Ever since the independent film, Super Size Me was released, research on the relationship between increasing obesity and increasing portion sizes has skyrocketed and the results have been virtually unanimous.
There have been numerous well-designed studies published just in the last several years which confirmed exactly what we suspected (and much of what the movie suggested):
* Portion sizes have increased in restaurants and fast food venues on a major scale over the last several decades
* We self-serve ourselves larger portions in the home than we used to
* When more food is put in front of us, we almost always eat more
* Most people underestimate how many calories they are eating
* All of these factors have contributed to the growing obesity problem and the related health problems that come along with it
The obvious solution would seem to be to decrease portion sizes across the board, and indeed awareness of and control over portion sizes in general is important.
However, research has demonstrated that perhaps an even better solution is to keep the portion sizes generous, but decrease the energy density (calories per unit of volume) in the foods you put on your plate.
Several studies revealed that eating more low calorie density foods, especially green vegetables, salad vegetables and other fibrous carbs, as well as very lean proteins, maintains a feeling of fullness while reducing energy intake.
In other words, large portions of highly nutritious, low calorie foods displaced the less nutritious, calorie-dense foods! Most people allow the bad foods to push out the good foods, but you can actually do the same in reverse!
In a study published in the Journal of The American Dietetic Association, researchers fed one group a compulsory first course salad which was kept low in energy density by using very low calorie dressing with no high calorie toppings no bacon, cheese or croutons, etc).
After the salad, the subjects were allowed to eat as much pasta as they wanted.
A second group was also allowed to eat as much pasta as they wanted but was not given a compulsory salad to eat beforehand.
The results: As you might guess, eating a low energy density first course enhanced satiety (fullness) and reduced the overall amount of calories that were eaten during the whole meal.
Since the research has repeatedly discovered that almost everyone will eat more when served larger portions from a larger plate or container, and there is obviously a serious issue of "portion distortion" occurring, another group of scientists and psychologists decided to test this even further by providing larger plates or containers of low energy density, high nutrient density foods before the main course and or in between meals.
When more of the low energy density foods were made available first, the subjects ate even more of these healthy foods, which filled them up even more and decreased the amount of high calorie density foods eaten in the main course.
Reporting their findings in the Journal of Nutrition Education And Behavior, the researchers said that there is a silver lining to all the negative findings about super sized portions and overeating that we have discovered in recent years:
That is, although we eat more when more is put in front of us, We can use this phenomenon in reverse by serving large plates, bowls or containers of healthy, low energy density foods like fruits, salads and raw vegetables as snacks and first courses.
"While a small bowl of raw carrots might make for a good afternoon snack", said one of the researchers, "a large bowl might even be better."