We don’t tend to notice bigger portion sizes until our bodies get larger. We want more food for our dollar, but large portions usually come in the form of junk food, not healthy food. The more we are served the more we eat, and the more we eat the more calories we consume.
This excess consumption is leading to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancers and premature mortality. Since 1970, our caloric intake has increased by 200 to 600 calories per person per day. Our food supply has also become highly convenient, calorie-dense and heavily marketed to children as well as adults.
The balance of calories stored and burned depends on your genetic makeup, level of physical activity, and the number of calories your body burns while at rest. It’s simple: if you consistently burn all calories consumed in the course of a day, you will maintain your weight. If you consume more calories than you expend, you will gain weight.
What’s the difference?
Do a few more calories here and there really make that much difference? An extra 10 calories per day could add up to a pound of weight gain per year. If you consume an extra 100 calories every day, you could put on 10 pounds in a year. And we wonder why our waistlines are expanding?
Food is big business in North America, with the emphasis not on making healthy foods available, but the creation of a highly profitable industry. Since World War II, vegetable consumption has dropped 23% and fruit consumption is down 25%. At the same time, consumption of soft drinks has risen over 300%, dessert-type baked goods by 70% and snack foods by over 85%.
Most fast food portions are at least two times, and sometimes as much as eight times, greater than standard recommended serving sizes based on the Canada Food Guide.
How our food choices have changed (and not for the better)
When our parents ordered a coffee two decades ago, there weren’t many size options: a standard cup was eight ounces, the size of a small coffee cup. Today we don’t think we’ve had our money’s worth unless the cup is at least 12 ounces or even 32. Some mochas contain the same calorie count as a meal.
No other beverage or food has been linked to obesity, weight gain, diabetes and markers for cardiovascular disease as much as sugary drinks or pop. Years ago, a serving was approximately seven ounces; today a 20-ounce bottle contains 250 calories. You will gain weight whether you choose a sugary or a diet pop.
The body requires approximately two teaspoons of sugar in the bloodstream at any one time. The average person can consume 6 to 10 teaspoons of sugar daily, over and above naturally occurring sugar in fruit and milk products. A 12-ounce soft drink has approximately 10 teaspoons of sugar.
When combined with desserts, candy and alcohol (which is also a sugar), the pancreas, adrenals, and other organs are heavily taxed. Never in human history has there been such an assault on our blood sugar levels, resulting in many, if not most, diseases.
At the turn of the 20th century, the average person consumed approximately five pounds of sugar per year. This was largely in the form of whole fruit, maple syrup, honey and molasses, since refined sugar was still largely unavailable. Today, the average person eats 150 pounds per year, most of it refined. Refined sugar is devoid of vitamins, minerals and food enzymes, and actually depletes the body of nutrients as it is digested.
Marketing and its role in portion distortion
Food companies heavily market high-profit products with not only billions of dollars in advertising, but also with convenient packaging, promotional pricing and in-store product placement that causes us to impulse buy. Humans are biologically driven to store calories when they are available and our eating habits can be easily manipulated by our inability to refuse food.
Be sure to read the food labels: the most important item is the ‘serving size’. Generally speaking, people do not correctly assess the amount they are eating. Pay attention to the serving size, especially how many servings the package contains. Then ask yourself how many servings you are really consuming. You may be shocked.
For example, the food label on a box of organic macaroni and cheese indicates a single serving equals about 1 cup prepared, and contains 310 calories with three grams of saturated fat. If you consumed the entire box, you would consume 930 calories and 9 grams of saturated fat.
It’s hard enough finding healthy food when grocery shopping, but when eating out finding healthy food and healthy portion choices is really difficult. Watch the supersized foods and oversized dishes: some supersized combo meals can be served on platters measuring 17 inches! An average dinner plate measures nine inches.
When dining out, share a meal or ask for a doggie bag. Order a couple of appetizers or share a main course. Order one dessert with extra forks. It’s not about deprivation: it’s about portion control. Doggie bags save money, save calories and can provide leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch.
Eat slowly and chew your food. It takes at least 20 minutes from the time you begin eating to the time your brain is aware of what is in your stomach. Eating too fast can trick you into thinking you need a second helping before you realize you’re already full!
Fat-free? No thanks!
Avoid buying fat-free, low-fat or light versions of food. Low fat doesn’t always mean fewer calories. Fat is often replaced with sugar, reducing calories somewhat but not as much you think. Low-fat foods are often perceived as ‘guilt free’, causing people to overindulge. Satisfy your craving with the food you love, just in a small portion.
Don’t eat from a large or supersized bag
Supersized bags may be more economical, but they can also encourage you to overeat. If you buy huge bags of almonds, chips or pretzels, portion these items into small containers or snack bags before consuming; otherwise, the bag will be empty before you know it. Read the Nutrition Facts on a package of crackers, potato chips or cookies to see how many are in a single serving.
Water is best
Soft drinks are dangerous to your body and your teeth. Your body is 70% water – not 70% soda pop. Choosing a diet drink over a heavily sugar-laden one can be as detrimental to your health. When you consume artificial sweeteners, you condition your body to crave more sweets and to overeat. Sip water with your meal. Is 32 ounces of any beverage necessary with any meal?
Skip the fries
Two of the most common side dishes in the fast food industry are French fries and potato chips. Did you know that potatoes are the most frequently consumed ‘vegetable’? Switch to beans, rice, salad, small baked potato, or my favourite – extra vegetables. Vegetables increase your nutrition and decrease your calories.
Just use smaller dishes
Instead of filling a dinner plate, serve your meal on a luncheon-sized plate. Use small glasses for milk, juice and other caloric beverages, and save the large glasses for water. Eat a larger amount of veggies if you want seconds. Have a salad as an appetizer and fill your plate with raw and steamed vegetables to feed your visual appetite.