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Consumer Corner: New buzz is on portion control for the diet conscious

By MARCELLA S. KREITER   |   June 6, 2010 at 4:06 AM
CHICAGO, June 4 (UPI) -- The latest catch phrase in the U.S. food industry appears to be portion control.

From mini-portions of restaurant offerings to calorie-controlled snack packs, the focus appears to be on getting Americans to eat less -- although 1,000-calorie meals still are on the menu.

The 100-calorie snack pack has been a grocery shelf staple for the better part of the decade as a guilt-free way of sampling that which usually is forbidden by many diets. The new wrinkles now are baked-not-fried, no trans fats or preservatives and cholesterol free.

Sensible Portions of Butler, N.J., predicts a 16 percent increase in growth for the salty-savory snack industry by 2018. The company was pushing its Veggie chips and straws in calorie-controlled servings at the recent Sweets & Snacks Expo in Chicago.

"It's about sensible eating," said Fran Smith, southeast regional sales manager for Sensible portions. "Mothers want healthy snacks for their kids."'

The company's promotional materials say snacking sensibly "is a lifestyle change and choosing our snacks over regular potato chips or other fatty snacks is a great start, but smart snacking choices don't mean you have to eat cardboard."

In the restaurant industry, where portions have grown significantly in the last 50 years, the economy played a role in slimming down offerings.

Before the National Restaurant Association trade show, a survey of chefs found bite-size desserts and half-portions for less money were in the top 10 industry trends. And at the International Housewares Association at least one company was showing plates with sections sized for specific foods to enable the dieter to figure out how much to take of each food group.

Be that as it may, the fast-food industry still is offering items that clock in at way more than 1,000 calories a serving.

"These chains don't promote moderation. They practice caloric extremism, and they're helping make modern-day Americans become the most obese people ever to walk the Earth," Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said in a recent press release.

First lady Michelle Obama has mounted a campaign against childhood obesity, which prompted packaged-food manufacturers to agree to cut a trillion calories from their foods by 2012. However, only one restaurant chain, Darden, which owns Olive Garden and Red Lobster, joined the effort.

Jacobson said most restaurant choices range from bad to worse.

" The healthy choices are largely afterthoughts and Xtreme Eating reigns supreme," he said. "If chain restaurants want to practice corporate responsibility, they should substitute fruits, vegetables and whole grains for white flour, sugar, salt and fat."

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