We have all been at a restaurant or sitting at the dinner table at one time or another and witnessed the consumption of a plate of food with a portion size big enough to serve an extra two to three people. Our country is struggling with an obesity epidemic in both children and adults.
More than one-third of American adults are considered obese. Research has shown that Americans often underestimate how many calories they are consuming each day by as much as 25%. This is greatly due to the out-of-control portions that we have become accustomed to eating. Most of us have no idea what a correct portion looks like.
The confusion between healthy eating and reduced-calorie eating is also to blame. Even healthy food can add up quickly and put you over your daily caloric limit. It’s not just what you eat, but also how much of it you eat—after all, a calorie is a calorie at the end of the day.
There is also confusion about the difference between a portion and a serving. A portion is how much food you choose to eat at one time, whether in a restaurant, from a package, or in your home. A serving size is the amount of food listed on the nutrition fact label of a product. Sometimes, the portion size and serving size match; sometimes they don’t. Keep in mind that the serving size listed on the nutrition fact label isn’t a recommended amount of food to eat. It’s a quick way of letting you know the calories and nutrients in a certain amount of food. The portion size that you’re used to eating may be equal to two or three standard servings.
Take a look at the nutrition facts on a jar of peanuts. The serving size is one oz., which is equal to about 39 pieces. The label also reads as having about 16 servings in one container. Most people grab a handful or two of nuts at one given time, which is most likely two or three servings. At 170 calories per serving, this can mean packing an extra 300 or more calories into your day.
Sports drinks that many children consume are another good example of what represents an often-misunderstood serving size. Check the label and you’ll see that the bottle contains two to three servings. Now take a look at the amount of sugar in one serving. If the entire bottle is consumed at once or during one game, more than 40 grams of sugar was just swallowed. That’s more than a candy bar! Yes, the drink will certainly provide a quick burst of energy from the simple sugars. But it’s a burst of energy that will wear off quickly and leave your child feeling tired and craving more. Those extra, empty calories can add up quickly.
To see how many servings a package has, check the nutrition facts label. You may be surprised to find that small containers often have more than one serving. Learning to recognize standard serving sizes can help you judge how much you’re eating. When you’re cooking at home, look at the serving size listed on the label for the packaged foods you eat. Use measuring cups and spoons to put the suggested serving size on your plate before you start eating. This will help you see what one standard serving of that food looks like compared to how much you normally eat.
You can also buy portion-control plates, which have the plate divided into the correct portions and also have pictures of the serving size. Try www.theportionplate.com.
You can also compare serving sizes to everyday objects. For example, ¼ cup of raisins is about the size of a large egg. Three ounces of meat or poultry is about the size of a deck of cards. See other comparisons to the left. (Keep in mind that these size comparisons are approximations.)
Additional ideas to help with portion sizes at home are to eat on a smaller plate and use smaller cups. Items that come in bags, such as chips, could be separated into individual portions in containers or bags.
Some restaurants serve up to three times the correct portion sizes!
Here are a few tips to help while dining out:
1. Share your meal.
2. Order a half portion or an appetizer as a main meal. Examples of healthier appetizers include tuna or chicken salad, minestrone, and tomato or corn salsas.
3. Ask for a smaller portion. Most restaurants are happy to accommodate.
4. Ask for a takeout container when you place your order. Put part of your meal in the container as soon as your food arrives.
5. Order from the children’s menu. Many restaurants will allow this even though you are not a child. A few decades ago, what is considered a kid’s meal portion today was the normal adult portion.
With some extra planning, getting used to a smaller portion size should be easy in no time. You may be surprised at how quickly extra pounds will melt away by adjusting to correct portions