Degree column: Serving size matters

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 27, 2011

By Toi Degree
For the Salisbury Post
Last week’s column was about the many ways to move more every day to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. This week we will identify strategies for maintaining proper portion control and how larger portions often mean consuming more calories than you need.
Did you know that portion sizes have increased over the past 20 years and continue to get larger? The continuing trends of super-sizing, huge portions, all-you-can-eat buffets and extra-large single servings have all contributed to our expanding waistlines. This has happened because portions that are offered are often more than we need.
Eating larger portions at one meal would not be such a problem if we ate less at the next meal or over time.
This does not happen, however. Research shows that we don’t compensate at other meals for large portions consumed by eating less at the next meal.
So what is the difference between a portion and a serving?
A “portion” can be thought of as the amount of a specific food you choose to eat for dinner, snack, or other eating occasion. Portions, of course can be bigger or smaller than the recommended serving size.
A “serving” is a unit of measure used to describe the amount of food recommended from each food group. It is the amount of food listed on the Nutrition Facts panel on packaged food or the amount of food recommended in the Food Guide Pyramid and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Many foods that come as a single portion actually contain multiple servings. The Nutrition Facts label on packaged foods — on the backs of cans, sides of boxes — tells you the number of servings in the container.
For example, look at the label of a 20-ounce soda (typically consumed as one portion), and you’ll see that it has 2.5 servings in it, when a typical serving is considered to be 8 ounces. A 3-ounce bag of chips — which some would consider a single portion — contains three one-ounce servings, or about 11- 13 chips depending on the type of chip.
Be sure to check the label to see how much is considered a recommended serving. Remember, when you choose to consume more than the recommended serving on the Nutrition Facts panel that you double maybe even triple the calories, fat, sodium, etc. For every serving that you consume over and above the recommended serving, you multiply each of the items on the Nutrition Facts panel by that number.
For example a 20-ounce soft drink has 250 calories per serving, and if you drink the entire 20 ounces you will have consumed 625 calories from a drink alone. That coupled with eating the way you normally would is the perfect recipe for weight gain.
If you are just starting to monitor your portions, in the beginning it would be a good idea to measure what you eat for a few weeks. This will help you learn what normal portions look like on your plate.
Another way to do so is to use these as guides: your hands, finger, a deck of cards and dice. We have all seen these and can identify with their dimensions. Each of these items can be used to represent a serving of one food or another.
Let’s take a look at how. If you wanted to have some almonds, you can use the palm of your hand to measure out 1 ounce — a serving. To measure meat, use the palm of your hand or a deck or cards for comparison. The serving size for meat is 3 ounces, or about the size of the palm of your hand or a deck of playing cards. One ounce of cheese is about the size of your thumb or two dice. Your fist is about the size of one cup of broccoli or one cup or one ounce of cereal.
Also use these strategies to help with portion size:
• Measure — The best way to get a handle on portion sizes is to measure and/or weigh your food.
• Don’t serve family style. Serve reasonable portions on individual plates, instead of putting the serving dishes on the table.
• Don’t eat directly from containers or bags. Put a reasonable amount of food into a bowl or container and leave the rest of the package in the pantry.
• Use smaller plates, bowls or glasses. Like our portions, dinner plates have gotten larger over time. Some dinner plates are two to three inches larger than in the past.
• Be mindful of how much you are eating.
• Don’t eat while doing other things like watching TV or driving.
Toi N. Degree is a family and consumer education agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Rowan County Center.