Knowing how much of something you should eat can be a hard task to achieve. A “portion” is how much food you choose to eat, whether in a restaurant, from a package or in your own kitchen. It’s the amount you put on your plate. A “serving” is an amount of a food, such as a cup or an ounce, used in providing dietary guidance (recommendations) or making comparisons among similar foods (such as on the food label).
With the increase of portion sizes at restaurants and fast food chains our perception of what is a single serving can become clouded. Plates today arrive at the dinner table with enough servings to feed 2 or 3 people. Portion sizes have not always been so distorted. Below is a table from the National Institute of Health showing the increase in portion and calories today compared to 20 years ago.
Hidden Calories and Serving Sizes
Many packaged foods that seem like a single serving actually have multiple servings inside. This is why reading labels and knowing how to read labels is extremely important. For example, I was at the store the other day with a friend and she was in between two bags of chips so she turned to the calorie counts to make her decision. She chose the bag that seemed to have less calories, however if she really knew how to read the label she would have realized that the entire bag actually had 2.5 servings so they amount of calories she read in big bold letters needed to be multiplied by 2.5 if she was planning on eating the whole bag. This bag that seemed to be one portion actually contained 2.5 servings. This is also true for bottled teas, sodas, lemonades you name it. Many times the bottles will have 2 servings in them but people assume that the number of calories they see on the label is for the entire bottle.
Use Your Eye for Portion Size
Measuring cups and spoons are great for getting accurate portion sizes but they are not always around when it comes time to eat. You can estimate portion sizes by comparing them to another object.
A baseball or average sized fist = 1 cup
– Appropriate for portioning out raw or cooked veggies, whole fruit, or 100% fruit juice
A tennis ball or small scooped handful = 1/2 cup
– Equal to 1 ounce of grains such as pasta, rice, and oatmeal
A deck of cards or palm of the hand = 3 oz
– Appropriate portion size for fish, chicken, meat, or tofu
Size of the thumb = 1 tablespoon
– An appropriate portion size for peanut butter or other nut spreads such as almond butter
A postage stamp or the tip of the pointer finger to the first joint = 1 teaspoon
– An appropriate portion size for oils or other fats
Rethink Your Plate
Below is an image displaying a common example of portion distortion. The picture on the left shows a large croissant, 1 tablespoon of jam, and a low fat milk latte. On the right the plate is filled up with more food, two eggs, veggies, a small croissant, strawberries, yogurt, and tea with milk. Surprisingly, these two plates are the same in the amount of calories. However, the plate on the right is going to leave you feeling full and satisfied for much longer. By choosing the smaller portion of the croissant there’s is room to add in more foods, the calorie count stays the same but you get to eat more foods that are going to keep you fuller longer.
Quin Kelly, Penn State Intern