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Portion Distortion: 10 Food Servings, Now Vs. Then

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Ever wonder who decides how many Gummy Bears = 1 serving? (18) Or that one cup of Wheaties = 1 serving? Well, nationwide food consumption surveys do, but also the NHLBI (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute). So if you're wondering why a serving of ice cream is usually only a ½-cup (on their Web site the NHLBI says no more than the size of half a baseball), it's because that's what they've determined is the right amount to stay healthy. Meanwhile, we all know how many baseballs Baskin Robbins scoops into their hot fudge sundaes--enough to fill a small bathtub, right?

The NHLBI has studied portion explosion over the last 20 years and has done a lot of groundbreaking research. The good folks over at DivineCaroline.com used that research, re-purposed some NHLBI photos from a fun portion explosion quiz, and tell us that "in the 1970s, around 47 percent of Americans were overweight or obese; now 66 percent of us are. In addition, the number of just obese people has doubled, from 15 percent of our population to 30 percent."

Scary stuff, right?

This all starts to make a lot of sense when you look at the following images, culled from the NHLBI site and DivineCaroline.com. Clearly the majority of us are eating more than 18 Gummy Bears.

1. Two Slices of Pizza

You'd have to play golf (walking and carrying your clubs) for an hour to burn the extra 350 calories.

2. Bagel

Picture 25

You would have to rake leaves for 50 minutes to burn the extra 210 calories added over the last 20 years to the average bagel.

3. Movie Popcorn

Picture 28

You'd have to do water aerobics for 1 hour and 15 minutes to burn the extra 360 calories.

4. Cheeseburger

Picture 26

You'd have to lift weights for1 hour and 30 minutes to burn off the 257 calories.

5. Chicken Caesar Salad

Picture 29

Yes, even "healthy" food has exploded in size over the last 20 years. You'd have to walk your dog for 1 hour and 20 minutes to burn the 400 calories. (If you don't have a dog, you'd have to buy one first.)

6. Cup of Coffee

Picture 30

You'd have to walk 1 hour and 20 minutes to burn the extra 305 calories.

7. Soda

Picture 16

In the early '70s, 6.5 ouncers were popular. Today it's 20 ounces, or more (Super Big Gulp = 44 oz = 700 calories!) You'd have to work in the garden for 35 minutes to burn the extra 165 calories.

8. Turkey Sandwich

Picture 15

You'd need to ride a bike for 1 hour and 25 minutes to burn the extra 500 calories.

9. French Fries

Picture 17

You'd need to walk leisurely for1 hour and 10 minutes to burn the extra 400 calories.

10. Spaghetti and Meatballs

Picture 18

You'd need to houseclean for 2 hours and 35 minutes to burn off the extra 525 calories.

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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between Vanilla and French Vanilla Ice Cream?
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While you’re browsing the ice cream aisle, you may find yourself wondering, “What’s so French about French vanilla?” The name may sound a little fancier than just plain ol’ “vanilla,” but it has nothing to do with the origin of the vanilla itself. (Vanilla is a tropical plant that grows near the equator.)

The difference comes down to eggs, as The Kitchn explains. You may have already noticed that French vanilla ice cream tends to have a slightly yellow coloring, while plain vanilla ice cream is more white. That’s because the base of French vanilla ice cream has egg yolks added to it.

The eggs give French vanilla ice cream both a smoother consistency and that subtle yellow color. The taste is a little richer and a little more complex than a regular vanilla, which is made with just milk and cream and is sometimes called “Philadelphia-style vanilla” ice cream.

In an interview with NPR’s All Things Considered in 2010—when Baskin-Robbins decided to eliminate French Vanilla from its ice cream lineup—ice cream industry consultant Bruce Tharp noted that French vanilla ice cream may date back to at least colonial times, when Thomas Jefferson and George Washington both used ice cream recipes that included egg yolks.

Jefferson likely acquired his taste for ice cream during the time he spent in France, and served it to his White House guests several times. His family’s ice cream recipe—which calls for six egg yolks per quart of cream—seems to have originated with his French butler.

But everyone already knew to trust the French with their dairy products, right?

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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science
Belly Flop Physics 101: The Science Behind the Sting
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Belly flops are the least-dignified—yet most painful—way of making a serious splash at the pool. Rarely do they result in serious physical injury, but if you’re wondering why an elegant swan dive feels better for your body than falling stomach-first into the water, you can learn the laws of physics that turn your soft torso a tender pink by watching the SciShow’s video below.

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