Well it seems that art is imitating life! Two researchers recently studied the food portions in The Last Supper paintings and discovered that portions sizes in the paintings have increased enormously over the centuries. According to the findings published in the International Journal of Obesity, over the past 10 centuries the size of the main course has increased by 69%, plate size 66% and loaves of bread by 23%.
It would be very unusual these days for a dietitian to advise a patient with diabetes on the benefits of a balanced diet without focusing on portion sizes.
There is a significant body of evidence from the United States, which indicates that a systematic increase in portion sizes over the decades has fuelled the obesity epidemic. In the UK where traditional and standard products continue to dominate the market, portion sizes have remained fairly constant. The notable exceptions are some fast food items and ready meals where clear increases in pack sizes have been observed.
The supersizing of fast food continues to receive widespread media interest. Big Macs, Whoppers and King size fries are easy visual targets. The increase in calories contained in these foods over the years makes for impressive reading. Wash it all down with gallons of fizzy drinks, milkshakes and smoothies and we have an excellent recipe to explain the role of energy dense foods as a contributing factor to why we are in the midst of a global pandemic of obesity and diabetes.
The choice of burger congers up size related images. Although a Big Mac used to be considered big, it could now be viewed as rather measly in comparison to the beautifully named Colossal Burger. The plain facts are that as burger sizes have increased in size the answers as to why we are observing huge increases in numbers of obese and diabetes patients has never been clearer. Portion sizes in playing a central role in this story need to be considered an addressed as part of the treatment.
But its not only fast food portions that have increased. Our tendency for a more sedentary life and chilling out in front of the TV has also had an effect on our dietary habits and its very easy to make that extra large bowl of pasta, that extra piece of meat or order large quantities of take out food. We forget that even ‘healthy’ food in excess will add calories.
As portion sizes have grown our waistbands have followed suit. We may be distorting our perceptions of what a good meal or snack should look like. A cup of coffee 20 years ago, even with milk and sugar would have provided less than 50 calories. Nowadays it is commonplace to order a large mocha with whipped cream at a calorie count of 300 calories. The accompanying bagel would have weighed in maybe at 150 calories but it has now grown in size and gets you 350 calories