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Attack of the Monster Serving

Por Eleazar Lara-Pantin, MD, MSc.* -

Eating extra large servings can lead to an extra large waistline! Many people make the mistake of believing they can eat all they want and not gain weight. But that’s not the case. Whether healthy or not, food needs to be eaten in appropriate portion sizes. To remain healthy and keep your weight under control, not only should you eat a variety of foods and prepare them in a healthy way, you must also pay attention to the portion size.

Monster-sized mistake

A nationwide trend threatens this basic principle of healthy living. Restaurants and fast food chains have increased the sizes of the portions of the menu items they serve in an effort to satisfy their customers. The "bigger is better" mentality has dominated the food industry in the United States, more than in any other part of the world. For example, an article published in Reader’s Digest reports that:

  •  A croissant made in the United States weighs 4 ounces and provides 430 calories. On the other hand, a croissant made in France (the country of its origin) weighs 2 ounces and provides 215 calories, half that of the American croissant.
  • French fries served at a popular American hamburger chain weigh 8 ounces and provide 610 calories, while the same fast-food restaurant in France serves french fries that weigh 5 ½ ounces and provide only 468 calories.
  • In Italy, coffee shops serve Italianissimo cappuccinos in 4 ½ ounce cups, while coffee shops in the United States serve them in cups that are 12 ounces or larger, to which of course people usually add three to four times the sugar.

Double doses

The size and weight of food portions have doubled since the 1970s, according to an article in Shapemagazine. Some of the foods most commonly served in much larger servings include bagels, muffins, potato chips, hamburgers, pasta, and popcorn.

Although the increase in size of food portions in restaurants and shops is not the only reason for the increase of overweight and obesity in the United States and in other countries, it is a main contributing factor, especially given the increase in the number of people that eat out.

Super-size it?

As a marketing strategy, many fast-food chains offer to upgrade the portion size of food and soft drinks for only a few more cents. Companies have made these meals more attractive by using catchy names such as "super size," "biggie," and "double."

Who can resist this temptation? After all, more is better. Right? Few people realize the impact that a bigger meal has on the amount of calories they are eating, and ultimately on their health.

Free refills

Another way restaurants attract customers, is by giving away free refills of already gigantic servings of soft drinks. In the United States, soft drinks are commonly served in 24- to 44-ounce sizes (while Europe’s largest serving size is a 12-ounce glass adorned with a slice of lime), and in addition, it comes with a free refill. In an attempt to provide good service, restaurant wait staff will refill a glass of soft drink before the first one is even gone. Some people feel obligated to drink at least a portion of the refill to show gratitude to the server.

Avoid excessive eating

Follow the suggestions below to avoid overeating:

  • Place more importance on eating healthy portions than on getting more for your money.
  • When possible, don’t order an appetizer, or choose a healthy appetizer and a smaller entrée.
  • Take home part of your entrée to eat the next day, or share it with others.
  • Order a serving of fresh fruit instead of a dessert. Or, order one dessert to split with several people.
  • Drink water or diet soft drinks instead of traditional soft drinks.

*Dr. Lara-Pantin, a nutrition specialist, is Vice President of Product Development for DrTango, Inc.


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