Saturday, February 27

Portion Perfect - Amanda Clark

As everyone knows, the Western world is apparently in the midst of an obesity epidemic that threatens to make this generation of children the first to live shorter lives than their parents.
While I have significant issues with this whole concept, and with the increasing correlation of thinness with healthiness and fatness as horrific, with too little attention paid to fitness as a goal in itself rather than a means to weight loss, there is no question that most people have no concept of what constitutes a portion of pretty much anything. I, for example, know that I eat well but entirely too much, and I'm sure I'm not alone
In Portion Perfection: a visual weight control plan, nutritionist Clark aims to change all that. To no little extent a marketing vehicle for her products (a plate and bowl, heavily featured in this glossily photographed book, that are marked with regions for salad/vegies, carbohydrates and protein), there is a lot here that's valuable for the would be dieter, or anyone whose knowledge of portions is shaky.
Clark opens with a discussion of how manufacturers have shifted our perception of what a serving is, comparing the sizes of take away coffee, chocolate bars, flavoured milk and chips now to their counterparts twenty years ago; in most cases the calories have doubled, and for coffee the increase is over 5 times as much. A meal should be 300-500 calories, and a snack 100-200, but all these examples contain far more calories than a snack, and some of them hit up against the far end of a meal size, a frightening thought for any of us who've washed a meal down with 600ml of soft drink (245 calories) or chocolate milk (440). Clarke discusses how this change came about, pointing out that spending more money on food you don't need, regardless of a reduction in the per gram cost, is no saving for your wallet or waist. She also points out that the manufacturer's serving size may widely differ from that of the average consumer, so that a 200g pot of chocolate dessert, though the same size as a serving of yoghurt, contains five servings, even if it can be polished off in a couple of minutes.
I very much liked the meal suggestions that follow - Clark distinguishes between everyday and occasional foods, providing portions for each that stay within the caloric bounds of healthy eating. Each meal has three calorie options - for breakfast that's 300, 400 and 500 calories, while lunch and dinner have 350, 450 and 550 versions. Clearly and lavishly illustrated, there are photos of foods under each category, all around the same calorie equivalency. The everyday snacks, for example, are all roughly 100 calories, and categorised as fruit (6 small apricots, 1.5 cups of strawberries), dairy (variously sized individual tubs of yoghurt, one Paddle Pop, 200ml skim milk with a heaped teaspoon of Milo), nuts and seeds6 macadamias, 2 tablespoons of pepitas) etc. The occasional options have the same average calorie content but are higher in fat and GI. The size of a serving of apple pie (no cream or icecream) is distressingly small, as is the discovery that a 350 calorie lunch is 4 chicken nuggets and 8 hot chips!
And that's the worth of this book - when you can easily see that, for your calories you can have a small sausage roll or 1.5 cups of starchy vegetable soup with a piece of bread and butter, or a generous plate of pasta, ham and salad there's no comparison. And knowing that a single Lindor ball or two chupa chups take the same bite out of a daily allowance as the more filling options of three oatmeal biscuits, a tub of diet chocolate mousse, or a small apple and a small pear means I'm far less likely to mindlessly scoff the former. the plate and bowl may well help, and I think I'll borrow Portion Perfection from the library every few months to refresh myself, but for now just reading the book has been a great help as I gear up for healthier eating. - Alex

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