Nutrition-wise blog

Get in the habit of paying attention to portion sizes

By Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D. and Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. March 21, 2014

March is National Nutrition Month and this month's habit is right in line with this theme. It's about paying attention to portion sizes.

Research shows that we often eat more when we are presented with larger portions. Over the past few decades, portions sizes have dramatically increased. Remember 7-ounce soda bottles? Those had 85 calories. Compare that to the 250 calories in the 20-ounce varieties commonly purchased today. Today's muffins are so large they make muffins of years past look like mini-muffins. Americans are eating nearly 2.5 times the number of calories too.

Because eating can be an automatic behavior, awareness of portion sizes — and calories — is the first step to making healthier food choices. Here are some tips to guide you:

  • Know your numbers. Start by figuring how many calories are right for you. Mayo Clinic has an online tool to calculate your daily calorie needs.
  • Focus on nutrition. Go for larger portions of vegetables and fruits that provide a hefty dose of nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber, without a lot of calories. Eat smaller portions of higher calories foods, such as sweets or foods that have high amounts of added sugar and fats.
  • Understand serving size vs. portion size. A portion is the amount you choose to eat. A serving is a precise amount of food defined by cups, ounces, grams, or other measurement. You will find serving sizes on food labels or within a eating plan such as the Mayo Clinic Diet or the U.S. Department of Agriculture food plans.
  • Learn visual cues for serving size. Visual cues can be helpful to define servings. Consider these: A hockey puck is about the size of a 1/2 of a bagel, 1/2 cup of pasta or 1/2 cup of dried cereal. Another common visual cue is a deck of cards for 3 ounces of meat.
  • Eat mindfully and enjoy your food. Many of us eat for reasons besides hunger. Emotions, such as happiness or sadness, and stress or being distracted by a TV, computer or phone can lead you to eating larger portions without realizing it.

Take advantage of National Nutrition Month and explore these opportunities:

  • Look for nutrition programs in your community. Your library, senior center or fitness center may offer opportunities to learn more about nutrition.
  • Get out your measuring cups and spoons and take note of your actual portion sizes. How do they tally up against your daily calorie needs?
  • Fill your plate with more vegetables and fruits. Does this affect your feeling of fullness?
  • Try turning off screens during meal and snack times. Does it change your appreciation for the amount and taste of the food you eat?

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Mar. 21, 2014