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Size Matters 

How big are your portions?

In the 2004 Academy Award-nominated documentary Super Size Me, filmmaker Morgan Spurlock spent a month eating only McDonald's foods, much to the detriment of his health. Perhaps in response to the film, McDonald's introduced a campaign promoting its new, healthier menu choices, and it's downplaying its super size portions. Not every restaurant has followed the fast food giant's lead.

Denny's Beer Barrel Pub in Clearfield, PA, recently introduced the Beer Barrel Belly Buster Burger. The burger weighs in at 15 pounds and consists of 10.5 pounds of ground beef; 25 slices of cheese; a head of lettuce; three tomatoes; two onions; a cup-and-a-half each of mayonnaise, relish, ketchup, mustard and banana peppers; and a bun. A big bun. This monster meal costs $30, and "can feed a family of 10," according to restaurant owner Denny Liegey, Sr.

Denny's Beer Barrel Pub had previously offered a 6-pound burger with 5 pounds of toppings. This past February, a 100-pound female college student managed to eat the burger within the three-hour time limit set by the restaurant. She was awarded a special certificate, a T-shirt and other prizes.

In March, the Clinton Station Diner in New Jersey started serving a 12.5-pound burger. Not to be cowed, the Beer Barrel Pub then wheeled out the Belly Buster. So far, no one has been able to get through the whole thing in one sitting. Everyone who has tried has opted instead for a doggie bag. Or in this case, a dogie bag.

Even if a "family of 10" tackled this burger, they'd still be eating way more than a reasonable portion. There's over a pound of meat in one-tenth of a Belly Buster — the new food pyramid recommends only 5.5 ounces a day. Following those guidelines, 30 people could share this behemoth.

Absurdly huge meals like the Belly Buster are really more about local restaurants garnering publicity for themselves, but chain restaurant Hardee's is hardly jumping on McDonald's "healthier" choice bandwagon. They sell a 2/3 lb. Monster Thickburger complete with two beef patties, double helpings of bacon, cheese and mayonnaise, plus some butter-flavored shortening on a sesame seed bun. Hardee's must be really proud of its nutritious meals — their website, like McDonald's and Burger King's, features an interactive menu so you can make your selections and calculate their "nutritional details." The grand total for the Monster Thickburger is 1,417 calories, 965 of them from fat. Oh, and 2,651 mg. of sodium, just for a little extra flavor.

It's not just the burgers and other entrees at restaurants and fast food joints that are way out of proportion to what we actually should be eating. A large Coke at McDonald's is 310 calories. Burger King's king-sized Coke is 390 calories (their large is a mere 290).

Want some fries with that? A large order of French Fries at Burger King gives you 500 calories; at McDonald's, you'll get 520 calories; and at Hardee's, you'll pack on 608 calories. It could be argued that French Fries are a vegetable, but all the extra fat (up to 28 g.) and salt (up to 510 mg.) kind of cancels the veggie benefit right out. A large soda and a large order of fries equal almost half a child's recommended daily calorie count, and that's without the burger.

You can overdo on portion size while cooking at home, too. A pound of dry pasta is supposed to provide eight servings. A package of fresh spinach serves 4.5, according to the information on the bag. Given the typical portion sizes at my house, it's all very depressing. I think I need to go get me one of those "Margaritas as big as your head."

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