If you are trying to lose weight, you may want to start eating European-sized portions instead of American ones.
Why, you may wonder, do the French manage to stay so svelte, while downing all of those cheeses, carb-loaded croissants and baguettes, as well as sauces rich in butter and cream? One reason is the size of the portions that people eat in Europe — they're much smaller.
In fact, studies have found that Americans and Australians eat the largest portions, while portions in Asia and Europe are less bulky.
Interestingly, fat intake across cultures is fairly constant, and studies have found that what's making more Americans overweight is not too much fatty food, but too much food in general, according to researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and CNRS in Paris.
U.S. Versus France
The researchers compared the size of restaurant meals, single-serve foods and cookbook portions in the U.S. and France.
"While the French eat more fat than Americans, they probably eat slightly fewer calories, which when compounded over years can amount to substantial differences in weight," said Paul Rozin, professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.
The researchers weighed portions at 11 comparable pairs of restaurants in Paris and Philadelphia, including fast-food outlets, pizzerias, ice cream parlors, and even ethnic restaurants like Chinese and Indian.
They found the mean portion size in restaurants in Paris was 277 grams, compared to 346 grams in Philadelphia. In other words, the U.S. portions were 25% larger.
The portions served in Chinese restaurants in Philadelphia were a whopping 72% larger than those served in Chinese restaurants in Paris.
Even single-serve foods sold in grocery stores are larger in the U.S. The researchers found that 14 of 17 items sampled were larger in American stores:
- A candy bar in the U.S. was 41% larger than the same one sold in France.
- Single-serving soft drinks were 52% larger.
- Hot dogs were 63% larger
- Yogurt was 82% larger.
Even American cookbook recipes — from "The Joy of Cooking" — produced larger portions than the French cookbook, "Je sais cuisiner." The U.S. version featured larger meat and soup portions, and smaller vegetable portions than the French cookbook.
Also, Parisians spent 22 minutes on average dining at their McDonald's, compared with the 14 minutes that Philadelphians spent on their burgers, fries and soft drinks.
The American Institute for Cancer Research points out that the average croissant in a Parisian bakery weighs slightly more than an ounce. But at the American chain Au Bon Pain, a croissant weighs more than 2 ounces. And at Mrs. Fields, a butter croissant weighs closer to 3 1/2 ounces (and has 320 calories).
Interestingly, it wasn't always like this. According to WebMD, which cited Centers for Disease Control stats:
- The Hershey bar debuted in 1908 at 0.6 ounces; today, its smallest single bar size is twice as big, and it also comes in sizes up to eight times as large.
- Today's typical bagel from a bagel shop is up to five times larger and has more calories than those originally introduced to the U.S. by Jewish emigrants.
- When fast-food hamburgers were introduced in the U.S., they were the size of those now included in kids' meals.
What You Can Do
Remember: Your mom is not telling you to clean your plate anymore. It's bad advice if you go out to eat.
It's not easy to avoid large quantities of food if you eat out regularly. Most restaurants are giving out portions that are almost like two meals in one.
If you go out, you can split an entree with your dining partner, which will usually mean you'll be eating an appropriate amount (and halving your bill in the process).
If that's not an option, you can ask the waiter or cashier at a counter-service restaurant to give you a take-away box for what you don't finish.
Before you tuck into the meal, you can put half of the food into the box and save it for lunch the next day.
But the best option is to cut down on eating out and cook more at home, where you can better control the portions.