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Size matters

heart attack grillSo…one more time:

How is it that the Austrians consume a meat-heavy, bread-heavy, vegetable-light diet, smoke at almost two-and-and-half times the rate as we do … and are healthier than us? And how is that the French breakfast on croissants and pain au chocolat, slather their baguettes with runny Camembert while slicing off slabs of fois gras – and are healthier than us?

We want there to be one answer – red wine, a magic supplement, a secret diet – so we can latch onto it and transform ourselves overnight into a healthier nation. It’s not that easy. The fact is that Europeans live very different lives than Americans, and their health relative to ours is a product of the sum of these many differences.

So far I’ve written about two major differences that have nothing to do with diet: Our car-dependent lives compared to their walking/ biking culture, and our lack-of-vacation culture compared to their generous days of R&R. Here’s another dramatic difference that does have to do with what we eat:  P  o  r  t  i  o  n    s  i  z  e

America’s portion sizes are larger than the rest of the world’s, with more calorie-dense foods making up those portions. (Study after study has shown that when people migrate to the United States, they gain an average of 5-9 pounds within weeks of settling in.)

The differences in portion size have been noted, studied and widely commented on – both by travelers and by health and nutrition organizations. The American Institute for Cancer Research points out that the average croissant in a Parisian bakery weighs slightly more than an ounce. At Starbucks, the croissants are 3.5 ounces. A “small” ice cream at Cold Stone Creamery is 5 ounces. A scoop of gelato throughout Europe is 2.5 ounces. A “large” pizza when ordered in the US is about 2” bigger in circumference than a “large” in Germany. A “small” soft drink bought in a European fast food restaurant has is 8.5 ounces. In the U.S. ordering this size gets you 16 ounces. Unheard of in Europe is the “double gulp” size soft drink that is 64 ounces – that’s a half gallon, folks (and more than 600 calories)

Portion sizes in the U.S. have grown consistently… some would argue alarmingly. Did you know that the Hershey bar debuted at 0.6 ounces? Today the smallest “single” bar size is twice as big, with sizes up to 8 times as large. Today’s typical bagel up to 5 times larger than the bagel of yore. When fast food hamburgers were introduced, they were the size of those now included in kid meals.

burger stackThe link between big portion sizes and overeating is explored in depth in the book “The End of Overeating” by David Kessler (sorry to say, no relation). The not-so-surprising conclusion from various studies:

Give them a lot, and they will eat a lot.”

Which we do.

1 comment

1 Kim in Oregon { 05.11.16 at 9:04 pm }

Such an interesting post. I bet a lot of ugly americans complain about the small portions too!

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