According to a recent study, larger portions of food might not be so bad for us after all. The findings add to our understanding of the psychology of healthful eating.
Scientists have studied the so-called portion size effect in some depth.
One review of the research found that when a portion size is doubled, people consume an average of 35 per cent more.
Health-conscious people around the world make sure to only give themselves small portions of foods that some may call unhealthful.
Despite a great deal of research into the negative consequences of portion size, very few studies have focused on the potential benefits. Could increasing portion size of healthful snacks increase their consumption?
With this in mind, researchers from Deakin University in Australia recently set out to see whether the effect would work in reverse.
The study, which Prof Chris Dubelaar led, was a coordinated effort between scientists in Australia and France. Their findings now appear in the journal Food Quality and Preference.
Deakin Business School’s Professor of Marketing Chris Dubelaar worked with researchers in France and Australia to test if doubling the portion size of healthy foods increased consumption as it does with unhealthy foods, and if the amount of food eaten differed according to the eating environment.
The findings showed that factors such as portion size and even what people watch while habits
had an impact on health-related behaviours.
The first part of the study involved 153 French university students, who were given small or large servings of a healthy (apple chips) or unhealthy (potato chips) snack in a laboratory setting, to eliminate potential social influences.
For the second part of the study, 77 high school students attending a film festival were given a small or large serve of baby carrots as a snack.
The students then watched either a film about a restaurant that included many eating scenes, or a romantic comedy with no food-focused content
The researchers found that doubling the portions increased consumption of both healthy and unhealthy snacks, which they say means that people could potentially increase their portion sizes to fill up on healthy food and avoid junk food.
Further, in the second part of the study, the portion size effect with the healthy snacks was influenced by the movie being watched.
Those who viewed the food-related film ate less than those watching the romantic comedy – that is, those participants who watched people eating on film felt less inclined to indulge themselves, the researchers say.
Professor Dubelaar says the study findings present interesting insights into the potential for manipulating portion size as a way to increase healthy eating.
Prof Dubelaar thinks that this could provide an “opportunity for those seeking to control intake to consider their environment when they’re eating to help reduce the effects of portion size.”
Overall, the study’s results give an interesting insight into the convoluted world of food psychology. They might also offer some new ways to improve our eating habits.
“The results of our current study tell us that this portion size effect also holds true with healthy foods, which opens up the potential for adjusting portion size when trying to encourage healthier eating habits.” Prof Chris Dubelaar
He continues, “For example, parents trying to get their children to eat more veggies could serve up larger portions. This would also work for healthy snacks such as fruit or any food you want someone to eat more of.”
The authors suggest that beginning a meal with a large portion of healthful food before a smaller plate of unhealthful food might be a useful approach.
Because obesity is a growing concern, understanding the nuances of our relationship with food is more important than ever. Though this study used a relatively low number of participants, it offers fresh insight and is likely to spur future investigations in a similar vein.
There is a myriad of variables that scientists could analyse in follow-up work. For instance, healthful and unhealthful snacks often have very different flavour and texture profiles, so understanding how each of these subtle differences impacts the portion size effect will be interesting.
Until more studies are carried out, the take-home message is: Don’t worry how large the portion is, worry about what you are apportioning.
Source: Medical News Today