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Do Portion Size and Frequency Really Matter?

April 8, 2014 by Dean Simmons, Registered Dietitian

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Have you ever heard that “the dose makes the poison”? This saying from the 1500’s is attributed to Paracelsus, a Swiss German who founded the study of toxicology. It’s based on the observation that toxic substances (like mercury) can be harmless in very small doses and that harmless substances (like water) can be toxic at high doses.In terms of healthy eating, we can translate this 500+ year old notion to “portion size and frequency matters.” That is to say, occasionally eating small amounts of a food that is high in sugar, fat or salt (sodium) is unlikely to cause health problems when eaten within an overall pattern of healthy eating.

However, your health can be negatively affected when small indulgences become meal-sized, and occasional treats become regular features on your meal plans. It takes a tremendous amount of physical activity to burn off the extra calories from supersized portions. Over time, overly large portion sizes can lead to unintended weight gain and related health problems.

In general, we tend to eat what we see. This becomes a problem when the portion sizes at restaurants, movie theatres and grocery stores are inflated and bulk packages are priced attractively. Here are some tips to help you keep portion sizes in check.

Portion size tips:

  1. When eating out: Order the small sized drinks, half-sized entrees, or split an appetizer/dessert with your dining partner.
  2. At the dinner table: Use smaller plates and serve the meal on plates instead of placing all the food on the table (which makes second servings tempting and easy).
  3. On the couch: Portion your snacks into a small bowl instead of eating out of the snack bag.
  4. At the grocery store: Be aware that although bulk sized packages may be more affordable it may also make it easier to eat larger amounts at home. Consider dividing up larger packages into several smaller containers or buying smaller packages.
  5. In the kitchen: Since we tend to eat what we see, put less healthy snacks out of sight and reach. Instead, plan ahead and have a fruit bowl or container of cut-up veggies front and centre as the first snacks you see when you enter the kitchen or open the fridge. If they are the easiest snacks to grab, they will be more likely to be chosen.

Related Posts:

When Did We Get So Thirsty?
When Size Matters
See Food

Recommended Resources:

CDC: How to Avoid Portion Size Pitfalls to Help Manage Your Weight

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