Knowing what portion size you should be having of each food type is a huge problem when it comes to monitoring your diet, particularly if you are trying to lose weight. In our supersized society, where we are actively encouraged to buy large for only a small extra charge, it is no wonder that obesity levels have risen and we are left completely clueless about how much should actually be on our plates.
There’s not many of us who can spare the time, or quite frankly the bother, to weigh out food to ensure it meets the current recommended guidelines, which is why new graphics have been released that enable us to think about our portion sizes in a brand new and easier way. We have long been familiar with the Food Standards Agency (FSA) ‘eat well’ plate, which offers a visual representation of portion sizes on a plate and is based on the 5 main food groups of:
- Fruit and vegetables
- Protein – meat, fish, eggs, beans etc.
- Fatty and sugary foods/drinks
- Milk and dairy products
- Starchy foods – bread, potatoes, rice, pasta etc.
But that still doesn’t offer us much help with how much we should actually be eating of those foods, just simply that we should be having, for example more fruit and vegetables than we should of milk and dairy foods. The idea behind the new graphic is to relate a food type to an everyday object in order to give people a visual clue as to the actual size. Food scientists have spent a long time researching and experimenting with different foods in order to come up with the new guide, with the hope that if we can get our portion sizes under control, obesity levels may start to decrease too.
The impact of how portion control can make a difference to your waistline is highlighted in Martin and Marian Shirran’s book The Gastric Mind Band. They say, “Spread butter on your toast, but be aware that a teaspoon of butter is 37 calories, but a tablespoon is three times as much (111 calories). Put dressing on your salad, but learn to weight the vinegar in favour of the oil. A teaspoon of oil may be 45 calories, but a tablespoon is 135. That one extra tablespoon of oil every day amounts to a stone weight gain over a year. Switch to sweetener in your tea or coffee. Cutting out two spoons of sugar in your tea three times a day creates an annual calorie deficit of 37,000 calories, which could be enough to shed more than 11lb. Have ice cream occasionally, but just one scoop (about 150 calories) and never eat it straight from the tub. Enjoy a few nuts with a drink, but stop at one or two (a small 4oz bag will set you back 600 calories).’ It really is the small changes that can make a huge difference in the longer term and learning to cut down our portions to a more sensible level could be one of the solutions to the obesity crisis.
So, let’s take a look at what the recommended portion sizes are and the new images that are connected with each one:
- 1 portion of rice or pasta (150g) = size of a tennis ball
- 1 portion of grapes (15) = size of a lightbulb
- 1 portion of cheese (30g) = size of a standard matchbox
- 1 portion of lean meat/oily fish/poultry (80g) = size of a deck of cards
- 1 portion of white fish (150g) = size of a chequebook
- 1 portion of potatoes (180g) = size of a computer mouse
- 1 portion of crisps (25g) = should fit in a standard sized mug
- 1 portion of raisins (30g) = size of a large egg
Although this, without doubt, helps our understanding of how much we should be eating of certain food types each day, how can we be sure that food manufacturers are following the same guidelines? In an ideal world we would all be cooking from scratch each day, avoiding processed foods and our meal plans would be completely planned out for the week, but many of us lead hectic lives, where sometimes convenience beats homemade hands down. One company, who is taking portion control seriously is Nestlé. Nestlé has made the commitment to provide portion guidance on all of their children’s and family products by the end of 2015. Alongside this they are also developing new tools and types of packaging, which will help educate consumers about what a portion size should look like. One way in which they have trialled this in Canada is by partitioning a 45g box of Smarties into three parts, each containing 15 Smarties, which amounts to 70 in total per portion. The theory is that by creating a physical disruption to your eating pattern it will make you think twice before over eating.
Here are some simple steps you can take to manage your portions and to regain control over your eating habits:
Size up your food
Use the visual guide above to help regulate your portion sizes.
Portion out large packets.
We all know it is cheaper to buy larger packets of food, but that doesn’t mean you have to eat it all in go. Get into the habit of dividing the packet up into portion controlled containers, which will not only save you money, but will also mean you eat less.
Read food labels
Food packaging has undergone a lot of change in more recent times and by law they must contain key information such as nutritional values. Pay particular attention to the number of servings contained in the package, along with the calorie and fat content.
Share a meal
Some restaurant portions can be HUGE! If you are going out somewhere that you know serves up mammoth portions, then consider sharing the meal, for example order one main course to share along with some healthy side orders of vegetables or salad to bulk the meal up. Or if you are someone who doesn’t feel like a meal is complete without a dessert, order one between you and ask the waiter for extra forks – romantic and healthy all rolled into one!
Don’t always feel you have to finish your meal
If you are in a restaurant and there is just way too much on your plate, don’t feel as though it would be rude not to finish everything on it. It is perfectly acceptable to ask whether they can package it up for you to take home.
Use a smaller plate
Research has proven that if you eat from a smaller plate it tricks the brain into thinking you are eating more than you actually are, because the plate looks fuller.
It takes 20 minutes for your body to feel full, so if you scoff back your food without coming up for air you are going to end up eating more than you need, as you have not given your body enough time to tell you it doesn’t need any more food. Chew slowly, placing your cutlery down in between mouthfuls and you will be surprised at how much less food you will end up eating.