Portion Sizes Do Matter

Portion sizes in America have grown significantly over the past 40 years. As a result, adults are consuming about 300 calories more a day than they did in 1985. This has contributed to the rising obesity rate and the increased rate of chronic diseases we see today.  

Sometimes it is hard to tell if the portions we are eating are the right serving size for our nutritional needs. With that said, it is important to recognize the difference between a serving size and a portion size. 

  • A serving size is a standardized amount of food. A portion size is the amount of food consumed. 
  • Standard serving sizes are outlined by the USDA. For example: 
    • 1 slice of bread 
    • ½ cup rice or pasta (cooked) 
    • 1 small piece of fruit (super-large apples are 2+ servings) 
    • 1 wedge of melon 
    • ¾ cup fruit juice 
    • 1 cup milk or yogurt 
    • 2 oz. cheese (about the size of a domino) 
    • 2-3 oz. meat, poultry or fish (this is about the size of a deck of cards) 
  • Serving sizes are also found on a product’s Nutrition Facts label. The nutritional values on a food label reflect the serving size which is based on FDA labeling regulations.  

It is important to consider both serving sizes and portions when meal planning.  

For example, a nutrition facts panel may indicate a serving of cereal is ¾ c, but your portion may be a ½ cup, a full cup or 2 cups. Depending on specific nutrition goals, portions sizes might be adjusted accordingly. 

Measuring cups and spoons are helpful tools to determine actual serving and portions sizes. You may be surprised when you actually see what ½ cup of pasta looks like. With practice, it becomes easier to recognize the amounts of different foods. It is important to listen to your body while eating. While overeating is not ideal, limiting intake to the point of hunger can be detrimental to your nutrition goals.  

With the holiday season upon us, consider these easy ways to estimate your portion sizes: 

  • A baseball or an average-sized fist: 
    • Measures about 1 cup 
    • An appropriate portion size for raw or cooked vegetables, whole fruit or 100% fruit juice 
  • A tennis ball or small, scooped handful:  
    • Measures about ½ cup 
    • Equal to 1-ounce equivalent for grains, such as pasta, rice and oatmeal 
  • A deck of cards or the palm of the hand: 
    • Measures about 3 ounce-equivalents 
    • An appropriate portion size for fish, chicken, beef, and other meats 
  • The size of the thumb:  
    • Measures about 1 tablespoon 
    • An appropriate portion size for peanut butter or other nut spreads such as almond butter 
  • A postage stamp or the tip of the pointer finger to the first joint:
    • Measures about 1 teaspoon 
    • An appropriate portion size for oils or other fats 

When trying to control portion sizes: 

  • Eat your meals on a smaller plate so your meal looks larger.  
  • Portion out snacks rather than eating out of the container.  
  • Avoid eating in front of the TV or other screens. 
  • Try single-serving size foods to help limit intake. 
  • Eat 3 well-balanced meals (with vegetables, fruit, proteins, and starch) and 1–2 healthy snacks at regular times throughout the day.  
  • Add more salads, other vegetables, and fruit to your diet, especially at the start of a meal. 
  • Try not to rush through your meals. Eat slowly and chew well. Give yourself a chance to notice if feel full before you take more.  
  • When eating out, try sharing meals with friends, ordering an appetizer as a main dish, or packing up the extra food to take home before you begin to eat. 
  • Listen to your body’s natural signals about when it’s hungry and when it’s full. 

To learn more on this subject, don’t miss Jill’s upcoming program: Portion Sizes Do Matter.

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