By Carol Savage, MS, RDN. Nutrition, Health and Wellness Manager at Nestlé USA
People around the world are more attentive than ever about food and nutrition, questioning where and how their food is made and its impact on health. While many of us are trying to eat healthily, we’re faced with the difficult task of navigating an environment that consistently promotes food quantity over food quality.
The size of food portions and calorie contents have steadily increased in many countries over the past 50 years. With that, we’ve also seen an alarming rise in the obesity rate. Could the two be connected?
They most certainly could. In fact, a 2014 report from the McKinsey Global Institute stated that reducing portions of packaged foods and fast food offerings could be the single most impactful way to combat today’s obesity epidemic.
So, how can people cut through the confusion around portions and keep calorie intake in-check? As a registered dietician at Nestlé USA, here are my tips for identifying and enjoying proper portions of your favourite fare.
Down-size your dishes and utensils
An overwhelming amount of research has shown that the size of our plates, bowls and utensils plays a major role in the amount of food we consume. The larger your plate, the more you serve yourself and, given our tendency to clear our plates, the more you eat.
Take a look at the size of the dishes and utensils in your kitchen. Perhaps you can put those over-sized, 35-centimetre diameter plates away and use your salad or dessert plates in their place. If your bowls and cups are extra-large, consider picking up some smaller ones next time you’re shopping.
When in doubt, measure it out!
When served a large portion, people tend to underestimate the amount of food and calories on their plate. Research shows that even trained nutrition professionals can have a hard time estimating the number of calories and fat in a meal.
One solution: don’t be afraid to get out your measuring cups to see how much you’re actually serving up at mealtimes. You can also measure the amount of food or beverage that your bowls and glasses hold in advance, for reference.
Easy meal solutions
Today, a single restaurant meal can easily bust your calorie budget for the day. When I go into restaurants or order take away, I often wrap up half of my meal for later, or share it with a family member or friend. This saves money! I also check to see if a smaller, ‘lunch size’ or half portion is offered on the menu.
One additional tip to remember when eating out — many restaurants have nutrition information available online or calories right on their menu. Use this to guide your meal choice and consider how a restaurant meal fits into your daily calorie needs!
Serving size ≠ portion size
Many consumers look at the 'Nutrition Facts' label before placing an item in their shopping trolley. But did you know that the serving size listed on the label is not necessarily a recommended portion?
The serving size, as stated on packs in most countries around the world, is the amount typically consumed at a meal and is based on national dietary intake surveys. So it’s not the amount you should eat, it’s the average amount people do eat — which may be more or less than the best portion option.
Use the information on the 'Nutrition Facts' panel — serving size, calories and nutrients — to determine the ideal portion for you or another family member. Ensuring your kids get the right portion size early on helps establish good eating habits for later life.
Use Nestlé Portion Guidance
Since our food and beverages are sold in almost every country around the world, we’re in a unique position to enable healthier and happier lives. This includes promoting healthy portion consumption with our nutrition education programmes and with portion guidance across our portfolio.
The Nestlé Portion Guidance initiative is a company-wide commitment to help make reasonable portions the easy choice for you and your family. It is part of our ambition to help 50 million children lead healthier lives by eating better and getting more exercise.
Here’s a snapshot of what we’re doing in the US:
1. We offer individually packaged products, making it simple on your end to enjoy a proper portion.
2. We offer on-pack guidance through our Thoughtful Portion box within our Nutritional Compass which is found on most of our products. The Thoughtful Portion box can be found on two-thirds of our foods and beverages. This tool provides a suggested portion, often referencing a common household measure. It also has accompanying information that you won’t find within the 'Nutrition Facts' label.
These are just a few simple steps you can take to choose more thoughtful portions and build awareness of the amount you’re eating at mealtimes.
By helping you and your family towards healthier diets, Nestlé is achieving its purpose of unlocking the power of food to enhance quality of life for everyone, today and for generations to come.
Carol is a dietician and Nutrition, Health and Wellness Manager at Nestlé USA