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Portions

05/26/05 12:00AM By Rachel Johnson
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(HOST) Getting together with family and friends for Memorial Day almost certainly means having lots of good food around. Commentator Rachel Johnson has some practical tips for healthy eating while you celebrate.


(JOHNSON) Years ago, my sons gave me a memorable lesson in practical nutrition. We were on a family visit to Europe, and I marveled at the healthy weights of Europeans. At a sidewalk cafe in Brussels, my boys ordered soft drinks. Eight-ounce glasses half filled with ice arrived, teeny-tiny by American standards.

My sons' jaws dropped. "What's this?" they asked.

"That is a serving of soda!" I replied.

Shocked that there were no free refills, they whined, "What if we're still thirsty?"

"Drink water," I suggested.

In my own childhood, soda was an occasional treat. On weekends we watched "Saturday Night at the Movies" on our black-and-white TV. My mother gave us cereal bowls of homemade popcorn along with a small glass of ginger ale - no monster tub of popcorn or 64-ounce mega-sized soda.

So, how can we cope in today's supersized environment? First, remind yourself that increasing the number of calories you get per dollar spent is probably not a bargain when it comes to your health.

Supersizing is a powerful business strategy because the actual food cost for sweet drinks and potatoes is minimal in comparison with the costs of labor, packaging and advertising. Sixty-four cents can buy 330 more calories of french fries, and just 37 cents buys 450 more cal- ories of a soft drink. Most of us find it difficult to resist eating everything we are served, so unless you plan to share the supersized portion with someone or take it home to eat later, order the small portion size.

Second, convince yourself that it is sometimes better to be wasteful than to add pounds. Occasionally, I get a craving for a salty snack. My office is a short walk from the university bookstore. So I'll walk over and buy a bag of chips. Typically, the nutrition facts label on the bag tells me it contains two to three servings. I'll open the bag and enjoy my treat on the walk back to the office. By the time I reach the door, I toss the rest of the bag into the trash. Sure, I hear my mother's voice in my head scolding me for wasting food. But I've satisfied my craving with one serving at 150 calories, rather than three at 400 calories. I know if I didn't throw the bag away, the chips would be "calling me" all after- noon, and I would eat them for sure.

We are surrounded by messages to eat all the time, everywhere and in enormous amounts. Remembering the simple concept that large portions mean more calories goes a long way to help avoid weight gain. If you want a large portion, choose foods low in energy density, like fruits and vegetables, that will fill you up with fewer calories. Slowly savoring energy-rich foods - whether chips or chocolate - in smaller portions can be a fully satisfying way to eat. It's a habit many of us had as children and a habit more of us can cultivate with no real sacrifice.

Should we enjoy our food? Absolutely. Supersize it? No, thanks.

I'm Rachel Johnson from Essex Junction.

Rachel Johnson is Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Professor of Nutrition at the University of Vermont. She
is also the Senior Nutrition Advisor to
Eating Well magazine.
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