Friday, March 5, 2010

Portion Distortion

National Nutrition Month initiated by the ADA (American Dietetic Association) in 1973 as a week-long event, morphed into a month long observance by 1980. Their campaign focuses on the importance of making informed food choices, as well as cultivating sound eating and physical activity habits. What about portion distortion?

Read On:
The ADA’s theme for this year is
Nutrition From The Ground Up. I recommend spending some time on their website. Great content! A recommended reading list, as well as educational resources covering off on a range of nutrition and lifestyle topics, interactive games (e.g., Nutrition Sudoku), quizzes, promotional ideas, etc. A majority of these materials are also available in Spanish. Good thinking!

In spite of this wealth of great information, there was minimal reference about portion sizes which is now one of the driving forces behind more reliable nutritional labeling being championed by the FDA. It is called portion distortion. Portion size is the amount of food served in a single eating occasion (meal or snack). Serving size is the standardized unit of measuring foods established by the FDA. The FDA is now considering updating the serving sizes listed on nutritional labels in recognition that their portion control recommendations are outdated. One example would be potato chips – a serving size is one ounce or six chips. How many servings did you eat during the Super Bowl? Muffins are usually sold in sizes that constitute two servings. Do you only eat half a muffin with your coffee?

The restaurant industry, despite its attempt to become more responsible by posting nutritionals, tend to offer large or super size portions. Large portions communicate value – value drives customer traffic. Think about the last time you ate a steak in a restaurant. What was its portion size or the size of the bake potato that accompanied it? In my last blog I referenced pizza. A good industry friend Nick Sarillo, founder and owner of
Nick's Pizza & Pub challenged my pizza example. He shared with me the nutritionals of Nick’s 14” Cheese pizza: only 240 calories, 80 calories from fat for one slice and then commented: “The point needs to be over consumption and lack of a balanced diet. The point could be made about almost any food group over done is going to be unhealthy in some way.”

Caloric intake (calories in, calories out) is integral to weight management. Beware of
Portion Distortion.

Oh by the way, for anyone living in or visiting Chicago, I suggest you go to Nick’s Pizza & Pub. I bet you cannot stop at one slice. His pizza is that good.


  1. All well and good, Jimmy, but most restaurants do not provide nutritional information in the form that is easily usable at the time of the decision. Portion size and details, calories from fat, etc. These charts are either hidden, or require you to log onto a website. COntrasting that, Subway and Taco Bell both promote specific meals that are better for you; and I read a story just this morning that McD's and Weight Watchers are promoting three meals that are only 6 1/2 points each. We are getting there...slowly...very slowly.

  2. Okay... I've just read your column AFTER consuming two--yes, 2--buttermilk donuts! I knew what I was in for (actually not too much more per donut than a slice of Nick's pizza) and I did it anyway. Of course, I'll be jogging to my meeting in Denver just to burn 'em off, but yeah... they were THAT good, too.

  3. Great post! I think we take for granted just how much food we can have since we have never experienced not having enough. On Twitter, I have been following a cause marketing specialist in Boston, and he just posted this link this morning: Made me think of this article too. Reminds us to donate to those that are more needy since we tend to not think of them during times that are not so special i.e not during the holidays.

  4. Portion size can be argued with eating at home also. It's difficult to track unless someone consciously keeps a diary. Chicago Tribune had several articles today regarding menu labeling and calorie content at restaurants. The article states that proof is inconclusive on whether it really alters anyone's behavior.