Healthy tapas: 3 ways this small-plate dining style helps weight loss

  • 2 Minutes Read

Here's what I learned in Spain about enjoying healthy tapas and how this small-plate dining style helps with weight loss.

Healthy tapas

Healthy tapas: A Spanish tradition

Since moving back to Colorado after a year of living abroad in Seville, Spain, friends ask me what I miss the most about Spain. In addition to seeing colorful trees with branches full of bright oranges in November, I miss the "tapas culture." Whether served as a delicious snack, appetizer, or small meal, tapas means sociability with family and friends. Whether tapas is at home or a local restaurant, it is the heart of Spanish cuisine and culture.

In a world where bigger is better in the USA, it's often challenging to estimate healthy portion sizes. Even though portion sizes in Spain are smaller than in the United States, the serving sizes are adequate to satisfy. Use small-plate dining to lose weight.

History of Tapas

Among the many legends about the origin of tapas, one involves King Alfonso X who was extremely ill in the 13th century. He slowly regained his strength by drinking wine and eating small amounts of food often throughout the day. Consequently, he made a law that every bar had to serve food with their drinks. Still today, in some parts of Spain, one tapa is given for free with each drink that you buy.

Since tapa is the Spanish word for lid, another theory is that a small piece of bread or a small plate was placed on top of a glass to prevent insects or dust from entering the drink. People then ate the bread or food on the small plate with their drink.

Since Spain has such a colorful history and many cultures brought culinary influences, tapas includes various ingredients. The Romans brought olives. The Moors from Africa brought almonds, citrus fruits, and different spices. Christopher Columbus's 1492 voyage brought back tomatoes, corn, potatoes, beans, and peppers. These flavorful foods add to the enjoyment of tapas.

3 ways eating healthy tapas helps with weight loss

1. Tapas come in small portions

If you tend to "clean your plate," as you did in childhood, you will be eating less food when using smaller plates. Eating from a smaller plate can also make the same amount of food seem like more.

Eating a typical meat and cheese tapa in Spain on a small, 6-inch plate filled with thinly sliced manchego cheese, Jamon Iberico (cured ham) with quince jelly and apple slices provides a natural method of portion control.

2. Tapas allows you to honor your hunger cues

It takes 20 minutes for your brain to realize that your stomach is full. Thus, the Spanish tradition of ordering just a few tapas allows for this "pause" and time to determine whether you are truly hungry or eating just because food is on the table. Order a few tapas, and if you are still hungry, order a few more. Stopping to listen to your hunger cues can help you lose weight.

3. Tapas focuses on conversation, not on the food

In Spain, there is not a large amount of food served on individual dinner plates. The focus of the meal features the sociability and interaction with the people at the table. With tapas, people tend to choose small portions and eat less than at a formal sit-down meal. Tapas are set in the middle of the table family style and passed to share with friends and family.

5 Healthy tapas ideas to enjoy

To practice portion control for weight loss, try one meal per week in the small-plate dining style or create your next holiday party with a healthy potluck, featuring tapas.

Buen provecho! It's time for me to tapear! Since eating tapas is such an integral part of Spanish cuisine, there is even a Spanish verb, tapear, which means "to go out and eat tapas."

This blog was reviewed and updated by: Sue Heikkinen, RDN, CDCES on July 29, 2020

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Dining Out->Portion Size & Calories Travel->Regional Foods
Aug 5, 2020
Martha M. Henze
Martha M. Henze, MPH, MS, RDN - Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Global Public Health Epidemiologist

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