Portion Distortion

March 1, 2012

Portion Distortion

Recently, The New York Times reported on a story from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). Michael Jacobsen, Ph.D, is the director of CSPI – but I like to call him the “chief of the food police” as he is usually featured in the news media informing the public about high calorie popcorn served at theaters, the high fat food served at some Chinese restaurants and so on. In these stories, his emphasis is on the negative. While he does provide solutions at times, his message often is missed because of all the reporting on the negative.

In the current story, he is criticizing food labels because the portion sizes are too small compared to today’s large portion size. As a professional who spends many days speaking to the public and their families on correctly reading a food label, it is the least of my worries. I am happy that we have food labels and thrilled when people read them, but the food label does require some math if you choose to eat more than the listed serving size.

For example:

If the label states five crackers for 80 calories and I eat 10 crackers, I need to double the calories.

That’s it. I’m pretty sure that’s the kind of math needed to win “Are you smarter than a fifth grader”.

And even if we use Dr. Jacobsen’s suggestion that the portion listed should be larger, then it will still require some math if someone chooses to eat less or more.

In the last 20 years, portions have increased, especially for restaurant meals. It is stated often in the news media, but Americans aren’t asking for smaller portions. In my dream world, a menu would offer half portions as an option.  I noticed that at Applebee’s, there is a choice for a full salad or a half portion. The price is less, too. I would like to see this extended to other entrees as well.

If you have read this article and are passionate about the choice for smaller portions, think about being my “missionary” and ask for half portions. Or better, ask the restaurants that only serve the large portion to provide half portions. It is a beginning to reverse portion distortion.

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