If you use a large serving bowl for ice cream or popcorn, you're likely to fill it. Does this mean the portion size is right? No, of course not. But it probably does mean that you are eating what the average American usually eats, which is often about three times LARGER than it should be.
Knowing the appropriate portion size is difficult for many, which could be a big part of the reason that too many Americans are continuing to grow larger and larger. Over time, excess calories from over-sized portions really add up.
Many restaurants serve portions that are much larger than the amount needed or recommended for the average person. Fast food establishments may have some smaller or healthier choices available, but the majority of their offerings tend to be bigger or higher in calories than what most of us need. In addition many places will also offer the chance to super-size your order for just a small increase in cost, which is ever so tempting for those who want to get "more for their money", even if it may mean too much food or even higher health costs at a later time.
The concept of getting much more food for only a small increase in price seems to be unique to America. I was surprised when buying an ice cream in France a few years ago to see that the price of a medium cone was twice the cost of a small and the price for three scoops was triple the price of a cone with one scoop. Here in Indiana we are used to getting a larger size for just a small increase in price, which may be why we're more likely to buy the larger size and in turn the average American is larger than the average European.
While we appreciate getting our food at a bargain. Maybe it isn't such a good deal if we don't know how, or aren't willing to limit our portions to the amount that we need, instead of what we want. Spending your 'calorie budget' isn't all that different from spending your household budget. It is important to know the difference between our needs and our wants and to be able to spend both our dollars and calories responsibly.
So what is a person to do? First educate yourself about the correct portion size and how many servings you need personally for your age, weight and activity level. Cook and eat at home more often so you can control what goes in your food and your portion sizes.
Read the labels that appear on the foods you buy. Before any of the nutrition information on the label can make sense or be applied, you have to know what the portion size is for that food. You need to know how many servings are in the package and how many times you should multiply the number of calories listed to know how many you are getting, if you consume the entire package. For example, if the label says the food item is 200 calories per serving and there are three servings in the package and you eat the entire package, then you know that you consumed 600 calories not 200.
To take control of your food intake. Measure (even weigh) some of the foods you typically have at a meal. Check to see if the cereal bowl you use in the morning contains one serving (according to the nutrition label), or are you actually having 2 or 3 times that amount?
Try eating your meal off of a smaller plate rather than the huge platter size dishes that come with some dinnerware or are typical in many restaurants. When serving ice cream or other desserts, try using petite serving dishes, to hold a single scoop of ice cream, instead of a large soup bowl where the single scoop would look lost or lonely.
Count your cookies and watch the size of your muffins, etc. A single medium sized cookie can easily have about 100 calories. Think about how often you pop two or more cookies in your mouth before you even realize it. We know that eating just 100 extra calories a day adds up to about a pound a month or 10 to 12 pounds a year. If we do that year after year, in as little as five years you can easily put on fifty extra pounds.
So keep that in mind and remember that size does matter when it comes to controlling the portion sizes of the foods we eat every day. It's not so much the splurges that we have now and then as the extra amount that we have when we eat portions that are just a little too large every meal, day after day.
For more information about eating a healthy diet or how to sign up for the next series of Dining with Diabetes classes call the Putnam County office of the Purdue Extension Service at 765-653-8411.
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