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Promoting Better-Informed Habits in Food Consumption

ARS scientists have linked excessive consumption of foods with higher calories, sodium, saturated fat, and trans-fat with increased disease risk. Trends in fast-food restaurant portion sizes may impact the consumption of these components.

ARS-funded research examined portion sizes in popular food items in three U.S. fast-food restaurants during the past 18 years. The study included tracking changes in portion size and key components in French fries, cheeseburgers, grilled chicken sandwiches, and regular cola.

Overall, 56 percent of items decreased in calorie content between 1996 and 2013. Sodium levels in 18 percent of the items decreased significantly, while sodium levels in 33 percent of the items were higher. Calorie content of a large-size "meal"(cheeseburger, French fries, and regular cola) represented 65 to 80 percent of a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet, as well as a significant portion of the recommended sodium intake.

These findings suggest that efforts to promote reductions in calories, sodium, saturated fat, and trans-fat intakes need to be shifted from emphasizing portion size only to emphasizing additional factors such as total calories, eating frequency, number of items ordered, menu choices, and high-calorie beverages.

Related Information

Article: Quick Serve Foods Slow To Change
Research paper: Temporal Trends in Fast-Food Restaurant Energy, Sodium, Saturated Fat, and Trans Fat Content, United States, 1996-2013