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News Article

Weight loss: low energy density or small portions?


Evidence suggests larger portion sizes lead to higher calorie intakes, can this be countered?

Penn State University researchers have found that training in portion control can help reduce food intake, not because trainees ate smaller portions, but because they ate portions that were less energy dense. The study showed an effective weight loss strategy is to eat more ‘healthily’ rather than go for smaller portions.

A lot of research has demonstrated that people eat more when faced with larger portions and this could be fuelling the obesity epidemic. In a food environment of abundant portions, we need strategies to consume less energy.

The Penn State Researchers had previously found that training in portion control was an effective weight loss measure. This study aimed to take things a step further and find out if women who were trained in portion control were able to resist eating more from increasing portion sizes than untrained women. It also aimed to discover what effect body weight had on food consumption in this situation.

They recruited 34 overweight women, 29 women who were normal weight and 39 overweight women who were trained in portion control for weight loss. The researchers then gave the women meals consisting of 7 foods with increasing portion sizes (100% to 175% of baseline) over a period of several weeks and monitored their intake.

The women could choose how much of a portion they ate and what mix of foods they consumed at the meal.

Everyone ate more as the size of the portions increased, showing that training on portion control did not aid the women in resisting larger portions. Instead the trained women altered the composition of their meal to compensate for the larger portions. They chose to eat more of the lower energy density foods, such as salad, and less of the higher energy density foods. Overall they succeeded in consumed fewer calories than the untrained women (around 500 compared with around 600 for untrained women). The weight of the women did not relate to how they responded to larger portions.

The study demonstrates how robust the effect of portion size on energy intake is and shows that reducing energy density is one way to counter that.

"The study supports the idea that eating less of the higher-calorie-dense foods and more of the nutritious, lower-calorie-dense foods can help to manage hunger while consuming fewer calories," said Barbara Rolls, professor and the Helen A. Guthrie Chair of Nutritional Sciences, Penn State and senior author.

Faris M. Zuraikat, Liane S. Roe, Christine E. Sanchez, Barbara J. Rolls. Comparing the portion size effect in women with and without extended training in portion control: A follow-up to the Portion-Control Strategies Trial. Appetite, 2018; 123: 334 DOI: 10.1016/j.appet.2018.01.012

Article details

  • Author(s)
  • I. Hoskins
  • Date
  • 29 January 2018
  • Source
  • Penn State University
  • Subject(s)
  • Nutrition & health