Monday, 19 November 2012

Everything in Moderation? Could it be portion sizes, and not fatty foods, that are to blame for growing obesity?

We all love a cheeseburger. Or a wedge of pizza, oozing with stringy mozzarella. But these foods are fattening. When trying to lose weight, we tend to cut out calorific foods completely and switch to veggies, salads and lean cuts of meat as well as fish. Quite often, cravings for our favourite comfort foods could be so much that we ditch the diet completely when the smell of a bacon double cheeseburger becomes too much for us to continue to resist. 

But could it be possible that we can still enjoy all these foods and still be healthy? The people at National Eating Out/In Week think so. The key is in the portion size. They reckon that portion sizes have risen so much over the last few decades that it's the quantity of the food we're eating, rather than just the type of food, that's contributing to rising levels of obesity. Ever struggled to force down a plate of lasagne in a restaurant, eating more than you would at home just because it's there in front of you and you don't want to waste it? Then you're not alone. A recent survey found that 69% of people finished a meal put down in front of them at a restaurant. When customers did leave food, they blamed inflated portion sizes. 

The Quadruple Bypass Burger® at the Heart Attack Grill, USA

It makes you wonder. We're served an 8oz steak here in the UK at restaurants, even though the recommended amount for us to digest easily is just 4oz. Peter Grove, organiser of National Eating Out Week has also cited research conducted in the US, which found the portion size of a hamburger has risen by 115% and a serving of pasta by 480% in the last 20 years. And the well-known fact about low obesity in France when they regularly eat food laced with butter and cream could, in the end, be down to portion size: research found that meal portions are 25% smaller in France than they found them to be in Philadelphia, USA. 

Peter Grove said in a statement: 'restaurants should certainly continue to innovate with exciting new tastes and combinations, but why not make a conscious effort to reduce portion sizes? This way, costs are controlled, prices could even be reduced, leading to more numbers served and customers may still  be healthy enough to continue dining with them for a good few more years than might otherwise have been the case. It's all a question of education.'

But don't just blame the restaurants. Eager not to be seen as frugal, restaurants are increasing portion sizes, but it's out of customer demand.  Should we all ask them to serve less food, while reducing prices accordingly (and also reducing waste)? And what about those with heartier appetites? Maybe we should have a system of small or large portions, which we can choose depending on how hungry we are. But doesn't that make the whole dining out experience a little clinical and uncomfortable? And will we all end up going to the restaurant down the road just because they serve bigger burgers? It's a tough one and it seems that the restaurants can't please everyone, all of the time. Or can they? 

What do you think? Are portion sizes served in restaurants skyrocketing out of control? Have you eaten a restaurant or takeaway meal that was just far too large for one person? 

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