How have Food Portions Changed Over Time and How Can We Portion Control?

Change in Food Portion Sizes Over Time

Research data indicates that U.S. food portion size has continuously increased since the 1970s and is greater than the federal dietary guidance standard. Multiple causes can be attributed to this increase. 1.) The food service industry has grown more prominent, and people eat out more, 2.) Marketing has become more concentrated, and many more new products have been introduced. 3.) Widespread price competition has induced manufacturers to introduce more oversized items to retain and expand market share. 4.) Profits for most food items rise when manufacturers increase product size. 5.) From a marketing standpoint, oversized packages draw attention to a new product, as research has shown for beer, soft drinks, and fast food. 6.) Concern about value also drives the foodservice industry to offer larger products; many restaurant owners report that customers want more food for their money (Young & Nestle, 2002).

Health Implications of This Change

As the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) explained, “consuming too much of a nutrient endangers health, just as consuming too little does” (Sizer & Whitney, 2017), but the type of food that is consumed will always be the most significant variant that will determine what health implications will arise from what we eat.

Eating too many calories and too many foods with saturated fats, sugar, and sodium, alongside a lack of physical activity, has led to widespread obesity and cardiovascular disease.

3 Simple & Low-Cost Tools/Techniques to Help With Portion Control

Three ways to help change diet behavior and implement portion control are: 1.) Using food applications that can plan and monitor your food intakes, such as MyPlate or Google Health. 2.) Cook and eat at home. Research shows that eating out at restaurants will increase the amount of food you eat because they serve large portions and because we typically want “more food for our money.” 3.) Get smaller bowls and plates for your home. Sizer and Whitney (2017) suggest that “tableware seems to function as a sort of visual gauge for sizing up food portions. In research, people eating from large containers often eat more per sitting than those eating from smaller ones.” I like to use a combination of Google Health and my Fitbit.

Key Recommended Guidelines & U.S. Diet Realities

“Putting it positively, you can enjoy the best possible vim, vigor, and vitality throughout your life if you learn how to nourish yourself optimally” (Sizer & Whitney, 2017). 

Sizer and Whitney (2017) explain how the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) are the U.S. and Canada’s standards on nutrient intake. The micronutrients that we consume should fall within a particular safe zone to contribute most effectively to health. Additionally, healthy ranges for the consumption of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins (macronutrients) have also been established and are known as Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Ranges (AMDR): “45 to 65 percent of calories from carbohydrate. 20 to 35 percent of calories from fat. 10 to 35 percent of calories from protein”(Sizer & Whitney, 2017). The infographic below (Sizer & Whitney, 2017) shows clearly that American diets are not falling within the ideal nutrient guidelines. Micronutrients are under-consumed, while macronutrients such as “red and processed meat, refined grains, added sugars, sodium, and saturated fats” (Sizer & Whitney, 2017) are over-consumed.

Checking Out Food Labels

Nutrition Facts are required by law to be located on food packaging to provide detail about their “nutrient composition” (Sizer & Whitney, 2017). For example, if a food is high in sugar or trans fat, the label is how consumers would know. The information required by law is not the only text on food packaging. Often, the other writing is more detailed about how good the food is, or a value (cheap) buy. The marketing regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is reliable; however, not all of the marking is regulated. The salesmanship of the food industry often tricks the consumers by hiding or wording the labels and ingredient lists in devious or complicated ways. If we know what to look out for and how to read labels and ingredient lists, we can make better food and nutrition choices.

While we are primarily aware of the labels and ingredient lists on individual food packages, other models such as the NBC above in the picture and the Meal Balance Index (MBI) consider total meal nutrition by applying metrics on “nutrition data of online culinary recipes, and canteen or restaurant menus” (Mainardi, et al., 2020). This could “potentially support consumers in understanding the extent to which their meal is balanced and aligned with food-based dietary guidelines” while out to eat or after whole meals have been prepared (Mainardi, et al., 2020). I have gotten better at reading labels and knowing what “trick words” (for sugar, for example) to look out for, while I shop for food, but having this meal metric would be beneficial for a trucker who has to eat out much more often than those who can cook at home.

Stay MOTOvated!! Live MOTOvated!!


Mainardi, F., Prozorovscaia, D., Sweeney, G., & Green, H. (2020). Development and validation of a meal quality index with applications to NHANES 2005–2014. PLoS ONE, 15(12), 1–13.

Sizer, F., & Whitney, E. (2017). Nutrition: Concepts and controversies (14th ed.) [E-book]. Cengage Learning.

Young, L. R., & Nestle, M. (2002). The contribution of expanding portion sizes to the US obesity epidemic. American Journal of Public Health, 92(2), 246–249.

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