Are you the kind of person who calculates each serving you eat? Do you weigh each ounce of nourishment on a food scale? Most of us aren’t that precise about our eating habits, and perhaps it is just as well. Food is meant not only to nourish our bodies but to be enjoyed.
Still, to manage your weight, you need to have an accurate idea of what constitutes a serving. If you don’t pay attention to the amount of food you eat, you can easily consume 20 to 30 percent more calories each day than you realize. One study, reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine, found that the larger the meal, the greater the underestimation of the total calories consumed—sometimes by as much as 38 percent. Another study estimates 40 percent. These researchers found that the more people eat, the more they underestimate their caloric consumption.
Labeling of food products is helpful, but the federal government requires that the caloric content be within only 20 percent of the actual content. And although New York City’s Board of Health recently introduced regulations requiring restaurants to post the caloric content of the food served, it did not mandate any standards for accuracy. The restaurants are on the honor system.
Making it harder for us to judge serving sizes is the supersizing of portions over the past 20 years. Here are a few dramatic comparisons in calories resulting from the supersizing of portions:
1988 2008 Difference
Cheeseburger 330 590 260
Bagel 140 350 210
Turkey sandwich 320 820 500
French fries 210 610 400
Soft drink 85 250 165
In general, today’s food portions contain over three times as many calories as the portions served 20 ago. We’ve become so accustomed to oversized, calorie-packed versions of our favorite foods that ordinary-sized servings seem woefully skimpy and certainly no match for our appetites. Who, for example, eats the standard serving size— 1/2 cup or 1 scoop—of ice cream? Aren’t we more likely to have 2 or 3 scoops?
Distinguishing between a portion, the amount of food served, and a serving, the measure of caloric and nutritional content, is essential for weight management. If you are not mindful of this distinction, you will underestimate the total calories consumed even though you are diligent in keeping a food journal.
The following list of common foods, along with a few tips, will help you gain perspective on what constitutes one serving:
1 slice bread
1/2 cup cooked grain, such as rice, oatmeal or pasta (about the size of a cupcake wrapper)
3/4 cup cereal
1 medium potato
1/2 cup cooked vegetables (about the size of one tennis ball)
1 cup raw leafy vegetable, such as lettuce
1 cup melon or fresh berries
3/4 cup fruit juice
1/4 cup dried fruit
1 ounce meat, poultry or fish (3 ounces equals a deck of cards)
1 ounce cheese (equals about 4 dice)
1/2 cup beans or tofu
1/3 cup nuts
2 tablespoons nut butter, such as peanut butter
1 cup milk
1/2 cup cottage cheese
2 teaspoons oil, butter, margarine or mayonnaise
2 tablespoons regular salad dressing
4 tablespoons reduced-fat dressing
Until you are familiar with serving sizes of various foods, it’s helpful to use a measuring cup, tablespoon or teaspoon to measure food. This exercise will help you gauge a normal serving size until the serving size looks familiar to you.
Knowing how many calories your body requires and keeping track of your food intake are good foundations for weight management. Accuracy in gauging serving sizes, however, is just as critical. If the numbers on the scale aren’t moving in the right direction, keep this handy guide in your kitchen so that you can quickly identify your serving sizes and make corrections.
"The greatest gift that you can give yourself is a little bit of your own attention." Anthony J. D'Angelo