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Archive for August, 2011

A “handy” way to size up servings

With portion sizes so big, using visuals as a guide to guesstimate how much food is on your plate is a useful tool. I previously wrote about some visuals I’ve used in my book The Portion Teller Plan. Here, I will highlight the Handy method for estimating portions. I use this guide successfully with many of my New York City clients. You may not always have a deck of cards or CD case handy, so using your own hand serves as a helpful guide.  The “Handy Method” helps you guesstimate your portions by comparing your foods to different parts of your hand. Everyone has a different size hand, but using your hand is useful nonetheless.  If your hand is smaller than average, you are probably smaller than average, and should eat less food.

Here are some HANDY examples:

  • Two fingers                  2 oz cheese
  • Your palm                    3 oz meat
  • Your thumb                  1 tablespoon peanut butter
  • Rounded handful          1/2 cup rice or pasta
  • Two handfuls                1 cup popcorn
  • One layer of your hand     ¼ cup mixed nuts
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Unrealistic serving sizes

Unrealistic serving sizes

Do you know anyone who eats only ¾ cup cereal, ½ cup of ice cream, or 1 cup of soup at a sitting? Probably not. Even children eat more than that.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a consumer advocacy group in Washington, is urging the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to revise its serving-size regulations as many people underestimate serving size.

Labels for canned soup, ice cream, coffee creamer and non-stick cooking sprays understate the calories and sodium consumers are likely to eat. Canned soup, in particular, presents a clear example of how unrealistic the stated serving sizes are. Labels for Campbell’s Chunky Classic Chicken Noodle soup, for example, indicate that a serving size is 1 cup — a little less than half a can with 790 milligrams of sodium. But in a telephone survey commissioned by CSPI, 64 percent of consumers surveyed said they would eat the whole can at one time and only 10 percent of consumers say they eat a 1-cup portion!  Chances are you are getting closer to 1500 mg sodium. Ice cream serving sizes are also unrealistic. The serving size is a half-cup of ice cream—a quarter of a pint.  However, many people eat closer to a whole cup. And some people probably eat an entire pint.

In my experience counseling overweight patients, and as I wrote in my book The Portion Teller Plan, so many people underestimate how many calories they consume, in part because people think that a serving is whatever amount they eat, and pay little attention to the amount of food listed on a package label. And since typical portions have grown in size, the amount of food you usually buy these days is much more than the amount listed on a package label. After all, I have never seen an ice cream shop sell ½ cup serving. (And if they did, consumers would probably complain!) Kiddie sizes usually contain at least 1 cup of ice cream.

Anahad O’Conner from The New York Times has an excellent summary.  The foods shown above, from the NYT article, are typically underestimated by many consumers.

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