Portion Size

The headlines yesterday shouted about the rising prevalence of diabetes; some articles went so far as to suggest that if left unchecked this trend could bankrupt NHS (British National Health Service for my American readers). While the over all number of people with diabetes remains lower in the UK than in North America, this study which appeared in ‘Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health’, found that the numbers of new cases of diabetes rose 74 per cent between 1997 and 2003. There were more than 41,000 new cases of Type 2 diabetes. The rise in obesity has had a significant role. In 1996 46 per cent of people newly diagnosed with Type 2 were obese; in 2005, this number had risen to 56 per cent. Of course there are other factors at work as well including heredity, ethnicity and age. But the fact remains that primary causes of Type 2 diabetes including diet and exercise fall within the control of individuals.

Our family is especially concerned with this issue. My husband is of Afro-Caribbean descent; he is fast approaching forty; he has gain weighted (one drawback of having a wife that has dinner on the table the moment you come through the door from work each night); and perhaps most alarming his father has been diagnosed with the disease. Of course this means that our three year old daughter will also be more susceptible to the illness. And the worse news of all, recent trends include young children and teens developing this chronic and life-threatening disease. So we are anxious to all we can to reduce those risks to our family.

One big part of that is simply to understand and recognize what a portion size is. In a world where the catch phrase ‘Super size me’ is common, we have lost an appreciation for when to say enough. The truth is that not only are the prepared foods we purchase so often higher in fat, sugar and salt; they are also much larger portions than required. On Saturday, when we went shopping for seeds to begin our garden Emily asked to eat at Burger King (a rare treat for doing so well in her first week of school). I purchased the mini-Angus burger kids meal that included the small twin hamburgers, fries and juice. As I watched her eat, I realized that this meal would actually be adequate to feed two children under the age of five. By splitting the burgers and fries into equal portions, buying another juice, and bringing an apple or orange from home; you can create a healthier…and more economic choice for your children. You might though need to beg for an extra toy.

Likewise as I prepared lunch today, I thought about how the ham-n-cheese sandwich, crisps and apple would actually feed one adult and two children under the age of five. As the pictures illustrates, that meal would fulfill the following nutritional needs:

                                              Adult (1)                                              Children under 5 (2)
Carbohydrates                  2 (1 slice of bread and crisps)      1.5 (1/2 slice of bread and crisps)
Fruit                                       1 (1/2 large apple)                           .5 (1/4 large apple)
Diary                                      1 (1 ounce cheese)                          .5 (1/2 ounce of cheese)
Protein                                 .5 (1-2 ounces of ham)                   .5 (1 ounce of ham)


Appropriate portion size
Appropriate portion size

As the table and picture illustrate, the biggest problem with this simple and ordinary meal that we prepare so often for our children is portion size. How often do we fill our children’s plate with far more than they should be consuming? A half or even whole sandwich when a quarter is more than adequate for a young child? A whole pack of crisps when the label says that 6 to 8 chips are a serving size. Even a whole large apple when a small apple is the recommended serving size…for an adult. Of course, another easy solution is to substitute cucumber, peppers, celery or carrots for the crisps, but those too should be portion appropriate.

One of the things that I learned as a breastfeeding peer counselor is that the human stomach is approximately the size of that person’s fist. If you look at your fist or your child’s, you will soon recognize that it does not take nearly as much food as we think to make us feel full. The difficulty is that the nerve endings in the stomach which signal the brain that it is full have almost a twenty minute delay. That means that by the time you feel full you will have been eating for another third of an hour. This is why it is important that we learn when to say when…for us and especially our children.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: