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Portion control a problem? Try switching plates!

September 4, 2012 in News

Plate color, that is.

No jokes here. A recently published research study looked at the way plate color impacted the choices participants made regarding food. Participants were given a plate that either closely matched the color of the food served, or contrasted with the food. They were then invited to serve themselves however much they wished from a buffet table.

Participants received a red or white plate, and were either led to a buffet table serving pasta in cream sauce or one serving pasta in red sauce. Participants who had plates “matching” their food (red for red sauce, white for the cream sauce) served themselves between 17 and 22 percent more food than those who had plates contrasting with their food.

During repeated trials, researchers also found that the actual color of the plates did not have an impact – only whether or not the color contrasted with the food influenced portion size. The authors of the study suggested that the contrasting color serves as a “stop sign” that prompts individuals to think about how much food they are putting on the plate.

Previous research has investigated the impact of plate size on self-served portion size. These studies have demonstrated that when buffet diners have bigger plates, they serve themselves more, due to an optical illusion that makes the same volume of food look smaller on a bigger plate. No matter what the size of the plate is, people tend to fill between 70 and 80 percent of it with food.

No matter how big the portion is, research has upheld the finding that the average person will eat about 92 percent of a portion they serve to themselves, no matter how large that portion.

These two findings create special concern when you consider that the size of the average dining plate has increased over the past decade. Plates with a 10 inch diameter used to be the standard size sold. Now, the 12 inch plate is standard, and portion sizes have expanded accordingly.

How can these findings help you and I maintain better portion control? Here are some tips suggested by the findings from multiple studies into plate size and color:

  • Use dark or brightly colored plates. These contrast with common calorie-dense white foods like white potatoes, rice, and pasta.
  • Choose green plates to “trick” yourself or your family into eating more healthy green vegetables.
  • Use a smaller plate. Research into plate size has found that when diners use the previously-standard 10 inch plates instead of 12 inch plates, they consume about 22 percent less food.
  • If you are drinking a beverage that contains calories, choose a short, wide glass over a tall one. People tend to pour far less volume into short, wide glasses when choosing a portion size.
  • If you are trying to encourage children to eat healthier meals, choose meals with a lot of color variety -children tend to prefer having lots of different colors on their plates.

True, all of these are very small changes, but even a small reduction in portion size can have a huge impact on your diet and give your diabetes self-management a boost. Professor Brian Wansink, current president of the US Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior, commented that “The secret of weight loss is a couple of small changes. One small difference like [changing plate color] could add up to a lot of pounds over a year.”

You can read the original news post through The Telegraph.


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