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"Portion Distortion": 10 Food Servings, Now Vs. Then

David K. Israel
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Lauri Patterson/iStock via Getty Images / Lauri Patterson/iStock via Getty Images
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Ever wonder how many gummy bears equals one serving? (It’s 18.) The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) helps decide how much of a particular food or beverage totals one serving as part of the government’s efforts to promote healthy eating and lifestyles.

The NHLBI has studied how the portion sizes of foods and beverages have skyrocketed since the mid-1990s. Experts believe that this “portion distortion” is major factor in the high level of obesity and heart disease in the U.S. Clearly, many of us are eating more than 18 gummy bears at a sitting.

Here’s how portions of Americans’ favorite foods have ballooned—and how much exercise you’d need to do to work off the extra calories.

1. Two Slices of Pepperoni Pizza

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In the mid-1990s, a couple slices of pizza amounted to 500 calories. Today, it’s 850 [PDF]. You'd have to play golf (including walking and carrying your clubs) for an hour to burn the extra 350 calories.

2. Bagel

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An average bagel used to be about 140 calories; now it’s about 350 [PDF]. You would have to rake leaves for 50 minutes to burn the extra 210 calories added over the last 25 years.

3. Movie Popcorn

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Five cups of buttered movie popcorn used to weigh in at 270 calories. Today the average portion has grown to 11 cups and 630 calories. You'd have to do water aerobics for one hour and 15 minutes to burn the extra 360 calories.

4. Cheeseburger

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Twenty-five years ago, a typical cheeseburger contained about 333 calories. Today it packs about 590. You'd have to lift weights for 90 minutes to burn off the 257 calories.

5. Chicken Caesar Salad

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Yes, even seemingly healthy food has exploded in portion size over the last 25 years. A typical chicken caesar salad amounted to about 1.5 cups and 390 calories. Now it’s more like 3.5 cups and 790. You'd have to walk a dog for an hour and 20 minutes to burn the additional 400 calories.

6. Cup of Coffee with Milk

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An 8-ounce cup of coffee, the typical size 25 years ago, with whole milk and sugar, contained about 45 calories. Today’s 16-ounce size, with whole milk and mocha syrup, contains 350 calories. You'd have to walk 1 hour and 20 minutes to burn the extra 305 calories.

7. Soda

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We all know that soda isn’t good for us, but 25 years ago, it made less of an impact on our overall health. Back then, a typical soda was 6.5 ounces and 85 calories. Today it's 20 ounces and 250 calories. You'd have to work in the garden for 35 minutes to burn the extra 165 calories.

8. Turkey Sandwich

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A turkey sandwich in the 1990s racked up about 320 calories, much less than a typical sandwich today, which weighs in at about 820. You'd need to ride a bike for an hour and 25 minutes to burn the extra 500 calories.

9. French Fries

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An order of fried used to weigh about 2.4 ounces and contain 210 calories. Now it’s more like 6.9 ounces and 610 calories. You'd need to walk leisurely for an hour and 10 minutes to burn the extra 400 calories.

10. Spaghetti and Meatballs

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An average plate of spaghetti and meatbal used to contained about 1 cup of spaghetti and sauce and three small meatballs for a total of 500 calories. That portion has increased to 2 cups of pasta and sauce and three large meatballs totaling 1025 calories. You'd need to clean your house vigorously for two hours and 35 minutes to burn off the extra 525 calories.

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