Our food philosophy series | Balance calories and macronutrients without excess calories

Principle #5 of our eight-part food philosophy: avoid portion distortion

At Medcan, balance is a key approach to our food.

Meals and snacks offered during the Annual Health Assessment are designed to deliver a healthy balance of protein, low-glycemic carbohydrates, vegetables and healthy fats.  This balance helps ensure that our meals and snacks sustain physical and mental energy and enhance satiety – without excess calories. When developing the Nourish by Medcan retail and corporate catering menus, we applied the same philosophy.

Big food now the norm

Eating appropriate-sized portions plays a key role in maintaining a healthy weight. Numerous studies have correlated the trend toward larger portion sizes with the rising prevalence of overweight and obesity, including this 2017 published review. Studies show that people consistently eat and drink more when presented with larger portions than smaller ones.

The problem: Portion sizes have steadily increased since the 1970’s. Large portions are omnipresent and exposure to them is so routine that people have lost touch with what’s an appropriate amount of food to eat.

A 20-ounce (Venti at Starbucks) latte, a 113-gram bagel (worth almost four slices of bread) and a 1000-plus calorie entrée salad are considered standard serving sizes today. Growing portions have distorted people’s view of what’s considered a “normal” portion size, a phenomenon called “portion distortion”.

It’s thought that large portion sizes prompt people to take bigger bites and eat quickly. Since it takes approximately 20 minutes for appetite-related hormones to kick in to tell your brain you’ve had enough to eat, eating quickly can cause people to overeat before they are fully aware of it.

Eating smaller portion sizes of nutrient-dense foods, on the other hand, can help enhance satiety and control hunger while balancing calories for weight management.

Beyond weight control: Energy and mood

The issue of portion size goes beyond calories and weight control.

Eating nutritious meals and snacks that supply a healthy balance of macronutrients – protein, carbohydrate and fat – can enhance mood and mental performance. For instance, eating a carbohydrate-heavy meal, particularly one that’s based on rapidly-digested high glycemic carbohydrates, causes blood glucose and insulin to spike quickly, leading to a premature low blood sugar which can cause low energy and sluggishness.

What you eat also impacts which neurotransmitters (nerve chemicals) prevail in your brain, affecting how you feel. A high carbohydrate meal results in more tryptophan, an amino acid, to cross the blood brain barrier. Tryptophan is then used to make serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with sleepiness.

Eating protein, on the other hand, increases the level of tyrosine in the brain, an amino acid used to manufacture neurotransmitters that promote alertness and increase feelings of energy.

Six ways to downsize portions

If you feel that your portion sizes need adjusting, the following tips can help get you started.

Follow the “plate” model. To help control portion size, divide your plate into four sections, or quarters.  Fill one quarter with protein such as lean meat, chicken, fish or tofu. Fill another quarter with a healthy starchy food like brown rice, quinoa, or sweet potato. The remaining half of your plate should be filled with vegetables.

Instead of using a large dinner plate, serve your meal on a luncheon-sized plate (8 to 9 inches in diameter). The plate will look full and you’ll end up eating less.

Keep seconds out of sight. Avoid serving “family style”. Seeing dishes of food on the table encourages overeating.  Keep seconds out of sight.

Ideally, cook only one serving of food per person unless, of course, you purposely cook extra food for leftovers or the next day’s lunch.

Don’t rush your meal.  Put your knife and fork down after every bite to slow your eating pace.  Eating slowly, and mindfully, helps you eat less food and gives your brain time to register that you’ve had enough to eat.

Share an entrée.  Restaurant portions often serve up twice the calories that you’d serve yourself at home. When dining out, consider ordering two appetizers instead of a main course, or split an entrée between two people.

Read nutrition labels.  Read labels on food packages to become familiar with serving sizes of breakfast cereals, crackers, snack foods, salad dressing and peanut butter.  Then measure your foods in a measuring cup or using measuring spoons.

Read more about Medcan’s food philosophy

If you’ve missed our food philosophy series, have a read about four other principles that guide our food decisions:

  1. We leverage the elements of the well-researched, plant-based Mediterranean diet
  2.  We emphasize whole and minimally-processed foods
  3. We use seasonal and local ingredients whenever possible
  4. We are passionate about flavour

Leslie is the author of 12 best-selling books. You can follow Leslie on Twitter @LeslieBeckRD and look for her regular columns in The Globe and Mail.

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