary to popular belief, the serving size on a food label is not telling you the amount you should be eating. The serving size is a guide to help you see how many calories and nutrients — as well as how much fat, sugar, and salt — are in a specific quantity of that food.
Sometimes the serving size on the food label will be a lot less than you are used to eating or serving. In some cases, it's perfectly OK (and even a good idea) to eat and serve more than the serving size listed. For example, if you're cooking frozen vegetables and see the serving size is 1 cup, it's no problem to serve or eat more because most vegetables are low in calories and fat yet high in nutrition.
But when it comes to foods that are high in calories, sugar, or fat, the serving size is a useful guide to alert you that you may be getting more than is healthy. If your son gulps down a 20-ounce bottle of soda in one sitting, the amount he consumed is 20 ounces. But if the label shows the serving size is 8 ounces, not only did he have 2½ servings, he also had 2½ times the listed calories as well as 2½ times the sugar.
Recommended amounts. Serving sizes tell you how much nutrition you're getting from a particular food but they don't tell you which foods you need to stay healthy — or how much of those foods you should eat. That's where the U.S. Department of Agriculture's MyPlate comes in.
MyPlate provides recommendations based on the government's 2010 Dietary Guidelines that can help you figure out how much food kids and adults should have, based on age, gender, and activity level. Once you know that, you can decide how much of those heaping restaurant portions your family should actually eat!
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
© 1995-2009 The Nemours Foundation. All rights reserved.
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