Ocnutrition’s Blog

What is Portion Distortion and Why Should You Be Concerned?
June 8, 2010, 9:38 pm
Filed under: General Nutrition, Weight Management

If you eat on the run or out at restaurants I’m sure you’ve noticed the ever increasing portion sizes. This is what the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute calls “Portion Distortion”. Over the past 20 years the average portion size served in America has drastically increased. The following table shows average portion sizes from 20 years ago compared to today. 

Food Item 20 years ago Today
Coffee 8 ounces with milk & sugar (45 Calories) 16 ounces with milk & mocha syrup (350 Calories)
Bagel 3-inch diameter (140 Calories) 6-inch diameter (350 Calories)
Soda 6.5 ounces (85 Calories) 20 ounces (250 Calories)
French Fries 2.4 ounces (210 Calories) 6.9 ounces (610 Calories)
Chicken Caesar Salad 1.5 cups (390 Calories) 3.5 cups (790 Calories)
Chicken Stir Fry 2 cups (435 Calories) 4.5 cups (865 Calories)
Movie Popcorn 5 cups (270 Calories) 11 cups (630 Calories)


Researchers have shown that the larger the portion size served, the more we eat so it isn’t surprising that as portion sizes have increased, so have our waist lines.  According to the National Center for Health Statistics, over the past 20 years the rate of overweight and obesity in the U.S. has increased from 45% to 66%.

With food, as with other commodities, we like to feel like we’re getting more for our money so we will pay 25 cents extra to “super-size” our meal. What we’re really paying for is unnecessary fat and calories that can ultimately cause us to pack on extra pounds and increase our health risk. The health conditions associated with overweight and obesity include type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, hypertension (high blood pressure), and certain types of cancer, just to name a few.    

Use the following tips to help you avoid overeating:

  • Eat every 2-4 hours; don’t let yourself get too hungry
  • Fill-up on nutrient-dense foods including fruits, vegetables and whole grains
  • Listen to your body (eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full)
  • Serve yourself smaller portion sizes
  • Share a meal or take half of the meal home for leftovers
  • Don’t eat from the container
  • Separate food into smaller containers (sandwich bags, plastic containers, etc.)

In order to estimate how much you should be eating from each of the 5 food groups, go to the My Pyramid website (www.mypyramid.gov).  By entering your age, gender, height, weight and physical activity level the website can determine approximately how much you should be taking in from each of the food groups.  Once you know how much you need, you can use the following references to estimate your portion sizes:

  • Grain Group (1 ounce) = 1 slice of bread; 1 cup of ready-to-eat cereal (1 cup); ½ cup cooked cereal, rice or pasta (ice cream scoop); 5 whole wheat crackers
  • Vegetable Group (1 cup) = 1 cup of raw or cooked vegetables or vegetable juice (baseball); 2 cups of raw leafy greens (8 whole lettuce leaves or 2 baseballs)
  • Fruit Group (1 cup) = 1 cup of fruit or 100% fruit juice (baseball); ½ cup dried fruit (ice cream scoop)
  • Milk Group (1 cup) = 1 cup of milk or yogurt (baseball); 1.5 ounces natural cheese (3 dominoes); 2 ounces processed cheese (2 thumbs)
  • Meat & Bean Group (1 ounce) = 1 ounce of meat, poultry or fish (3 ounces = a deck of cards); ¼ cup cooked, dried beans; 1 egg; 2 egg whites; 1 tablespoon peanut butter (1/2 golf ball); ½ ounce of nuts or seeds (½ handful)

This information was brought to you by OC Nutrition, Your Trusted Source for Health & Nutrition Advice.  OC Nutrition offers nutrition counseling services over the phone or in person in Newport Beach, Irvine, Orange, Anaheim Hills, Chino, Glendora and Long Beach.  If you have any questions or would like to schedule an appointment, please contact:

Kristy L. Richardson, MS, MPH, RD, CSSD, CHES
Registered Dietitian & Exercise Physiologist
(949) 933-6788

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