Easter has long been my favorite holiday. I love the contemplative nature of Lent and the time spent with family and friends without the rush and sense of obligation that seems to accompany the Christmas holidays. Easter brings this year’s Carbon Fast to a close. You may recall we’ve been recycling and reusing our food packaging and food waste in order to reduce the amount of waste coming from our home. Today, I’d like to wind up the Carbon Fast by talking about another type of reduction that could potentially have a very large impact and not just on our waistlines.
Large portions are a marketing gimmick. We don’t need to eat as much as we do, but our appetites are appealed to with larger portions. We perceive larger portions as a greater value and since they are marketed to us, we have come to see them as normal. Consider these two campaigns from the 1980’s:
That 32 ounce Big Gulp Coke has 91 grams of sugar in it (Source)! 91 grams divided by 28 grams/ounce equals 3.25 ounces of sugar!
How about these dear ladies, wondering why the burger doesn’t fit the bun?
In the 1950’s a burger AND the bun and pickle weighed about 4 ounces. Nowadays a half pound burger is common place (and that’s not including the bun).
There’s no denying portions are larger and our plates have increased in size in order to accommodate them. In the 1960s the average plate size was 9 inches. Today it’s not unusual to see 11 or 12 inch plates. Coffee mugs and cereal bowls have gotten bigger, too. The increase in plate size can account for greater than 20% increase in intake! (Source One and Source Two)
You know what else has gotten larger? The number of prescriptions written to relieve the gastric distress caused by over eating. (Source). In addition, as waistlines and portions have expanded, the number of new diabetes diagnoses rose 128%! (Source)
The American Diabetic Association recommends using a 9 inch plate for meals and offers a common sense way to fill them. Visually divide your plate in half, then in half again to make three sections. Fill the largest section with non starchy vegetables. One of the small sections should hold a serving of protein. The final section is for starchy vegetables, grains, bread or pasta. Add a small piece of fruit and a low calorie beverage to round out your meal.
This arrangement will work for most meals. Naturally you’d make adjustments for a pasta or casserole dish. One serving of spaghetti is 2 ounces dry weight, about 3/4 cup when cooked, depending on the shape. For grains use a one ounce dry measure or about 1/2 cup cooked. Again, adjust if eating a casserole, about 1 1/2 to 2 cups.
The smaller plate automatically helps limit the amount you can put on a plate, but for those who can’t stand to be imprecise, the ADA sells a tool they call a Meal Measure which can act as a guide. I’m planning to talk more about portions in future posts.
It’s probably easy to see how this will reduce your waistline, but how about saving the world? The answer lies in the serving size. To use burgers as an example, if we use a 2.5 ounce portion instead of a 4 ounce patty, we increase the servings per pound from 4 to 6.4. For every 100 pounds of burger (1600 ounces) 240 more servings are created. While not all the meat from a cow is turned into patties, if it was, reducing the portion size means about 1200 more servings per 500 pounds of sale-able meat.
Reducing the amount of sugar consumed via soft drinks or added to processed foods, will not only help trim your waist, you’ll help reduce your risk of heart disease (Source). In addition, consuming less sugar translates into fewer truckloads of product which means more fuel for other purposes. To further drive the point home, let’s consider my town which has a population of about 31,000 people. Cutting the sugar consumption in half to 75 pounds per person a year means a savings of about one tractor trailer load of sugar a week. Extrapolate that figure over the population of the United States and we’re talking over 10, 000 truckloads per week! [313.9 million people times 75 pounds of sugar saved divided by 45000 pounds per truckload divided by 52 weeks].
I have to admit these numbers blow me away and I feel my estimates are conservative because I used general information instead of digging into industrial reports. Obviously, I haven’t addressed the huge amounts of water and fuel used in agriculture. I’m only scratching the surface at the energy used to process and transport our food. Nor have I talked about the costs arising from diseases associated with overeating.
Portion control will help you reduce the number of calories consumed, perhaps impacting your health as well as your weight. It will stretch your food dollars by increasing the number of portions served per pound. Your efforts will help save the world by reducing the resources needed to bring adequate amounts of food to the table. Be a hero!