Friday’s Flavor: The new American plate

Originally published September 17, 2010

As the American waistline grows, so does the American plate.

We all know that there is an obesity epidemic on the rise in the United States, but what people do not understand is how drastic it is.

According to the Centers for Disease Control more than 30 percent of Americans are obese, which is double what it was in the 1970s, and while changing portion sizes are not completely to blame for this dramatic increase, it is a very relevant factor.

Twenty years ago portion sizes were very different.

For example, the standard dinner plate was ten inches and now is usually twelve inches or larger.

You wouldn’t think that a small two-inch difference would be a big deal, but that two-inch difference allows you to put more food on your plate.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that Americans consume around 10 percent more calories than they did in the 1970s. There has been a decrease in physical activity in the United States population since then.

The combination of both of these results in about 200 extra calories consumed per day per person and about 20 pounds of weight gain per year.

Being told we need to watch how much we are consuming is the last thing most people want to hear, but whether or not you are overweight, that is the reality.

Most Americans use visual cues to decide when to stop eating, (i.e. their plate is empty, their TV show is over or the package is empty); instead you need to listen to what your stomach is telling you. A good tip is to eat until you feel 80 percent full, an idea that comes from the Okinawa, which is one of the longest living and healthiest populations in the world. Don’t eat until you are stuffed to capacity, eat until you aren’t hungry anymore.

Another concern when it comes to portion size is restaurants.

The meals you receive at a restaurant on average have portion sizes two to four times larger than the government portion size recommendations.

The typical restaurant meal has 60 percent more calories than a meal you would cook at home.

This, however, is what we have come to expect when we sit down and order a meal at our favorite restaurant, and restaurant owners are afraid to change to smaller portion sizes because they do not think their customers will accept it.

A suggestion for when you are out at a restaurant is to ask for a to-go box as soon as you receive your food and place whatever is more than one serving in the box to take home.

This way you can control the amount of food you are consuming and you will not be tempted to continue eating once you are full.

Increased portion sizes give us more calories, encourage us to eat more and distort our perception of what are appropriate portions sizes.  So what are appropriate portion sizes?

When deciding on what is an appropriate portion size it helps to compare foods to familiar objects.

For instance, when you are serving yourself a piece of meat or poultry it should be about the size of a deck of cards; a piece of fish should be about the size of a checkbook; a serving of fruits or vegetables is the size of a tennis ball; a serving of cooked grains or pasta should be the size of one cupped palm.

When deciding what to eat you should not only consider the portion size, but also what you are eating.
Remember to eat a varied diet.

A helpful tip is to divide a smaller plate into three sections.

One half of your plate should be filled with vegetables, a quarter with grains and a quarter with meat or other protein.

So the next time you are standing in line at the cafeteria or sitting down to eat dinner with your roommates, keep a few things in mind.

First, if you have the option, choose to eat off of a smaller plate.

When putting things on your plate think about the different portion size references and how your plate should be divided.

You have the power to make a change in your lifestyle if you want to.

By making this change yourself you might encourage someone else to make the change and, therefore, help put a small dent in working towards ending the obesity epidemic that is sweeping across the nation.