By: Laura M. Howell
It's no secret that Americans love food. Images of food are spread across our social media news feeds and messages about groceries is one of the most popular texts amongst couples. With all the conversations about food it would lead you to believe that food is something that as a nation we had a good handle on. A good amount of people are even reading food labels. A record half of all Americans read the nutrition label “always” or “most of the time,” according to the latest Health and Diet Survey from the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). Thats good, right? Well, knowledge is power but, action speaks louder than anything. Although many individuals are reading the food labels the obesity rate is reaching new highs each year. According to the "Sate of Obesity" website trends in obesity show steadily increasing levels in recent years, in 2016 adult obesity rates exceeded 35 percent in five states and toped 30 percent in 25 states. This type of data would lead one to believe that our understanding of what a portion size vs. serving size is not clear.
Why are our portions so BIG?
A portion of food is simply the amount of food someone chooses to eat at one specific time. Portion size vs. serving size is often very different. The average American grossly overestimates portion size vs. serving size. We think we NEED more than we actually do. Why is that?
Are Americans burning more calories a day? No.
Is the food magically lower in calories? Big No.
Are we simply that much more hungry? Unlikely.
According to eating behavior researcher Brian Wansink, author of "Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think" food is cheap, available and our perception of a normal serving size is greatly skewed. Wasnick states, "We spend about a fourth as much of our income on food as we did in 1960," so basically we spend a significantly less amount of money on food currently than we did half a century ago. Being we know we're eating more food as a nation since 1960 it's also clear that we're getting a lot more food for our buck than we ever did in the past. Only a fool would turn down a 30% super-sized increase in food when it costs under a dollar. Right? Adding to the list of food being available and cheap is the visual component. The average plate size is 12 inches in diameter. The average plate size 50 years ago was 10 inches in diameter. The bigger the plate the smaller the food looks. A serving of rice looks a heck of a lot smaller on a 12 inch plate than a 10 inch plate.
What is a Serving of Food?
A serving of food is the amount of nutrients your body (individually) needs to meet your nutritional and activity demands. A serving for a 150 pound athlete is different than a serving for an overweight person who also weighs 150 pounds. When a restaurant serves a typical dinner their giving people their idea of what a potion is. A restaurants portion size vs. serving size is non-specific to the person consuming the food. Generally speaking people gauge their portions by what others around them are eating with no regard for the energy demands of each person individually. To truly know what your ideal serving size is you need calculate your macronutrients that you need at your ideal body weight. Macronutrients are the nutrients required by the body broken down into 3 categories: protein, fat and carbohydrates. Often, a serving of food is a combination of all 3 macronutrients so it's helpful to use a food calculator such as My Macros +.
The Future of Portion Size vs. Serving Size
What does the future of portion size vs. serving size look like? According to the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) by law, serving sizes must be based on amounts of foods and beverages that people are actually eating, not what they should be eating. How much people eat and drink has changed since the previous serving size requirements were published in 1993. For example, the reference amount used to set a serving of ice cream was previously 1/2 cup but is changing to 2/3 cup. The reference amount used to set a serving of soda is changing from 8 ounces to 12 ounces. This change in law regarding serving size can be dangerous for consumers who do not know what they need as individuals. Knowing your body and your specific nutritional needs will become even more important.
Want to burn some extra calories? I thought so. Check out this article in the Learning Center: "How to Burn an Extra 100 Calories and Hardly Notice it."
10 Things You Can Do to Avoid Overeating
- Measure your food with a food scale.
- Check your labels and than adjust the serving to what you need.
- Weigh yourself weekly to keep yourself in-check with how your portion vs. serving size plan is going.
- Know what an adequate portion size vs. serving size looks like in all of your favorite foods.
- When eating out order half portions or take half of your food home.
- Download a calorie or nutrient counting application to use for a fast reference.
- Plan your meals ahead of time to take the guess work out.
- Package your food in serving size containers.
- Purchase smaller plates to make your portions look larger.
- Monitor your hunger signals and only eat when you're truly hungry.