Why are Americans Given Larger Portion Sizes?

Have you ever heard that the portion sizes are much larger today than they were 50 years or even 20 years ago? Th NIH (National Heart, Lung, and Blood institute) reported that 20 years ago, a bagel was 3" in diameter and now it's 6", a muffin went from 1.5oz to 5oz, and soda went from 6.5oz to 20oz.

NIH explains the difference between portions and serving size:

A portion is the amount of food that you choose to eat for a meal or snack. It can be big or small, you decide.

A serving is a measured amount of food or drink, such as one slice of bread or one cup (eight ounces) of milk.

Many foods that come as a single portion actually contain multiple servings. The Nutrition Facts label on packaged foods, on the backs of cans, sides of boxes, etc. tells you the number of servings in the container.

For example, look at the label of a 20-ounce soda (usually consumed as one portion). It has 2.5 servings in it. A 3-ounce bag of chips, which some would consider a single portion, contains 3 servings.

Why has the food industry increased the size of portions we consume? The answer is actually quite simple if you understand human nature...which the food industry has invested heavily in understanding.

Michael Pollan, an author who has written books and articles investigates the perils of the industrial food chain — and the benefits and pleasures of freeing ourselves from it, explains:

The growth of the American food industry will always bump up against this troublesome biological fact: Tray as we might, each of us can eat only about fifteen hundred pounds of food a year. Unlike many other products - CDs, or shoes - there's a natural limit to how much food we can consume without exploding. What this means for the food industry is that its natural rate of growth is somewhere around 1 percent per year - 1percent being the annual growth rate of the American population. The problem is that 1 percent will never satisfy Wall Street, which demands at the very least a 10 percent return on its capital.

This leaves companies like General Mills and McDonalds with two options if they hope to grow faster than the population: figure out how to get people to spend more money for the same three-quarters of a ton of food, or entice them to actually eat more than that.

The soda industry has been working at this for years.

In the 1820s, the price of soft drinks plummeted. Coca-Cola and Pepsi did not simply cut the price of a bottle of cola. That would have hurt profit margins, for how many. The companies would supersize their soda. Since a soft drink's main raw material - corn sweetener - was now so cheap, why not get people to pay just a few pennies more for a substantially bigger bottle. Drop the price per ounce, but sell a lot more ounces. So, began the transformation of the eight-ounce coke bottle into the chubby twenty-ounces dispenses by most soda machines today.

Soda makers don't deserve credit for the invention of super sizing. That distinction goes to a man named David Wallerstein. He labored to expand sales of soda and popcorn-the high-markup items that theatres depend on for profitability. He simply could not induce customers to buy more than one soda and one bag of popcorn. He thought he knew why: Going for seconds makes people feel piggish.

Wallerstin discovered that people would spring for more popcorn and soda-a lot more- as long as it came to a single gigantic serving. Thus, the two-quart bucket of popcorn was born, the sixty-four-ounce Big Gulp, and in time, the Big Mac and jumbo fries.

Companies focus on the gigantic portions to make consumers feel like they are getting a better deal. While the foods you are getting is in substantially larger portions, most of the time, all you are getting are variations of noodles, pasta, bread, soda, fries, etc. In other words, you are getting a Jumbo size of wheat and sugar, not what your body essentially needs.

McDonalds made a fortune on the SuperSize portions in their fast food chains. Other fast food companies followed as well marketing it as a Biggie Size as well. Olive Garden advertises an endless supply of pasta. (Remember that wheat is an appetite stimulant and will make you hungrier and hungrier therefore you will purchase more food. See "Why Can't I Get Full When I Eat.")

What are you to do?

Understand that when you are purchasing drinks, food, eating out, etc, you may be presented with a "deal." For a few extra coins, you can get an extremely large portion. While this may appear to be a good deal, it's simply a business strategy to get you to spend more money on cheap low quality food. While spending only a few coins more, you are adding to the food industry's profit and adding to your own waistline or deteriorating health.


Steven Zahn

ACE Certified Personal Trainer

NASM Certified Personal Trainer

Pre and Post Partum Certified

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