Advanced Search
Current and Breaking News for Professionals, Consumers and Media

Click here to learn how to advertise on this site and for ad rates.

Food/Nutrition Columnist Author: Jo-Ann Heslin, RD, CDN, Food & Nutrition Columnist - Last Updated: Sep 7, 2017 - 10:06:33 PM

Size Matters and Big Isn’t Always Better

By Jo-Ann Heslin, RD, CDN, Food & Nutrition Columnist -
Feb 5, 2017 - 8:08:54 AM

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for our Ezine
For Email Marketing you can trust

Email this article
 Printer friendly page

( - A pound of coffee is now 13 ounces. A half-gallon of ice cream is 1.75 quarts. The usual 5-pound bag of sugar has become 4 pounds. A 6-ounce can of tuna is more typically 5-ounces for most brands. Even Toblerone have downsized their chocolate bars by increasing the gap between the triangular chunks. People have noticed and have complained vigorously to brands that have downsized packaging or food size. At the same time portion sizes have grown completely out of proportion to what we actually need to eat. A typical Chinese or Italian restaurant meal could have as many as 1,500 calories. Yet, this portion swell has gone practically unnoticed by most. Consumers have been indifferent to the supersizing that has been going on over the past three decades but complain bitterly when brands try to shave an ounce or two off a traditional package.

Two professors of marketing, Pierre Chandon, at INSEAD and Nailya Ordabayeva, at Boston College recently defined the “accuracy of less” in a research paper published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. They showed that people are much better at judging decreasing portions than increasing ones. Professor Chandon said, “Our brains are very bad at judging quantity increases, but surprisingly accurate at judging quantity decreases.”

Research has shown that people consistently eat more food or drink larger amounts of beverages when they are offered larger portions, larger packages or bigger tableware. The 16-ounce bottle of Coke which seems so normal today was originally advertised as the “big size, serving 3.” For the first 50 years, the standard Coca Cola bottle was 6.5 ounces. Today a single serving of Coke at a quick service restaurant could be served in a 32-ounce cup with free refills available.

Through a number of experiments Professors Chandon and Ordabayeva showed people underestimate the true increase in size. Because our ability to judge an increase in size grows more slowly than the actual size, we underestimate actual size. For example, when a quick service restaurant meal was doubled in size, those estimating the size believed it only increased by 50%. This gross underestimate could easily result in over eating. The same holds true when test subjects were asked to tell how many pieces of candy were in a dish. Test subjects where shown 5 cups holding 37, 74, 148, 296, and 592 pieces of candy. They were told that the fist cup had 37 candies and were asked to estimate the number of pieces in the remaining cups. The average estimates were 57, 102, 184, and 296. In each case there was a gross underestimate of the actual count and for the largest amount people underestimated by 50%.  

The theory of the accuracy of less shows that weight, volume or count of an object can never be lower than zero. When people are making judgements on decreases they have a natural lower end point of zero to judge against. When you are judging increases there is no upper boundary since theoretically increases could go on to infinity. When people estimate sizes that are smaller, they know that the size they are estimating is smaller than the reference but larger than zero. They have more information available to make an accurate estimate. That same range is not available to gauge increases because the upper limit is endless and hard to estimate.

What does this all mean to you? In order to judge food accurately you need benchmarks to judge against, plus you need to understand that without that benchmark increases in food sizes are hard to estimate correctly.

Here are some good visual clues that will help you accurately judge food portions.

· Computer mouse = a 4-ounce portion of meat, chicken or seafood and 1 medium backed potato.

· Yo-yo = a mini bagel or approximately 100 calories. How many yo-yos can you fit into your bagel, muffin or pastry? I bet it is more than one.

· Tennis ball = a medium piece of fresh fruit. Most fruit sold today is larger. Even good-for-you choices have been supersized.

· Ping-pong ball = a 2-ounce serving of cheese or 2 tablespoons of salad dressing, gravy, sour cream or peanut butter.

· Music CD = 1 medium-sized pancake or 1 small waffle.

· Quarter = 1 pat of butter or margarine.

© NRH Nutrition Consultants, Inc.
o-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and the author of 30 books. Available as eBooks from iTunes and Kindle/Amazon:

Diabetes Counter                                                                               

Calorie Counter

Protein Counter

Healthy Wholefoods Counter

Complete Food Counter

Fat and Cholesterol Counter

Available in print from Gallery Books:

Most Complete Food Counter, 3rd Ed.

Your Complete Food Counter App:

For more information on Jo-Ann and her books, go to:


Top of Page

Food/Nutrition Columnist
Latest Headlines

+ Deck the Halls with Red and Green Healthy Foods
+ Holiday Food – Shop Safe, Cook Safe, Be Safe
+ Holiday Weight Gain – Myth or Reality
+ Alcohol and the Holidays – Consider This
+ Sweet Potato Or Yam?
+ Thanksgiving Dinner – Please Just Let Me Enjoy It!
+ What Makes You Eat?
+ Wheat – What You Really Need To Know
+ Some Thoughts About Kids And Food
+ Are Family Meals Today’s Dinosaurs On the Verge of Extinction

Contact Us | Job Listings | Help | Site Map | About Us
Advertising Information | HND Press Release | Submit Information | Disclaimer

Site hosted by Sanchez Productions