Can smaller plates help you lose weight?

Judith Wills / 18 September 2015

Diet blogger Judith Wills looks at research into using smaller plates to aid weight loss, and the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet.



Just back from a wonderful week in the Quantock Hills in Somerset. I managed to restrain myself from too many foodie indulgences, having only one cream tea the whole week – albeit with a cheese scone for starters!

Despite the fact that the whole tea was eaten from a small plate, I reckon it set me back a good 800 calories, not that I was counting at the time.

I mention the small plate because a new overview from Cambridge University confirms what researchers over many years have told us – if you eat from a smaller plate you will consume less food and give yourself a simple way to lose weight with no other actions at all.

This overview (which is an analysis of a large number of different research projects on the same subject) has found that you will consume an average of nearly 10% fewer calories. If you also apply a similar approach elsewhere, for example buying smaller sizes of packaged foods in the supermarket and asking for smaller portions in restaurants – you could, so the overview reports, reduce your total average intake by as much as 16%.

This could result, I estimate, in a weight loss of up to a pound a week, depending on your weight and other factors.

So I very much recommend that you do try the small plate method, even if it doesn't work well for scones, cream and jam …. obviously what the plate actually holds does make a difference, and there is no avoiding the fact that if you cram it with veg, salad, fish and so forth you will probably double your weekly weight loss much more easily than if you fill it with cake.

Another new report this week highlights once again the importance of a traditional Mediterranean diet for good health. Add in olive oil to the above list and you get a diet that's proven to help reduce the risk of breast cancer in women by up to 68%, according to research in the latest issue of JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association. Breast cancer is linked with obesity so coupling calorie reduction with the Med diet could offer just the protection all women need.

Serendipitously I happened to make a supper earlier this week that fulfilled all the criteria I've just mentioned. I created a salad based around 80% on one by Ruth Rogers of the famous London restaurant the River Cafe, who says it is a Roman dish, and served it on a small (ish) plate. It made the most of my this season's home-frozen broad beans and peas and was extremely easy and very more-ish. I did add one element from the Mediterranean diet that isn't on the list of foods that can help beat breast cancer – a bit of prosciutto - but is nevertheless very low in calories and fat.

You can prepare and grill fresh artichoke hearts if you want to, but I cheated and used a jar of good quality ready grilled ones (Sainsburys Taste the Difference, I think). I think it's good to twice-pod the broad beans, podding them and then removing the grey-green outer shells from each bean but it you don't want to bother with the second podding, that's fine. Lastly, if you can find fresh white asparagus that's great, otherwise use a jar, well drained, or use green asparagus, though white has a wonderful flavour.

Grilled artichoke, broad bean and prosciutto salad

To serve 2

  • 1 jar grilled artichoke hearts in oil, drained and 1 tbsp of the oil reserved
  • 125g twice-podded broad beans, steamed until just tender
  • 100g small cooked peas
  • 4 white asparagus stems, steamed until just tender, each cut into 3
  • 2-3 slices prosciutto
  • 2 large spring onions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
  • 1½ tbsp good olive oil
  • A squeeze of lemon juice
  • A little salt
  • Black pepper
  • A little fresh chopped mint, optional

1.  Arrange the artichoke hearts, broad beans, peas and asparagus on two smallish plates.

2. Tear the prosciutto into smallish pieces and quickly cook in a small frying pan with a dash of the olive oil, until it is beginning to crisp up.

3. Combine the artichoke oil, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper and drizzle over the vegetables on the plates.

4. Sprinkle over the prosciutto and spring onions and serve with a little chopped mint sprinkled over if using.

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