Should you use a smaller plate size to cut calories?

“Eating off of 8-inch salad plates instead of 10-inch (or larger) dinner plates, and using small bowls instead of large soup bowls can help you feel like you’re still getting a full plate’s worth of food but with far fewer calories,” notes Reader’s Digest.

“Focusing on plate size is a diversion,” says Barbara Rolls, professor and the Helen A. Guthrie Chair of Nutritional Sciences at Penn State. “The real problem is the big portions of calorie-​dense foods piled on the plate.”

In most studies, people don’t eat less when they use a smaller plate.

Rolls tested plate size in three experiments:

  • Adults served themselves macaroni & cheese onto a small, medium, or large plate (roughly 7, 9, or 10 inches across).
  • Rolls gave each participant the same amount of macaroni & cheese on either the medium plate (with a standard spoon) or the large plate (with a soup spoon).
  • Participants served themselves from a buffet of five dishes (chicken & noodles, mac & cheese, green bean casserole, broccoli salad, and sweet potato casserole) using a small, medium, or large plate.

In each experiment, people ate roughly the same number of calories, regardless of plate size.

“I’m particularly fond of the buffet experiment,” Rolls says. “If we gave people smaller plates, they just went back to the buffet more times.”

But a smaller plate could help, she speculates, “if you use it as a tool to remind yourself of how much you should be eating.”

More important is what you put on that plate. “Half the food on your plate should be fruits and vegetables that have a low calorie density,” says Rolls. (Lower-calorie-density foods have fewer calories per bite than foods with a higher calorie density.)

“But if people only have a small plate, they’ll probably give up the foods they like the least, which are often vegetables.”

The Bottom Line: Don’t rely on small plates to help you eat less.

Photo: Jorge Bach/CSPI.

The information in this post first appeared in the July/August 2018 issue of Nutrition Action Healthletter


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