Thinking small: Knowing the proper portion size can keep you in line this season

Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Minding portion sizes are the key to keeping off extra pounds this holiday season. This plate illustrates the correct portion sizes of a meal. (Kit Doyle)

Holiday time is here and people are again tempted to overindulge. Many people are hung up on calorie counting to keep unwanted weight off. Local dietitians and nutritionists offer their suggestions on what and how much to eat this holiday season.

Debra Schumer, registered dietitian at Saint Francis Medical Center, said she doesn't recommend focusing on calories.

Research has shown that people have little idea regarding appropriate caloric needs, because calorie level is based on body build, activity level, age and the amount of lean tissue versus fat, Schumer said. She recommends people consult the American Dietetic Association at its Web site,, to find accurate information. Another credible resource Schumer suggests is

"Appropriate sizes are generally one half a cup of cooked vegetables, starches or rice and pasta and fruits -- visualized in the size of a baseball or tennis ball," Schumer said. "Meat portions of 3 ounces of meat without skin, bones or fat is the size of a deck of cards or a female's palm. A female's fist is approximately a one cup serving."

Raina Childers, nutrition services coordinator at HealthPoint Fitness, listed some comparisons and substitutions in planning healthy holiday meals. If you're wondering what to drink, you'll be interested to know that a 6-ounce glass of cider or sparkling grape juice contains 120 calories versus a cup of eggnog at 340 calories.

If you want a snack, try one half cup of mixed raw vegetables, which has 25 to 30 calories. A half cup of fresh fruit has 60 calories. Both are a better choice than snacking on a half cup of mixed nuts at a whopping 440 calories, Childers said.

For salads, you can have 3 cups salad with low-calorie dressing for 100 to 125 calories compared with only a half cup Waldorf salad that contains 110 calories.

Minding portion sizes is the key to keeping off extra pounds this holiday season. This plate illustrates the correct portion sizes of a meal.
Kit Doyle)

When it comes to dessert, a piece of pumpkin pie (1/8 of a 9-inch pie) has 190 to 230 calories compared to the same size piece of pecan pie at 500 calories. A one-inch square of fudge has 70 to 90 calories and 2 tablespoons of whipped cream has 75 calories.

"You can lighten the calories in traditional holiday recipes by reducing fat and sugar content of certain dishes," Childers said.

Calories can be cut when preparing sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, green beans and peas. Use low-fat margarine or chicken broth to add flavor without calories to mashed potatoes. A low-fat shortening or butter instead of leftover grease can make peas healthier.

Dr. Georganne Syler, Human Environmental Studies at Southeast Missouri State University, said, "The holidays are a time to celebrate, so people can eat a little bit of everything but keep all things in moderation. That's the best way to keep your weight down.

"Most people are unaware of how much they should weigh and how many calories are necessary," Syler said.

She recommends the Food and Drug Administration's Guide to Good Eating Web site at for a personalized diet plan for healthy eating.

"You type in various information such as age and weight and receive a printout of calories and other information," she said.

Schumer reminds people to "reduce calories by defatting broth before making gravy; use less butter or margarine in cooking or at the table; have green beans prepared with olive oil or onion for flavorings instead of green bean casserole; offer other vegetables such as salad, fresh vegetables and low-fat dip as an appetizer or alternative and consume foods that are a treat with control of portions. But go for an after-dinner walk or increase activity after Thanksgiving to work off extra calories."

"Don't act like it is 'your last supper,'" Schumer said. "Be reasonable on your portion sizes."

Childers advised everyone to "maintain perspective: Overeating one day won't break your eating plan. It takes days of overeating to gain weight. If you overindulge, put it behind you. Return to your usual eating plan the next day without guilt or despair."

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