There are many dimensions to the obesity crisis, but a big factor that's not helping is larger portion sizes. From snacks to fast food to restaurant meals, we've got used to seeing a certain amount of food on our plate. This 'conditioning' affects how much food we serve ourself. For many of us, it starts first thing in the morning when we open the cereal box and start to pour.
Breakfast cereals feature in around 60% of breakfasts – they can be a healthy choice and provide a good variety of vitamins and minerals, but the bottom line is that a lot of us are eating a double (or even triple) portion.
The serving sizes given on cereal packets are often more fantasy than reality. On average, the recommended portion is 40g – yet when you tip this amount into a bowl, it can look a bit inadequate. 'Airy' cereals like Cheerios and Coco Pops give a decent volume of food in the bowl, but for heavier cereals like mueslis and granolas, 40g looks incredibly mean.
Emma Brown MSc, Nutracheck nutritionist said "We tried a little experiment and asked people to pour out what they estimated to be a 40g portion of 3 popular breakfast cereals. The results were fascinating – pretty much everyone served themselves way too much!
It is not at all surprising as we eat with our eyes and rely on visual cues. People pay more attention to the proportion of the bowl filled rather than the actual amount of cereal in it.
The habit of using a visual reference (for meals generally), rather than being conscious of satiety – how full you feel – is a tough one to break. The simplest solution is to swap to a smaller plate or bowl – a full-looking plate or bowl is more visually satisfying.
Let's not forget the benefits of eating breakfast however. It provides fuel to the body after an overnight fast – skip it and you're more likely to reach for a high sugar mid-morning snack. So a bowl of cereal can be a good start to your day – and a great snack at anytime. It's absolutely fine to eat more than the recommended portion, but it is all about awarenesss – especially if you are trying to lose weight. If you haven't bothered weighing your cereal in the past and your goal is weight loss, we recommend starting now – you may be surprised! It's important to always measure your serving so you can track the calories accurately".
Nutritionist Emma Brown (ANutr), MSc Human Nutrition is passionate about how food science applies to the human body, and how the nutrients in what we eat affect us and ultimately have an impact on our health.