Super-sized Portions

From my Healthy Living column in Moncton’s Times & Transcript.

Is it just me or are restaurant portions huge? A recent trip to Halifax necessitated a few restaurant meals and caused me to reflect upon and to research portion distortion. What I found out was surprising.

Twenty years ago, a normal bagel was three inches in diameter and contained 140 calories. Today, a normal bagel is twice the diameter of a bagel twenty years ago and contains 350 calories.

A cheeseburger was also lower in calories twenty years ago: the typical cheeseburger back then contained 333 calories rather than the 590 calories contained by today’s typical cheeseburger.

A normal portion of spaghetti used to offer a cup of pasta with sauce and three small meatballs for 500 calories. Now, a serving of two cups of pasta with sauce and three large meatballs for 1025 calories is the norm.

If you’re finding these figures hard to believe, let me assure you that they come from a credible source: a website provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to get a good deal at a restaurant or wanting to be generous. However, eating large portions of ”empty calorie” foods can cause weight gain and a lack of important nutrients.

Even athletes and people who need to gain weight should avoid large portions of calorie dense junk food in favor of healthier foods.It’s important to keep in mind that the goal of eliminating portion distortion isn’t to restrict food intake or ”diet”, but rather to assure that the most nutritious foods in your diet are prioritized.

The solution to portion distortion is quite simply to be more aware of what and how much you put in your mouth. offers several tips to help you do this.

Learning to ”eyeball” and estimate quantities of food and knowing how much of each food group you should eat can help you evaluate portion size. Using salad plates instead of dinner plates and serving food in individual dishes (e.g. Don’t snack out of a large container of food. Transfer a reasonable serving of food to a plate.) can help you feel satisfied and less tempted to eat extravagant portions. Personally, I tried the salad plate idea with my family and can attest that it works.

Here’s a challenge for interested readers: pick up a copy of the Canada Food Guide this week, determine how much of each food group you should be eating, measure what you eat for a day, and compare what you should be eating to what you are eating. I’ll be doing this myself and reporting my results in a future column.


Originally published in the Times & Transcript on July 10th, 2010.


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