A few days ago I was with my sister in Madrid, Spain, doing window shopping (nowadays, with the fall of the dollar against the euro, it is difficult to do any other kind of shopping in Europe). After wandering for a while, we took a break and went to a cafeteria.

I ordered a bottle of water and my sister asked for a coke. As I watched the waiter placing the 12-ounce glass of soda on our table, I waited for my sister to say something like: can you bring me a larger soda? This is too small. But I waited in vain because she didn’t say a word. She seemed to be pretty satisfied with the size she was served and during the two hours we spent at the cafeteria, she didn’t order anything else.

As I was conversing with my sister, a bothersome thought kept coming back to my mind: what do Americans think when traveling in Mediterranean countries and presented with such small sizes of soda? In the United States we are used to be served “supersizes” and we feel we are not getting our money’s worth when presented with anything shorter of that.

The Mediterranean diet: the portion factor
Much has been written lately about the benefits of following a Mediterranean diet to prevent the so called “prosperity diseases”, especially heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and overweight. And many of us know, the virtues of the Mediterranean cuisine reside in the selection of its basic elements: fruits and vegetables, grains, fish and seafood, olive oil and red wine in moderation. But are we aware that a very important element of this diet is the portion factor?

Looking at how much and how often you eat, counts
If you have made the decision of eating healthy and according to the principles of the Mediterranean diet, no matter how close you follow this diet, all the potential health benefits will be lost if your portions are double of what they should be. Why?

Because portions such as the ones we are used to in the United States lead to obesity. And obesity leads to heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, the same chronic diseases Mediterraneans have avoided for centuries thanks in part to the adequate portions they eat or drink.

So, how do you know what is considered a “normal” portion?
Health authorities have already established food guidelines to help you in this area so you can do the following:

• Go to MyPyramid.gov. You can check the different servings for meats, grains, fruits and vegetables, fat, etc. that are adequate for you and your family. The portions are based on ages and genders.

• Remember that there is a difference between a portion and a serving. A portion is how much you choose to eat, at home, at the restaurant, or from a package. A serving is a standard amount set by the U.S. Government. Usually our portions are much larger than the servings recommended by the Health authorities and that’s why we end up gaining those extra pounds.

• Keep also in mind that you need to be a role model for your children as they need to get used to eat adequate portions to prevent overweight. A lean child would most likely be a lean adult and chances are a healthy one.

You want to get your money’s worth when eating out
Restaurants want your money and the way to get it is to serve you very large plates with a lot of food and a “supersize” soft drink. And to add insult to injury, sometimes the meal even includes a “supersize” refill. Getting all this food may make you happy since for a reasonable amount of money you are getting a substantial amount of food and you feel you are getting your money’s worth.

Unfortunately, what is happening here is that the restaurant is getting your business and you are getting the calories; definitely, not a win-win situation. In fact, many studies show that the more often people eat out, the more body fat they have.

So, what can you do when at the restaurant or at the fast food place?
• When presented with a too large portion, before even getting your teeth into that tasty food, ask the waiter to take half of it and save it for you in a doggy bag (in the refrigerator, of course) until you leave.

• Share your meal with your fellow diners.

• Do not order supersize soft drinks. It is true that large sizes only cost a few cents more but you get a lot of unwanted calories (A 12 ounce can of soda has the equivalent of 11 teaspoons of sugar and 150 calories. You can do the math for a 32 ounce soft drink). Order water. According to Odilia Bermudez, Ph.D., of Tufts University, soft drinks and other sugar-added beverages have overtaken white bread and are now the main source of calories in the average American’s diet.

Final thoughts
The moral of this article is that if you want to follow a Mediterranean diet because you have committed yourself to eat healthy, you need to watch portions. How about spending your next vacation in a Mediterranean country such as Spain, Italy or Greece? The Mediterranean cuisine, the sea, the sun, the freshness of the salads, the sweetness of the fruits, and the wines and cheeses would be a wonderful experience. And you will get familiar, first hand, with Mediterranean portions.

Author's Bio: 

Emilia Klapp is a Registered Dietitian. With her new book, “Your Heart Needs the Mediterranean Diet”, Emilia Klapp has helped many people just like you reduce the risk of heart disease and lose weight at the same time. For more information on the book and to receive a free especial report on the “Top 10 Mediterranean Curative Ingredients” go to: www.mediterraneanheart.com