Comparison of food portion sizes across Europe

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An Italian study has recently compared the standard portion sizes for different food categories in European countries. The study identifies a wide variation between countries regarding their importance for food, nutrient, and energy consumption.

The study has been published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

Study: Role of Portion Size in the Context of a Healthy, Balanced Diet: A Case Study of European Countries. Image Credit: Jose Luis Stephens / ShutterstockStudy: Role of Portion Size in the Context of a Healthy, Balanced Diet: A Case Study of European Countries. Image Credit: Jose Luis Stephens / Shutterstock

Background

A food portion size generally refers to the amount of food an individual intends to consume in one eating event. In Italy, a portion is defined as “the quantity of a food that is assumed to be a reference unit recognized and identifiable by both nutritional professionals and the general public.”

Various national and international organizations have included food portion size among the determinants of dietary balance. Recently, the British Nutrition Foundation, together with the European Union, has prepared a guideline to specify the significance of food choices as well as portion sizes in developing a healthy and balanced diet.

There is evidence showing the association between food portion size and overweight or obesity. In the United States as well as in European countries, a progressive increase in the portion sizes of specific foods has been found to associate with the increase in the prevalence of overweight and obesity.

In the current study, scientists have compared the standard portion sizes of different food categories in European countries.

Study design

The study used information on food portion sizes from online documents published by government bodies or scientific societies in various Member States of the World Health Organization (WHO) European Region. A total of 34 countries, including 24 European Union countries and 10 non-European Union countries, were considered in the analysis.       

The study mainly focused on the institutional documents providing information about portion sizes for the adult population as the reference standards. The reference portion sizes refer to the values indicated by the Italian Society of Human Nutrition.

Important observations

The analysis of minimum and maximum values of portion sizes calculated for the selected countries revealed a significant variation in portion sizes within the same food category. In contrast, the analysis of average values of portion sizes calculated separately for European Union and non-European Union countries revealed the presence of some homogeneity between the two groups of countries.

Considering the reference standards, the analysis revealed that the average portion sizes calculated for the selected countries are comparable to the reference values defined by the Italian Society of Human Nutrition. However, some exceptions were observed in the analysis.

A lower portion size than the Italian reference values was observed for nuts, potatoes, vegetables, legumes, fish, and fresh cheese. In contrast, milk and breakfast cereals showed higher portion sizes compared to the Italian reference values.

Comparison of food portion sizes in European countries

The analysis of available documents identified differences and similarities in food portion sizes in the selected European countries.

While a lower portion size for bread (15 gm) was observed in Slovenia, the opposite (100 gm) was observed in Iceland, Serbia, and Switzerland. In Italy and seven other countries, the portion size was 50 gm.

The portion size for pasta, rice, maize, barley, and spelt was 80 gm in Italy, Germany, Malta, Norway, Spain, and Sweden. Compared to this value, larger portion size was observed in several countries, including Belgium and Turkey. In other countries, including Portugal and Estonia, a relatively lower portion size was observed. 

For fresh fruits, a portion size of 150 gm was observed in Italy and 12 other countries. For vegetables and greens, an average portion size of 160 gm was observed in several countries. Moreover, in seven countries, two reference portions of 100 gm and 200 gm were observed.

For red meat, the Italian reference value of 100 gm was closely related to the overall average value calculated for the selected countries. For fish, the overall average value was 110 gm. However, in Italy, Norway, and Spain, a relatively higher portion size for fish was observed.

Study significance

The study highlights the need for developing harmonized standard reference portions to help consumers contextualize the consumption of foods with different nutritional characteristics in an overall balanced diet.

Journal reference:
  • Carruba MO. 2023. Role of Portion Size in the Context of a Healthy, Balanced Diet: A Case Study of European Countries. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/20/6/5230
Dr. Sanchari Sinha Dutta

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Dr. Sanchari Sinha Dutta

Dr. Sanchari Sinha Dutta is a science communicator who believes in spreading the power of science in every corner of the world. She has a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) degree and a Master's of Science (M.Sc.) in biology and human physiology. Following her Master's degree, Sanchari went on to study a Ph.D. in human physiology. She has authored more than 10 original research articles, all of which have been published in world renowned international journals.

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