How to eat health­fully: Dou­ble your por­tion size

Tehran Times - - HEALTH -

Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent study, larger por­tions of food might not be so bad for us af­ter all. The find­ings add to our un­der­stand­ing of the psy­chol­ogy of health­ful eat­ing.

If some­body gives us a huge bowl of candy, we are likely to eat more of it than if some­one gives us a smaller bowl of candy.

Sci­en­tists have stud­ied the so-called por­tion size ef­fect in some depth.

One re­view of the re­search found that when a por­tion size is dou­bled, peo­ple con­sume an av­er­age of 35 per­cent more.

Food out­lets of­ten ad­ver­tise larger por­tion sizes to at­tract cus­tomers, and many health pro­fes­sion­als be­lieve that this tac­tic might play a role in the rise of obe­sity in the United States.

For this rea­son, health-con­scious peo­ple around the world make sure to only give them­selves small por­tions of foods that some may call un­health­ful.

De­spite a great deal of re­search into the neg­a­tive con­se­quences of por­tion size, very few stud­ies have fo­cused on the po­ten­tial ben­e­fits. Could in­creas­ing por­tion size of health­ful snacks in­crease their con­sump­tion?

With this in mind, re­searchers from Deakin Univer­sity in Aus­tralia re­cently set out to see whether the ef­fect would work in re­verse.

The study, which Prof. Chris Dube­laar led, was a co­or­di­nated ef­fort be­tween sci­en­tists in Aus­tralia and France.

Por­tion size re­vis­ited

In or­der to in­ves­ti­gate, the team de­signed two com­ple­men­tary ex­per­i­ments. The first in­volved 153 univer­sity stu­dents in a lab­o­ra­tory set­ting. The sci­en­tists gave them large or small por­tions of health­ful ap­ple chips or un­health­ful potato chips.

As ex­pected, the par­tic­i­pants to whom the team gave the larger por­tions of snacks — even the health­ful ver­sions — ate sig­nif­i­cantly more than the group with the smaller por­tions.

The sec­ond phase took place at a film fes­ti­val. In to­tal, the re­searchers gave 77 par­tic­i­pants a small or a large bag of baby car­rots. They watched ei­ther a film about a restau­rant, which in­cluded many scenes in­volv­ing food, or a ro­man­tic com­edy with no par­tic­u­lar food ref­er­ences.

Again, those with the larger bag ate more of the health­ful snack. In­ter­est­ingly, the ef­fect was less pro­nounced in the group that watched the film about the restau­rant; this demon­strates the sig­nif­i­cant im­pact that the en­vi­ron­ment can have on our eat­ing be­hav­ior.

Prof. Dube­laar thinks that this could pro­vide an “op­por­tu­nity for those seek­ing to con­trol in­take to con­sider their en­vi­ron­ment when they’re eat­ing to help re­duce the ef­fects of por­tion size.”

Real-life im­pli­ca­tions

The re­sults of our cur­rent study tell us that this por­tion size ef­fect also holds true with healthy foods, which opens up the po­ten­tial for ad­just­ing por­tion size when try­ing to en­cour­age health­ier eat­ing habits.

Over­all, the study’s re­sults give an in­ter­est­ing in­sight into the con­vo­luted world of food psy­chol­ogy. They might also of­fer some new ways to im­prove our eat­ing habits.

“The re­sults of our cur­rent study tell us that this por­tion size ef­fect also holds true with healthy foods, which opens up the po­ten­tial for ad­just­ing por­tion size when try­ing to en­cour­age health­ier eat­ing habits,” Says Prof. Chris Dube­laar.

He con­tin­ues, “For ex­am­ple, par­ents try­ing to get their chil­dren to eat more veg­gies could serve up larger por­tions. This would also work for healthy snacks such as fruit or any food you want some­one to eat more of.”

The au­thors sug­gest that be­gin­ning a meal with a large por­tion of health­ful food be­fore a smaller plate of un­health­ful food might be a use­ful ap­proach.

Be­cause obe­sity is a grow­ing con­cern in the U.S. and else­where, un­der­stand­ing the nu­ances of our re­la­tion­ship with food is more im­por­tant than ever. Though this study used a rel­a­tively low num­ber of par­tic­i­pants, it of­fers fresh in­sight and is likely to spur fu­ture in­ves­ti­ga­tions in a sim­i­lar vein.

There is a myr­iad of vari­ables that sci­en­tists could an­a­lyze in fol­low-up work. For in­stance, health­ful and un­health­ful snacks of­ten have very dif­fer­ent fla­vor and tex­ture pro­files, so un­der­stand­ing how each of these sub­tle dif­fer­ences im­pacts the por­tion size ef­fect will be in­ter­est­ing.

Un­til more stud­ies are car­ried out, the take-home mes­sage is: Don’t worry how large the por­tion is, worry about what you are ap­por­tion­ing.

Prof. Dube­laar thinks that this could pro­vide an “op­por­tu­nity for those seek­ing to con­trol in­take to con­sider their en­vi­ron­ment when they’re eat­ing to help re­duce the ef­fects of por­tion size.”

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