As a follow-up to Fridays post about the increased size of food portions over the past twenty years I thought it would be helpful to share what healthy portion sizes should look like and some helpful tricks to help retrain your brain to overcome portion distortion.
Healthy portion sizes
Meat – Protein plays an essential role in the body to help grow and repair muscles, skin, bones, tendons, and many other tissues. Meat is an excellent source of quality protein. One serving of steak should be about 5 oz cooked, similar the size of a deck of cards or the palm of your hand. According to the USDA, women should eat approximately 5 oz. of meat, and men should eat about 6 oz. of meat, per day. If meat is not your thing or you don’t want to consume that much everyday, beans, eggs, and nuts are a great substitute that will also fulfill your daily dose of protein.
Dairy – Dairy is an impressive source of protein, calcium and vitamins A, D and B12, as well as other key nutrients. Calcium and vitamin D assist in maintaining strong and healthy bones and teeth and the vitamins and nutrients found in most dairy products are also found to support cardiovascular health, reduce hypertension and maintain a healthy weight. The recommended serving size for a glass of milk or yogurt is 8 oz., about the size of a baseball. Cheese should be about 1 ¼ oz. and look like 4 stacked dice.
Grains – Grains are a natural source of protein and carbohydrates and should be an essential part of your diet. A bowl of cereal should be about the size of your fist. Rice, pasta and potatoes should be about the size of half of a baseball.
Nuts – Nuts have had a bad rap in the past but actually, a small handful is a great way to get some healthy fat and protein into your diet. Not to mention, they are a natural energy booster. Chose a non or lightly salted version and limit yourself to 1/3 of a cup, a small handful. You will be surprised that with a glass of small water, that small portion will tide you over until meal time and give you the energy you need to get through your mid-day slump.
Fruits and Veggies – It is well known that these are some of the most important tools for dietary health. You should aim to consume 2-4 servings of fruit and 3-5 servings of vegetables a day. A serving of fruit is about the size of a tennis ball, like a small apple. The FDA says veggies should be about a 1/2 cup or the size of a light bulb, however, I have my own theory. I think that if you eat veggies (either raw or lightly grilled) with little to no additions (i.e sauces, oil, dips, etc), you can eat as many as you want. Veggies are a great way to fill up and don’t contain the high sugar content that fruit has.
Bag lady – Until you get used to the size and look of the appropriate portion sizes, measure out your food and put snacks in something small and portable that you can grab while you are running out the door. I always have little baggies of nuts in my car, my purse and in my pantry so if hunger strikes, I don’t have to settle a vending machine candy bar. I also portion out all of my meat in freezer baggies so all I have to do is take them out, defrost and marinade – no need to play the guessing game.
Under-size me – It may sounds a little ridiculous, but just humor yourself and use the smaller dinner plates typically used for side salads. Studies have shown we have a tendency to want to finish everything on our plate. We may already be full but if there is still food on our plate, we will forge ahead until our bellies bulge over the side of our pants and it becomes uncomfortable to breathe. The smaller the plate, the less food you need to fill it. I have been using this trick for a few months now and it has actually really helped.
The 20-min rule – It takes about 20 minutes for your stomach to signal to your brain that you are full and satisfied. Due to our fast-paced lifestyle and the limitless amount of food at our disposal, we typically eat well passed this 20 minutes so by the time our brain receives the signal, you have already eaten several times the amount of food your body needs. Portion out your meal based on the portion sizes above and wait 20 minutes before going back for seconds. You will most likely find that after you wait, you will be more than satisfied on an amount you would otherwise consider way too small. If after 20 minutes you are still hungry, try to reach for some veggies or fruit, they are filling and pack the post nutritional punch.
Mind tricks – The mind is a powerful thing. Ever notice how after a Godiva commercial that shows images of a decadent stream of glistening chocolate that you can practically taste the sweet deliciousness in your mouth, you suddenly, out of nowhere,
want must have chocolate? Before you dive headfirst into a tub of ice cream, try to take your mind off of it for 10 minutes. Get off the couch and take the trash out or put in a load of laundry and see if after wards you still have that insatiable yearning for chocolate. Chances are, you won’t. The mind also confuses dehydration for hunger so try drinking a glass of water if hunger pangs strike and see if thirst was the real culprit.