Picturing portions: Tips to manage serving sizes

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

In a perfect world, people would only eat a half cup of rice, mashed potatoes and ice cream, and restaurants would proudly promote the three-ounce filet with a heaping one-cup serving of seasoned carrots. In the real world, though, Americans are overloaded in restaurants and inexperienced at estimating or recognizing portion sizes.

A 2002 study in the American Journal of Public Health found that marketplace servings of pasta were four times that of USDA standards. Muffins were three times their suggested size and steak servings were more than double.

The plate runneth over.

Short of taking the time to carefully measure each bowl of cereal or scoop of pasta, what's an eater to do? The good news is that eyeballing portion sizes is possible.

Janet Anders, wellness dietitian at Fitness Plus, offered some helpful comparisons in an e-mail interview: A serving of mashed potatoes (1/2 cup) should be about the size of an indoor light bulb. A serving of cheese (one ounce) looks like about four dice, and a bagel should look like a hockey puck.

Almost any food with a 1/2 cup suggested serving -- blueberries, ice cream, rice -- will compare to a light bulb. A one-cup serving looks more like a baseball. Strawberries, pasta, pudding and yogurt fall in that field.

Sticking to the visuals, a quarter cup or two tablespoons -- nuts, dips, dried fruits, peanut butter -- mount up to the size of a golf ball. A pancake or waffle will look like a CD, while a piece of bread should be a little bigger than a cassette tape.

If the portion sizes look small, remember: variety is the spice of life.

"If the majority of your plate is filled with veggies -- now, not ones covered in butter, bacon, or fried -- you will be able to eat a larger quantity, filling you up and satisfying you without adding the additional calories from the huge portions of higher calorie foods," Anders said in the e-mail.

A meal plate should have some meat for protein, which will make that full feeling last, but "the portion size we have gotten used to may need to be dialed down," Anders said.

"As far as convincing ourselves [this is enough food], give it a try. See how you feel. Notice how your plate still looks filled, but maybe now has a different ratio of the types of foods that are filling it."

Once you know what a serving size looks like, a dinner of three items might not look like much. Studies have found if you don't think a plate is full, you won't think you're full either.

"One common way to trick yourself into eating smaller portions is to use a smaller dinner plate at home," said dietitian Jamie Market in an e-mail interview. "It takes less food to fill up the plate, but you still feel like you are getting a good-size meal since your plate is full."

Market, a nutrition counselor at Jackson Healing Arts, also said you don't have to limit yourself to three meals a day.

"When you cut back your portions and eat smaller meals, you will more than likely be hungry between meals," she said. "The good news is that snacking is OK."

Market also said to splurge on yourself, not the meal, when eating in a restaurant.

"We have been trained that getting more for our dollar is a good value whether it be food or anything else we buy. This is one reason why portions at restaurants have gotten out of control," she said. "We need to begin to value our health more so than our dollar."




In preparation for a health article about healthy portion sizes, the Southeast Missourian sent an e-mail inquery to members of its Health Community listserv. The responses received were either used in the story or appear here.

"In a world full of restaurants that serve whole chicken breasts, 16-oz steaks, loaded baked potatoes and a pile of rice with a few broccoli florets on top, there are a couple of things you can do to help maintain healthy portion sizes. Most of the portions served in restaurants today are super sized. There is usually enough food for two or more people in one portion. You can have a to-go box arrive with your food, when it gets there divide your portion in half and put it in a to-go box. This way you won't feel obligated to eat the huge portion if it isn't in front of you, you cut calories and have lunch the next day!

"There are certain foods that can actually help us stay full longer. Eggs are the "perfect protein" to help you feel fuller longer. Hot oatmeal provides more protein per serving that any other grain as well as a good dose of fiber. Beans have high fiber, which is processed slower and lasts longer in the stomach, resulting a feeling of fullness longer. Fish ? cooked whitefish is proven to keep you full; some ideas are cod, bass, and halibut. Popcorn is a great snack that provides bulk and also keeps you mouth moving longer than the same amount of calories of other snacks like potato chips or pretzels.

"Food portions have been getting larger over the past twenty years. Twenty years ago, a burger had 333 calories. Today, the burger is twice as big and has 590 calories. Twenty years ago, a soft drink was 6 1/2 ounces and had 85 calories. Today, a soft drink can be 20 ounces and have 250 calories. Twenty years ago, 1 cup of spaghetti with 3 small meatballs had 500 calories. Today, the common portion is 2 cups of spaghetti with 3 large meatballs and has 1025 calories.

"There are some helpful comparisons of serving sizes; here is what some typical potions look like:

"1 cup of spaghetti = 1 baseball

"1 regular slice of bread = cassette tape

"1 pancake = CD (compact disc)

"1 cup of breakfast cereal = average adult fist

"3 ounces of meat = deck of cards

"2 tablespoons peanut butter = ping pong ball

"1 baked potato = average adult fist

"1 cup of salad greens = 1 baseball"

Source: www.womenshealthmag.com

Sarah Pelts

Health Educator/WIC Nutritionist

Cape Girardeau County Public Health Center

Christy Sprengel

WIC Nutrition Coordinator

Cape Girardeau County Public Health Center

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