Healthy Eating: Avoid Portion Pitfalls

Healthy Eating: Avoid Portion Pitfalls

Lee esto en EspañolMost people know that they should mostly eat healthy foods to maintain a healthy weight and avoid serious health problems. But there may be a big part of eating healthy that you’re not paying close enough attention to — portion sizes.

What you eat matters. But how much you eat of different foods is important, too. Try keeping a close eye on how much you put on your plate of each food. Not only can you avoid overeating, you may also find that you can eat more than you thought. If you eat the right amounts of different types of foods, you can feel full and have a variety of foods without blowing your goal to eat healthy.

Portion Patrol: How Much Is a “Serving”?

Since not all foods are equal, the amount you eat of different foods makes a big difference. How much is the right amount? It depends on the food.

There are some foods you can eat in plentiful portions. There are others you can eat in moderate portions. Then there are the tasty, often unhealthy, foods you should skip or eat as little of as possible.

The first step to choosing the right portions is learning what a serving size is for different foods.

Recommended sizes are much smaller than you might think. A serving of:

  • Baked potato is the size of a computer mouse.
  • Pasta is the size of a baseball.
  • Waffles is just one, the size of a DVD.
  • Cheese cubes is four pieces, each the size of dice.
  • Peanut butter is the size of a golf ball.
  • Meat is the size of a deck of playing cards.

It’s also important to figure out the worst food choices you’re making. Fast food, sugary desserts and sweet drinks might be some of them. There are other foods that aren’t unhealthy, but can easily add up to too many calories if you aren’t careful.

Just two “problem” foods — solid fats and added sugars — can make up hundreds of your daily calories. Try to replace your problem foods with healthier choices. Instead of butter and other solid fats, try olive, canola, and other oils that are better for your waistline.

Check food labels and restaurant menus for hidden calories. Learn to "eyeball" your portion size to see what’s too much.

Fill ‘er Up

You can eat bigger portions of filling, nutritious foods like raw, steamed, grilled or baked vegetables. That includes tomatoes, broccoli, asparagus, lettuce, celery, cauliflower, bell peppers, zucchinis, radishes, mushrooms and more. Try adding spices for flavor instead of fat or salt.

Fruit is full of vitamins. Eat as many lower-sugar fruits like grapefruit, kiwi, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries as you want. But trim your portions of higher sugar fruits like apples, mangos, pineapple, oranges, cantaloupe and bananas. And eat the whole fruit, not just the juice. The sugar and carbohydrates in juices and higher-sugar fruits can wreck your diet if you aren’t careful.

Eat These Things in Moderation

Eat foods that are higher in carbohydrates in smaller portions, and less often. That includes potatoes, grains, rice, white and wheat flour-based pasta, breads, and tortillas chips.

Legumes are filling, healthy and full of protein, but they’re also high in carbs. They include black beans, fava beans, lima beans, lentils and peas.

Eat fat-free and low-fat milk, yogurt, cottage cheese and cream cheese in moderate portion sizes.

Eat fish and lean meats like white meat chicken and turkey, pork tenderloin, and beef tenderloin in moderation. Prepare it broiled, grilled, baked or pan sautéed, not fried.

Tips and Tricks

Try some portion-control tricks. It’s a secret of healthy eating, says WebMD.   These tips can help you avoid some common portion-size problems:

  • Eat small portions throughout the day.
  • Split an entrée when eating out. Or box up half your meal to take home.
  • At home, make a plate to take to the table. Don’t put serving dishes on the table.
  • Eat on a smaller plate. You may feel like there’s more food there.
  • Put your fork or spoon down between each bite. Allow yourself to enjoy the flavors of the food.
  • Use a small container when you eat in front of the TV. Don’t take the whole package to the sofa with you.
  • Spoil your dinner — with vegetables or fruit. A healthy snack like fresh produce can help you avoid overeating later.
  • When you shop, make a list. Don’t impulse buy.
  • Put treats in a pantry or cupboard to keep them out of sight.
  • Better yet, don’t bring less healthy food choices into your house. If you don’t have them, you can’t eat them.
  • Check the serving size on food labels. Divide a big package into small portions as soon as you bring it home.
  • Make sure children don’t eat adult-size portions of snacks or meals.
  • Use an online diet tracker. There are apps and sites that you can use that sync with your phone to help you stay on target.

Pay attention to what you eat — and how much. Make slow changes. Before long, your healthier eating will become a habit. Those new habits can be the path to better health.

Sources: The Health Effects of Overweight and Obesity  How to Avoid Portion Size Pitfalls to Help Manage Your Weight Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020; Secrets of Healthy Eating and Portion Control WebMD, 2020; Tips: Focus on Whole Fruits ChoseMyPlate.gov

Originally Published October 28, 2016

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