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An interesting idea to help us stay (or get) thin

July 10, 2009 | 12:59 pm

If today’s story about the health benefits of caloric restriction has you feeling badly about your eating habits, here’s a bit of biology that might assuage some of your guilt.

Government data show that American adults eat an average of almost 500 more calories per day now than we did 30 years ago. And that’s not just because we’ve lost our willpower, according to Susan Roberts, director of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University.

Fries “The environment kind of forces us to eat more,” she explained. “We have all kinds of metabolic responses to the environment that make us more hungry.”

TV commercials, large portion sizes and the mind-numbing array of food choices available from grocery stores and restaurants trigger a cascade of biological events that encourage overeating.

“When you see or smell food, you have an insulin surge, which drops your blood glucose,” she said. “Your stomach relaxes, so it gets bigger and you need more food just to feel full.”

What can be done about it? As usual, there are calls for limiting food advertising aimed at kids or banning calorie-laden drinks like soda and juice. But Roberts had a clever idea I’d never heard before.

In a meeting with the Congressional Biomedical Research Caucus in February, she suggested that lawmakers regulate portion sizes in restaurants in the same way they handle car emissions with the auto industry.

“The emissions control standards are not legislating what any particular car has to have for gas mileage, but they say that on average, cars have to do this,” she said. “We can say to restaurants, ‘You can serve anything you like, but on average 50% of your sales have to come from reasonable portions.’ Then we can let restaurants figure out how to do it.”

-- Karen Kaplan

Photo: Doesn't this picture make you crave French fries? Credit: Shizuo Kambayashi/AP

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