Supersizing food carries big cost

Thomas Merton, monk and spiritual writer, believed the biggest temptation is to settle for too little. But he never faced the extra large servings of food that, unfortunately for our good health, is thrust upon us almost everywhere – even during an escape to the local cinema.

Today’s movie palaces come in three packages: big, fancier and over the top. Stop off at the theatre’s concession stand before you watch the season’s blockbuster film, and it’s the same story — big candy bars, bigger tubs of popcorn and drinks the size of a backyard pool. Of course, spend a little extra and you can get a whole lot more.

Super-sized portions
But this bargain in goodies may have its darker side. The growing trend toward super-sized portions gives new meaning to the expression “Penny wise, pound foolish.” There’s no doubt that portions of all kinds of food are getting bigger and bigger.

Why spend more than a dollar for an eight-ounce soft drink when, for 30 cents more, you can get a thirst-quenching 16-ounce container? Another 15 cents and you can quadruple the amount — a giant-sized 32-ounce drink.

But along with these gargauan portions comes an expansion of other sorts — your waistline.

Sticking to sensible sizes can be tough. As you wait in line at the concession stand choosing the one small treat you promised yourself, the aroma of freshly made popcorn can be overwhelmingly tempting.

And it is only popcorn – no butter topping added, right? At Famous Players’ Theatres, a recent promotion included a free chocolate bar with the purchase of a large popcorn and drink.

And while you’re at it, that medium-sized unbuttered bag of popcorn (which the movie chain says contains 521 calories and 20.6 grams of fat) could be “super-sized,” to increase the calorie-count to 800 and more than 30 grams of fat.

Loaded with fat
If you think we’re bad about large portions here in Canada, just wait until your next visit to the United States. Fast-food eateries there, long known for their ability to satisfy large appetites at bargain prices, are the worst offenders. But you don’t need to cross the border. We’re importing their offerings.

For example, a regular-sized serving of French fries at McDonald’s weighs in at 400 calories and 19 grams of fat.

Opt for super size, and your body has to deal with 625 calories and 29 grams of fat.

Have it along with the chain’s sandwich, the Big Xtra with cheese (it contains a whopping 717 calories and 45 grams of fat), and you’re looking at almost a day’s recommended fat intake if you’re male. If you’re a female, you’ve gone way over the top.

Recommended daily fat for men, 90 grams; for women, 65.

Next page: Coffee and doughnuts

Coffee and doughnuts
Coffee shops used to be a dieter’s nightmare because of the doughnuts and assorted baked goods. But there are now new pitfalls, although they aren’t as obvious.Those upscale coffee chains provide beverages large enough to satisfy the collective thirsts of a family of four. And some of the new flavoured varieties touted at these establishments come equipped with a substantial caloric price tag.

For example, some of Second Cup’s flavoured espresso offerings contain more than 400 calories and almost 15 grams of fat.

Starbucks’ latest size addition, the 20-ounce Venti, now outranks its 16-ounce Grandé.

Order a non-fat iced latte and you’re dealing with a healthy dose of skim milk and calcium. But opt for a frozen blended drink like a Frapuccino and it’s a different story. A Venti Caramel Frapuccino weighs in with a hefty 419 calories and almost 10 grams of fat.

Don’t fancy an iced coffee but still thirst for a cold drink? A stop at a convenience store for a bottled fruit beverage will cost you, too. While they may seem like single-serving sizes, they’re often just that bit larger.

Drink an entire bottle of Fruitopia (473 millilitres), and you guzzle down more than 350 calories in no time flat.

Bagels and muffins
Bagels, muffins and specialty breads are another growth industry. Instead of 180 calories for an old-fashioned bagel, newer versions contain almost 400.

As for bread, commercial bakeries have got in on the act by increasing the thickness of bread slices while keeping the loaves the same size. The result is fewer slices per loaf and, therefore, more loaves purchased.

When asked why the slices are bigger, a consumer representative said, “Customers found them to be more satisfying.”

Little wonder when you consider you may be eating the equivalent of four pieces of bread in a sandwich instead of the usual two.

Old-fashioned muffins were also once a caloric bargain. Chock full of whole grain products such as bran, they provided about 150 calories a piece.

Nowadays, some of these monster muffins – even those containing nutritious ingredients – equal six or seven pieces of bread.

And beware: those so-called low-fat varieties can still carry plenty of calories.  Simply eating a bagel and a muffin can fill your quota for two days’ worth of bread and cereal.

A simple way to prevent overdoing portions is to check the weight of your bread and cereal options. One ounce of bread or muffin is the equivalent of one piece of bread. Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating recommends five to 12 servings a day, depending on the activity level of the individual.

Large sizes enticing
Let’s face it: large servings are enticing. But how high a price are we prepared to pay for that extra treat? Remember, as the amount of food we consume in a single sitting grows, our activity levels plummet and we run the risk of becoming lethargic.

Small wonder, then, that obesity rates in Canada are climbing so rapidly.

So the next time you find yourself lined up at the concession stand in your local theatre, simply refuse the super-size. You’ll still get more than you really need, anyway.