Portion Distortion: Are we Missing the Mark on Portion Control?

The age old phrase is “everything in moderation,” but appropriately sized portions can be smaller than our stomachs are conditioned for. How many times have you grabbed several handfuls of chips not realizing you surpassed the serving size about three fistfuls ago? It’s easy to do — and that’s why it’s so important to read food labels and diversify your snacks and meals.

What many people don’t realize is that reading a food label isn’t black and white. They’re usually a rabbit hole of interpretation and understanding. You might focus on calories more than sodium, or consider low sugar to be better than high saturated fats. So what are some common mistakes people make when trying to control their portions?

Watch Your Plate

Have you ever noticed that your plate design matters? On a traditional plate with a decorative edge, we keep the food towards the center and thus limit the total quantity. However, we tend to fill a plate TO the edge if it does not have a border. During a livestream with Alyssa Labrecque, MS, RD, LDN, CNSC, clinical dietitian at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center, she says to keep those decorative plates around. “A good rule of thumb is to keep your meal within the size of your hand span when you’re trying to plate food.” This method helps to control your portions without sacrificing a yummy meal.

Portion it Out

Whether the snack is healthy or not, be mindful of overeating. Labrecque recommends trying smaller portions of multiple healthy foods to create a balanced, satiating meal or snack instead of overeating one particular food. “The more you stick to the portion sizes and vary your diet, the better you will be across the board.” Some foods are easy to over serve, so here are a few tricks:

Soup: Eating an entire can of soup might come easy for you, but it isn’t ideal. One 19 oz. can of Progresso soup has two servings. Certain soups won’t be too heavy on the calories, but there might be other things to consider. If you’re eating the entire can, you could be consuming more than half of your daily sodium intake. This is particularly important for those with chronic heart conditions to consider when monitoring sodium is critical.

What is one quick solution? Eat one serving of soup and include either half a sandwich or some healthy snacks like hummus and vegetables. This provides variety and limits overall sodium intake for that meal.

Cereal: I’ve personally had to completely eliminate cereal from my home, because not only will I eat a giant bowl of cereal at any time of day, but I’ll make sure to go back for seconds.

Breaking news: Maybe don’t do this.

Cereals are primarily carbohydrates and often have added sugar. So instead of the large bowl, try the recommended serving size of your favorite cereal, (about three quarters of a cup), with low fat milk or milk alternative (i.e. almond milk or coconut milk), and add a hard boiled egg and maybe some apple slices. “You’ll get the added benefits of fiber from the fruit and cereal, and protein from the milk and the egg,” notes Labrecque.

Nuts: Nuts are a great source of protein. But they’re a snack that’s easy to overeat. The recommended portion for nuts is a small handful (1 oz). Labrecque says “build your snacks like a mini meal. They should have variety and components from different food groups.” So try a small portion of cheese and fruit to make this snack more substantial.

Salad Dressing: We did not cover this during the interview but it’s too important not to include! Salads packed with veggies, fruits and healthy lean meats are great ways to fill up. But how much salad dressing are you using? Store bought dressings can be high in saturated fat and added sugars. Try to make your own or stick to half a serving size, which is about 1 tablespoon. A great option when eating out is to ask for dressing on the side.

A sure fire way to meet your nutrition needs and goals is to speak with a registered dietitian. Visit our Nutrition Services website to make an appointment.

Watch the entire livestream video on healthy eating on YouTube.

*The content on this website is for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Please consult a physician regarding your specific medical condition, diagnosis and/or treatment.

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