Portion distortion

Recipes are published with a suggested number of servings, or a measure of yield, such as “makes 2 cups.” Boxes, bottles and cans of food list “suggested servings” per container. But when you fill your plate at supper and don’t have refills, isn’t that one serving? The terms servings and portions are sometimes used interchangeably. Nutritionists refer to the amount of any one item on a plate as a portion. My supersized portion of brussel sprouts might easily be 2 servings. I try to keep my ice cream portion to the standard half-cup serving.

A recent news clip talking about how portions in the US have grown, showed that some dinner plates are now 12 inches across compared the 9-inch plates of the 60’s. The reporter related the nation’s increased waist sizes and weights to bigger plates that need more food to fill.

Eating from smaller dishes limits intake. Yes, there is solid research linking size of bowl and plate to amount consumed. Bigger dishes lead to more calories consumed.

How does one get to eating portions that reflect the serving sizes needed for health and energy? Hunger and appetite regulate how much we eat. During a meal, the “I’m not hungry any more” signals sent to our brain to stop eating take a little time, so eating slowly is one way to help control calorie intake. Eating slowly gives the body time to signal “full” to our conscious mind.

Doing anything slowly in our multi-tasking, overactive world may not be easy. But knowing when to stop eating can contribute to a longer life. In Okinawa, a region of Japan where people live extraordinarily long lives, there is a saying “hara hachi bu,” which means to stop eating when one is 80% full. We all need periodic pauses to check our gut’s signals to the brain. Am I full yet?

We aren’t the only ones trying to figure out what is enough to keep us well. Portions on the plate that reflect serving sizes on the label may indeed require going back to grandma’s dishes. Most Americans are not in the habit of stopping at 80% full , but learning that skill could add years to our lives.  And maybe even life to our years.