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India Currents gave me a voice in days I was very lost. Having my articles selected for publishing was very validating – Shailaja Dixit, Executive Director, Narika, Fremont

Have you heard the term “portion distortion?” Simply put, portion distortion is our level of acceptance of larger portions of foods as the norm. Today, one serving of a product on the grocery shelf is actually 2-3 times bigger than when it was first introduced in the market. According to the National Heart, Lung, Blood Institute’s Obesity Education Initiative, (NHLBI) portion sizes have significantly increased over the last three or four decades.


*Mocha with steamed milk and mocha syrup

The table above lists examples of how typical American food portions have increased in size and caloric count through the years. One of the reasons for the large food portions has been the large sizes of American serveware. I still recall the shock I felt when I first arrived here, and started using plates, bowls, and utensils made for the American kitchen. The utensils were much larger than what we used in India. But, amazingly enough, we do get accustomed to larger serveware and portion sizes too. Now, when I visit family and friends in India, I am shocked at the small serving bowls and platters set out for a group of 8-10 family members. The same sizes would often be what we use to serve a family of four here.

How about the traditional cup of chai? Did you know that a typical teacup in India is 4 oz. vs. the typical American mug that holds anywhere from 10-24 oz.? Do you remember the traditional thali with small bowls (katoris) used for dals and vegetables and even smaller ones used to serve chutneys or dips? You may be surprised to know that foods served in those katoris can easily meet your daily nutrient needs without adding excess calories.

Rampant portion distortion has become a major factor in the supersizing of America including among the Indian-American population. While there is a great deal of diversity in the health concerns of the Indian-American community, there are many chronic health concerns that affect all of us. Diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and other complications are common. Obesity and excess weight significantly increases our risk for developing these problems. Research shows that just a 5-10% reduction in excess weight can produce positive results in terms of cholesterol, blood pressure, and diabetes. Portion control can make a difference in our effort to lose excess weight and gain better control of our health.

A traditional Indian diet is high in complex carbohydrates such as whole grains and high in fiber, but it can also be high in fat, especially saturated fat. With our busy lifestyles, convenience foods have become an integral part of our lives. Whether it is stopping by at a fast food joint or a local Indian restaurant, beware of the serving size.

Do you often load up on shelf-stable Indian entrees or frozen entrees? Take a look at the Nutrition Facts labeland you may be surprised at what is considered a serving. It is important to realize that the serving size is not necessarily the entire package. Often, the serving size may be ½ – of a packet, meaning the entire packet is supposed to have 2-3 servings. Eating out in a restaurant can be an eye-opener in terms of portion distortion as well. For instance, restaurants offer value meals, adding to our already fat and calorie laden food choices.

Supersize deals may seem like a great value monetarily but in the long run can cost us our health. All you can eat buffets including Indian restaurants that have a full, mouthwatering array of tasty foods, can add to our growing waistlines and health complications.

So, how do we become more portion conscious? First, we need to educate ourselves on recommended serving sizes of different food groups.

Given below is a list of food groups with the amount given for one serving size in each food group.



1 roti/phulka 6”diameter
cup cooked rice
½ cup cooked vegetables
1 cup raw vegetables
1 small-medium sized whole fruit
½ – cup cut fruit
cup juice
1 cup milk or yogurt
½ cup cooked beans
¼ cup paneer
2-3 oz. lean meat, poultry or fish
1 tsp. oil

Tips to promote Portion Control

• Become nutrition savvy by reading labels and staying within appropriate serving sizes.

• Order a la carte at a restaurant rather than the buffet.
• Enjoy an appetizer as an entrée, or share an entrée with a friend.
• Enjoy individually packaged products versus eating out of a large box/bag.
• Indulge in treats/desserts in moderation.

Remember that portion control is the key. You can curb the negatives of portion distortion and supersizing by becoming a savvy, health-conscious consumer.

Vandana Sheth is a registered dietitian and nutrition educator in Southern California. Her nutritional counseling philosophy is based on behavior and lifestyle modification based on evidence-based guidelines, not fad dieting. She can be reached at