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Meals at 92% of Dining Establishments Serve Oversized Portions

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Restaurants often serve oversized meals.

The food offered at fast-food restaurants are often considered as one of the biggest contributors to obesity. According to a new study from the Journal of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, though, 92 percent out of 364 restaurant meals that were measured from both large-chain and non-chain or local restaurants exceeded the recommended calorie limits for one single meal. In 123 restaurants located in three cities across America, the researchers found out that some meal servings, excluding drinks, appetizers or desserts, already sometimes exceeded the caloric requirements for one whole day.

Senior author Susan B. Roberts, PhD, and director of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRCA) at Tufts University in Boston, says that the findings they have clear it out that trying to make healthy choices when eating outside is quite a challenge since the combination of tempting options plus oversized portions often overwhelm a person's self-control.

Although fast-food restaurants are often the easiest targets for criticism because they provide information on their portion sizes and calories, small restaurants typically provide just as many calories, and sometimes more. Favourite meals often contain three or even four times the amount of calories a person needs, and although in theory we don't have to eat the whole lot in practice, most of us don't have enough willpower to stop eating when we have had enough, Roberts adds.

Calorie Analysis

The research was conducted by the HNRCA as well as scientists from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts. They analyzed the calorie content of the most ordered meals in both local and fast-food restaurants located in Boston, San Francisco, and Little Rock, Ark. Data was collected between the year 2011 and 2014, and meals were compared against human calorie requirements as well as the standards set by the USDA. Cuisines included in the study were American, Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Mexican, Greek, Japanese, Italian and Indian.

Among all of the cuisines compared, American, Chinese and Italian had the highest calorie counts with an average of 1,495 calories in each meal.

The oversized servings seen in restaurants cause dieters to either avoid restaurants entirely, or choose items such as salads that everyone knows are served in reasonable sizes. The standard meals are usually portioned for the hungriest of customers, which is why most people need a good amount of self-control to be able to avoid overeating.

The researchers believe that local ordinances that allow customers to order partial servings at partial prices would make restaurants adjust their usual sizes towards what the average customer wants, as compared to the hungriest person. This, in turn, would allow customers to order anything that they like on the menu, in a more appropriate size. Thus, they would be able to eat out more often without worrying about weight gain.

While a lot of people blame themselves for having weak willpower when it comes to overeating, Roberts says otherwise saying it is our natural for us to do so. Roberts cited Ivan Pavlov's discovery regarding the ˜cephalic phase of digestion', which is basically a mechanism that makes us hungry and tempted when we have food at hand. So we order our favourite dishes because that is what tempts us, and then we eat more than we need because the portion is too large, says Roberts.