Monday, May 24, 2010

The Why

We know our portions, plates and waistlines have grown, and continue to do so. But, have you ever thought about why? Is it just that we like food more than we used to? Is it that we need more food than we used to? Is it that we have less self-control than we used to? Or is it maybe that we don’t know our food has changed? Well . . . some of the reasons why are less obvious than others—so we’ll focus on those.

Everyone who has even one cookbook is familiar with “The Joy of Cooking,” first published in 1931 and still one of this country's most published cookbooks. After studying 18 recipes from 1936 to today, researchers from Cornell University found that 14 of the 18 recipes had an increase in calories—and the difference wasn’t small. The overall calories in the recipes increased by 35 percent. The brownie recipe in the 1997 edition makes 16 brownies, while the identical recipe in the 1975 edition made 30 brownies. This means the 1997 brownie is almost twice as big, thus—more calories per serving. Translation: in case anyone’s missed it, our serving sizes have increased.

You probably don’t know that between 1984 and 1987, in just three years, the chocolate chip cookie recipe on the back of the NestlĂ©’s Toll House Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels package scaled down the number of cookies it makes from 100 to 60. Bigger cookies, more calories per cookie.

And, where do we put these bigger brownies and cookies? Well, on our bigger plates. The average dinner plate has increased in diameter roughly 40 percent since World War II. It stands to reason that if plates are bigger, portions grow bigger to fill them.

Now, to wash down those bigger cookies and brownies, we need a bigger soda. Since the 1960s sodas have grown from the single-serving size standard 6-½-ounce bottle to a 20-ounce bottle. At movie theaters and convenience stores the most popular size is now the 64-ounce fountain "Double Gulp."

But it’s not just serving sizes and portions that have increased—look at the long list of ingredients in common foods—like Graham Crackers. In 1829 the Reverend Sylvester Graham created the first Graham Cracker to promote “temperance in eating.” (Our first diet.) The main ingredient was unsifted, coarsely ground wheat flour with a high fiber content. Now, compare today’s Graham Crackers—note the partially hydrogenated oil (trans fats) and high fructose corn syrup—UNBLEACHED ENRICHED FLOUR (WHEAT FLOUR, NIACIN, REDUCED IRON, THIAMINE MONONITRATE {VITAMIN B1}, RIBOFLAVIN {VITAMIN B2}, FOLIC ACID), SUGAR, GRAHAM FLOUR (WHOLE GRAIN WHEAT FLOUR), SOYBEAN OIL AND/OR PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED COTTONSEED OIL, HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, HONEY, LEAVENING (BAKING SODA AND/OR CALCIUM PHOSPHATE), SALT, ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, SOY LECITHIN - AN EMULSIFIER, CORNSTARCH. CONTAINS: WHEAT, SOY.

So, do you see this as progress? Maybe bigger isn’t necessarily better. Maybe less is more?

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