The food industry knows a powerful truth about one of your human weaknesses—the more food that is put in front of you, the more you will eat. This is generally true even for people who are weight-conscious, or who just feel better when they eat less.

It's easy to spot the "supersize" portion trend at a restaurant when you receive a giant bowl of pasta or a six-inch-high pile of onion rings—less easy to escape the same mindset when you eat at home.

Problem: Because Americans are eating more food than ever before, 66% of them are overweight or obese.* Being overweight or obese increases risk for diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, joint problems and even some types of cancer.

Childhood admonitions to clean your plate!" ...the desire to get what you pay for...and the time lapse between eating and feeling full (about 20 minutes) are some of the factors that make most people eat whatever food is in front of them.

*Overweight is defined as a body mass index, or BMI, above 25...obesity is a BMI above 30. To determine your BMI, multiply your weight in pounds by 704.5. Divide that number by your height in inches squared. For a BMI calculator, visit the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute Web site (

Even worse: The degree to which typical portion sizes have increased over the years is astounding. For example, fountain sodas during the 1950s and 1960s were about seven ounces, compared with 12 to 64 ounces these days. A typical bag of popcorn at the movies was once about five to six cups. Now a large bucket with butter flavor contains up to 20 cups and 1,640 calories. A pasta entrée at a restaurant? Double what it used to be. Eating at home? Standard plates, bowls and glasses are bigger, too—so we fill them up with more food.

How Much Are You Eating?

The first step toward eating sensibly is to know how much you're consuming. This is much harder than it sounds. In one informal experiment conducted by a food writer in New York City, four expert nutritionists were given heaping plates of food (including pasta, risotto and sandwiches) and asked to estimate calorie and fat content. No one came even remotely close.

Nutritional guidelines generally suggest eating a set number of "servings" of meats, vegetables and other food groups. But a serving, which is usually defined in ounces, tablespoons or cups, is not the same as a portion, which is the actual amount of food served-at home or at a restaurant.

Examples: For grain products, a "serving" equals one slice of bread, one cup of ready-to-eat cold cereal or one-half cup of pasta. A restaurant order of linguine is likely to be three cups-nearly a whole day's recommended intake of grain! And a single bagel, in today's standard size of five ounces, equals five slices of bread.

Develop Portion Awareness

The problem with dietary guidelines is that measurements, such as cups, ounces and tablespoons, aren't easy to eyeball.

Helpful: Measure out the portion you ordinarily take. Then measure out a standard serving of meat, vegetables, pasta, etc. See what each looks like in comparison.

Important: If your usual portion of meat is actually two servings, you don't necessarily have to cut back during that meal—just know that you have consumed nearly a day's allocation of meat and adjust the rest of the day's intake accordingly.

Restaurant Smarts

Portion inflation is most out of control in restaurants—where the average American eats four times a week. To defend yourself against today's supersize restaurant meals, follow these steps…

  • Have a snack at home. About an hour before eating out, eat some fruit, low-fat yogurt or vegetable-based soup (made without milk or cream), so you won't arrive at the restaurant famished.
  • Have the right appetizer. Many people skip the appetizer in an attempt to cut down on the size of their meal. That's a mistake. Order a soup, salad or a vegetable appetizer to fill up, and tell the waiter not to bring the bread basket. A Pennsylvania State University study found that starting lunch with a low-calorie salad cuts the total caloric intake of the meal by as much as 12% because the fiber contained in the salad is filling
  • Order small entrées. Or order a half-size portion, if available. Or share a full-size entrée with your dining companion-in most restaurants, it will be enough (especially if you add a salad or a side order of vegetables).
  • Eat only half of the meal. When you order an entrée for yourself, eat half and ask the waiter to wrap up the rest to take home. This way, you'll be eating about as much as restaurant-goers did 20 years ago.

Helpful: Don't rely on willpower alone—when the entrée first arrives, set aside what you plan to eat and ask the waiter to wrap up the rest.

  • Slow down! Eat at a leisurely pace to give your body time to catch up with your appetite, and stop before you're full—no matter how much is left. If you're tempted to finish off the plate or go back for seconds, stop and wait 20 minutes. That's usually all it takes to feel satiated.

Portion Control At Home

Portion sizes are set not only by restaurants, but also by food and even dinnerware manufacturers. Here's how to protect yourself...

  • Choose smaller dinnerware. We're conditioned to think that a meal-size portion is what fills a plate. That's why you should set your table with eight-to 10-ounce (not 20-ounce) glasses ...10-inch (rather than 12-inch) dinner plates... and bowls that hold two cups rather than four.

Helpful: One woman I know found a simple way to downsize her portions—she bought a charming set of 1950s dishes at a flea market.

  • Divide your plate. Allocate space on your plate to meet healthful dietary recommendations ---fill half with vegetables and with meat, fish or another protein source...and one-fourth with grains or starchy vegetables.

Helpful: Plates marked with portion reminders for adults and children are available from BeBetter Networks, 304-345-6800,

Cost: About $10 per plate.

  • Create your own snack portions. To control your consumption of pretzels, chips and other snack foods, read the label to see how many servings the package contains—and portion it out into that number of plastic, resealable bags. Do the same with three-ounce portions of deli meats.
  • Substitute foods. Three cups of popcorn is just as filling as three-quarters cup of pretzels - and popcorn is a healthful whole grain, while pretzels are typically refined. Three cups of puffed wheat go a lot further than one-quarter cup of granola. Fresh fruits typically leave you feeling more satisfied and with fewer calories than juices or dried fruit.

Serving-Size Guide

One serving looks like…

Vegetables And Fruit

Daily intake: Three or more servings of vegetables...two to four servings of fruits.

1 cup of raw fruit or vegetables = fist

1 medium fruit = baseball 1/2 cup of cooked fruit or vegetables = 1/2 baseball

1/4 cup of raisins = large egg

Grain Products

Daily intake: Four to eight servings of grains and starchy vegetables.

1 cup of cereal flakes = fist

1/2 cup of cooked rice, pasta or potato = 1/2 baseball

1 slice of bread = cassette tape

Meat And Alternatives

Daily intake: Two to three servings of meat, poultry, fish or a meat alternative.

3 oz. of meat, fish or poultry = deck of cards

Daily intake: Two to three servings of dairy products. 1 oz. of cheese = 4 dice


Daily intake: One to three servings of fats.

1 tsp. of butter or other spread = 1 dice

1 Tbsp. of peanut butter = 1/2 Ping-Pong ball

Sweet! Mandarin Oranges Lower Liver Cancer Risk

According to scientists at Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine in Japan, mandarin oranges may reduce the risk of liver cancer in patients with chronic viral hepatitis. Thirty patients who drank one cup daily of a beverage containing mandarin orange juice for one year showed no signs of liver cancer. However, nearly 9% of 45 patients who did not drink the beverage developed liver cancer.

Further positive findings come from a team at the National Institute of Fruit Tree Science in Japan who surveyed 1,073 Japanese people who consumed large amounts of mandarin oranges. The researchers report that chemical markers in the subjects' blood were associated with a lower risk for liver disease, atherosclerosis, and insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes.

If you are not a juice drinker, try this healthful recipe that includes mandarin oranges…

Mandarin Medallions Recipe


1 (1-pound) pork tenderloin

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1/2 cup orange juice

1/4 cup orange marmalade

1 teaspoon prepared horseradish

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 (10-ounce) can mandarin orange segments, drained


Slice tenderloin crosswise into eight pieces. Flatten slightly. Heat oil in large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Brown pork quickly, about one minute per side.

Mix thoroughly remaining ingredients except mandarin oranges; add to skillet, cook and Stir until sauce thickens. Simmer 3 to 4 minutes. Remove to serving platter, garnish with mandarin oranges.

Want to Keep Reading?

Continue reading with a Health Confidential membership.

Sign up now Already have an account? Sign in