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Portion control made easy for summer

Below is my blog for Huffington Post “Portion control made easy for summer.”

You can also read it here.

wine glasses

Summer is here and it’s a perfect time to manage our food portions to help keep our calories under control and our weight in check. As a nutritionist, I am huge fan of portion control and believe that how much we eat is more important than what we eat when it comes to managing our weight.

Below I highlight some of the most recent research findings on portion control to keep you from eating too much this summer.

1. Try a reduced-portion entrée next time you eat out.

Large portion sizes especially in restaurants and take-out eating establishment have helped fuel the obesity epidemic. Large portions contain more calories than smaller ones and may encourage people to eat more calories than they need.

The high calorie content of restaurant meals can also be attributed to the oversize portions we are served. In fact, it is not uncommon for a restaurant portion to often contain over 1000 calories, more than half of the calories many of us should eat for an entire day.

Because we eat more food when we are served more, strategies to help us reduce our portion may help us consume fewer calories and lose weight. A recent study published by University of Minnesota researchers in Public Health Nutrition found that when people selected a reduced-size entrée in a restaurant or work site setting, they consumed fewer calories and also wasted less food. This is certainly a winning combination!

Take home message: Whenever possible, order a reduced-portion entrée or make a meal out of an appetizer portion which is probably more than enough food.

2. Make a fist and use your hand as a portion guide.

For years, I’ve used the “handy method” to help clients assess their portion sizes. As I wrote in my book The Portion Teller Plan, using your hand is a great way to guesstimate how big your portion should be.

After all, when you go out to a restaurant you always have your hand. And, no one wants to go out to dinner and bring along measuring cups and a food scale.

Since so many of us overdo our starch portion (think rice, pasta, and potato), I advise clients and readers to make a fist to enjoy a healthy 1-cup portion instead of banning starch altogether. Want to include meat in your diet, without overdoing it? Think a palm’s worth. And, add lots of colorful veggies to your plate.

Now new research from University of Sydney found that using your hand to estimate your food portion is indeed, a good way to assess how much food is on your plate. The researchers found that finger width used as a ruler to help gauge the food dimensions combined with various geometric formulas of volume and food density factors resulted in an “acceptable accurate” estimate of food weight.

Take home message: While not an exact science and we all have different size hands, taking a look at your hand while you eat, may indeed help you gauge jut how big the portion on your plate should be.

3. Make a nice size smoothie, but keep it thick.

Summer is a time for milkshakes and smoothies. It is important, however, to watch the calories which tend to add up very quickly when you make it with ice cream and syrup. Now, a small yet interesting study conducted by Dutch researchers from Wageningen University found that to feel full, you don’t need a smoothie loaded with lots of calories. The solution, it seems, lies in the consistency of the shake.

Subjects given a frothy low-calorie (and just 100 calories!) milk shake that was thick felt more full than those given a thinner shake containing 500 hundred calories.

Take home message: The thicker and frothier the smoothie, the fuller you will feel. So next time you want a shake, make it with low fat Greek yogurt, lots of fresh fruit (including banana), and add plenty of ice. Not only will you get protein and fiber, but the thickness of this smoothie will keep you feeling full. A yummy summer treat! And, you don’t have to eat a tiny portion.

4. Pour your glass of wine into a smaller goblet.

Who doesn’t love an occasional glass of wine with dinner? The problem of course, is that the calories add up quickly when we use oversize goblets, which is the norm these days.

Researchers from University of Cambridge found that people drank more wine overall when the glass was bigger, even when the same amount was served per glass. A larger wine glass may change our perception of how much wine constitutes a portion, perhaps leading us to drink faster and to order more.

The researchers tracked consumers’ wine purchases from a restaurant over several months. The restaurant alternated between 8-ounce, 10-ounce and 12-ounce wine goblets. The researchers found that when the restaurant used the larger wine glass, they served approximately 10% more wine.

Take home message: Want a glass of wine without excessive calories? Pour it into a smaller goblet and you may end up drinking less.

Have a healthy summer and enjoy a perfect portion of your favorite food and drink.

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Rightsize your Plate and your Waist: 11 Portion Control Tips that Work

Below is my latest blog post for Huffington Post. You can also read it here.

Practicing portion control is one of the most difficult tasks facing anyone who eats out or even eats in these days. Look around you and everything is supersized. And not just fast- food. Bagels, muffins, steaks, even frozen dinners have grown in size. And of course we know about the big sodas. Mayor Bloomberg of New York City has proposed restricting the sale of sodas and other sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces in many eateries, and the Board of Health is set to vote on the proposal in just over a week. Stay tuned.

I tracked the history of food portions increasing since the 20th century and found that portions are much much bigger than they were in the past, 2-5 times bigger to be exact. And so are people! No surprise. As I wrote in The Portion Teller Plan and in numerous articles, large portions contribute to weight gain because large portions contain more calories than small portions. Simple as it sounds, so many clients that I counsel don’t seem to apply logic to the equation. We know that if a 64-oz Mega Jug of soda is eight times bigger than a standard 100 calorie 8-oz soda, it should contain 8 times the calories. Yes, it contains 800 calories. Simple math?  Yes. But… if WE drink it, we think, how can a soda possibly have so many calories?

Our plates have increased, so have our mugs, glasses, and wine goblets. Our cabinets and  dishwashers are now larger to accommodate our satellite-sized dishes. And, car seats for our kids, who are now pudgier than ever, have also increased. And even caskets have become supersized!

Many of us don’t understand what a healthy portion size is, and for good reason. A pasta portion in a restaurant is easily 3 cups, and many steaks are at least a pound. That is much too much food. The problem is that we’ve gotten used to these jumbo portion sizes and we think that a “portion” is whatever is put in front of us. Getting used to normal sized portions is not an easy task.

Here are some tips:

Practice plate control. For starters, try eating off of plates your grandmother used. Next, change your expectation. Restaurants are in business to sell food, and lots of it. It is time to shift our perspective on what a reasonable amount of food is. If you use a smaller plate, you will probably begin to scale back on your portion.

Fill up on fruits and veggies. We want to scale back on our meat and potato portions and increase our intake of veggies. An easy trick is to fill half your plate with veggies. One quarter of your plate protein (meat, fish, poultry, tofu) and one quarter healthy starch (brown rice, quinoa, barley).

Limit liquid calories. You are better off eating—and chewing—your calories than drinking them. Somehow, when we drink our calories, we do not feel full and the calories we just guzzled down do not seem to register. So…we want more. Eat an orange instead of drinking the juice. And steer clear of empty soda calories—choose seltzer or water instead.

Buy single-servings. Steer clear of the jumbo bags of chips, cookies, and nuts sold at price warehouse clubs such as Costco. We all love a good bargain, but beware when it comes to buying food. While you may want to stock up on toilet paper or paper towels, when it comes to food, buy smaller servings. Single-serve bags of chips will really help you practice portion control while snacking.

Order a small. In many cases you have a choice between a small, medium, or large. Order the small size whenever possible. And don’t be fooled by the label; even a drink labeled small, for example, small can be big.

Avoid your triggers. If you can’t stop at one serving of chips, then don’t even start. Choose a treat you CAN control.

Don’t snack out of the bag. Read the food label, serve yourself one portion, and put the rest away. Practice this for chips, nuts, pretzels and other treats.

Don’t be fooled by health halos. Just because a food is labeled organic or trans fat free doesn’t mean you can eat as much as you want. Calories are still calories.

Skip all-you-can-eat buffets. They may be a bargain for your pocketbook, but not for your health. If you must visit a buffet, do a full lap around the buffet before choosing your selection and wear tight fitting clothes (you’ll probably eat less.)

Share, share, and share. Restaurant portions are huge. Order one main dish and an extra veggie dish or salad and share both. And order one dessert for two or three people and you will still feel satisfied.

Eat like a Parisian. Eat slowly, savor your food, and enjoy your company.

Enjoy! Bon Appetit.

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