A few weeks ago, I attended a private screening some friends were hosting for the premiere of their short film After the rain. The film was great and the room was full of movie theatre fair, with an old-fashioned popcorn machine to complete the night’s theme.
After the screening, we were invited to choose from an array of miniature cupcakes. I chose a chocolate mocha cupcake and went back to my seat to do some catching-up with a couple of friends (that I will call G and N). At a certain point, G looked up at me, holding his lemon-flavoured cupcake between his thumb and index finger, and asked:
“Vanessa, is it healthier for me to eat this mini-cupcake in a single bite, or more?”
I paused for a second, because I knew that nutritionally speaking, it made no difference. This 100 calorie cupcake would remain 100 calories regardless of the number of bites he would take. But since I could think of many other good reasons for G to take smaller bites, I twisted the truth a little:
“Well, if you take smaller bites,” I said, “you’ll actually be eating fewer calories”. Then, with little hesitation, G took one look at his cupcake and swallowed it whole. I guess I live up to my reputation of being an unconvincing liar. Oh well.
Then N turned to me and asked, “Really? Is that true? It has less calories?” I was stunned that this had caught N’s attention. I thought, with all the ridiculous nutrition myths out there, this wouldn’t be such a bad one to go viral. But it was nonsense to make anyone think that taking smaller bites would actually cut calories in their food. So I told her the truth and we moved on to other things, eating our cupcake one bite at a time. Ten minutes later, G revisited the sweet table and had a second cupcake. Maybe I hadn’t been so far off with my statement after all..
This got me thinking about bite sizes. Again, the amount of calories provided by any given food will remain the same regardless of how many bites you take. However, taking smaller bites can decrease your overall calorie intake. A 2009 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition investigated the effect of bite size on satiation (feeling of fullness). They found that smaller bite sizes decreased overall food intake through greater oral sensory exposure. Essentially, this means that taking a smaller bite of food exposes you to more of its flavour and texture. More satisfaction, quicker satiation, smaller meal. Another study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that smaller bites lead to higher retro-nasal aroma stimulation. This is when aroma molecules make their way through the nasal cavity, activate areas in our brain and signal the presence of food. In fact, retro-nasal olfaction has also been hypothesized to contribute to fullness which in turn, can decrease overall calorie intake.
So does taking smaller bites mean eating fewer calories? Well, G’s one-bite strategy did result in a total of 200 calories, versus 100 calories for N and I. Would G still have eaten that second cupcake if he had taken my bite size advice? I guess we’ll never really know. But since we do know that taking smaller bites yields higher satisfaction and can lead to fewer overall eaten calories, it’s definitely a strategy worth adopting.
Do you eat mini-cupcakes in one bite or more?