Understanding Portion Control Better

Understanding Portion Control Better

Question:

Please help me better understand portion control. How much is too much versus too little? Is there a chart to help explain the differences between men and women? Does age and weight matter? Are there ways to make portion controlling easier?

Answer:

Controlling portions is a way to manage volume of food served and thus consumed. There is no specific way that is the best, just as there is no perfect serving for all people of any one particular food. A standard portion is a means to compare the nutritional content of different foods, e.g. “a half-cup of ice cream versus a half-cup of popcorn…”

The approach I recommend is a combination of a) the American Institute for Cancer Research’s “New American Plate” which has a greater proportion of plant foods than a typical diet and b) serving sizes adjusted for energy needs as suggested by MyPlatePlan. The key is to know your total caloric requirement first! This takes into account gender, age and weight.

Here are some common portion sizes provided in terms of measure with a corresponding way to “eyeball” the relative portion size in order to help you identify what portions look like. You can also practice by using your scale to weight various foods and then attribute a way to gauge that portion size by using objects such as your hands and fingers. See the examples below.

Bread, Cereal, Rice and Pasta (commonly 1-3 per meal)

  • 4” pancake or waffle = serving size 1   pancake = width just covers palm of adult hand
  • Bread = serving size 1 slice (1 oz.) = standard sandwich slice of bread
  • Pasta, rice, cooked cereal = serving size ½ Cup = size of a custard cup or ½ baseball

Vegetables (goal: 2-3 per meal)

  • Chopped vegetables (raw non-leafy) = serving size ½ Cup = size of a custard cup or ½ baseball
  • Raw leafy vegetables = serving size 1 Cup = 1 baseball or fist of an average adult

Meat and Protein (commonly 1-3 per meal)

  • Nuts = serving size 1/3 Cup = level palmful for average adult
  • Lean meat, poultry, seafood = serving size 1 oz. = size of adult thumb
  • Peanut butter = serving size 2 Tablespoons = size of a ping-pong ball
  • Beans, cooked = serving size ¾ Cup = size of a tennis ball

Fats and Oils (limit to 1 per meal)

  • Butter, margarine or oil = serving size 1 teaspoon = 1 pat or size of a half-dollar
  • Cream cheese = serving size 1 oz. = size of two dominoes
  • Mayonnaise or dressing = serving size 1 Tablespoon = top portion of adult thumb
  • Sour cream or reduced = serving size 2 Tablespoons = size of a ping-pong ball
  • calorie salad dressing

Fruit (commonly 2-3 per day)

  • Dried fruit = ¼ Cup = 1 golf ball
  • Canned, chopped or cooked = serving size ½ Cup = size of a custard cup or ½ baseball
  • Fresh fruit = serving size 1 medium or ½ large = 1 tennis ball or ½ softball
  • Berries or grapes = serving size 1 Cup = 1 baseball or fist of an average adult

Milk, Cheese and Dairy products (commonly 1-3 per day)

  • Natural hard cheese = serving size 1½ oz. = 9-volt battery or 1-inch cube
  • Cottage cheese = serving size ½ Cup = size of a custard cup or ½ baseball

– Debbie J., MS, RD

This article should not replace any exercise program or restrictions, any dietary supplements or restrictions, or any other medical recommendations from your primary care physician. Before starting any exercise program or diet, make sure it is approved by your doctor.

Some questions have been edited for length and/or clarity.

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These 7 Foods Help Promote Brain Health

These 7 Foods Help Promote Brain Health

It takes more than regular walks and the daily crossword to keep your brain in top cognitive shape! What you eat plays a larger role in mental fitness and preventing age-related decline in brain function. Like the rest of your body, the brain needs to be properly nourished from the start for optimum performance. An overall healthy diet is great, in addition there are certain types of food that promote brain health. Here’s a rundown of these brain preservers: 

1. Fish 

Oily fish like wild salmon, albacore tuna and sardines provide docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a type of omega-3 essential for brain development and function, helping neurons trigger and cells regenerate. Long-term intake of adequate DHA has been linked to improved memory and learning ability. People who regularly eat fish are less likely than their peers to have depression. In fact, the American Psychiatric Association has endorsed the fatty acids in fish as an effective part of depression treatment.1  

You can’t start too early! The FDA and EPA agree eating fish is especially important for pregnant or nursing women because it helps with the growth and development of children’s brains and even helps boost IQ.  

Vegans can get their omega-3s from flaxseed, walnuts, chia seeds, algae-like seaweed or supplements.

2. Leafy greens  

Green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, and collard greens provide vitamin K, folate, beta carotene, and lutein – nutrients that may support brain function and cognitive health.2 Eat at least one-half cup serving of leafy greens daily to get enough of these neuroprotective compounds. 

3. High antioxidant foods  

Powerful oxidation fighters that protect the brain3 are found in vegetables (broccoli, leafy greens), fruits (berries), nuts and the spice curcumin. Antioxidants’ positive effects on neural function are the reason why such foods are encouraged for younger people to slow age-related memory decline and prevent Alzheimer’s disease.  

4. Heart-healthy diet 

A cardiovascular protective diet is an important factor in battling age-related declines in brain function. Cerebrovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and dementia are linked by the circulatory system; vascular cognitive impairment and vascular dementia stem from damage to the vessels leading to the brain. 

Good nutrition in younger people is associated with better blood flow and increased brain size, thus protecting the brain from age-related volume decrease. Also, maintaining a healthy weight may preserve gray matter from dementia-related decline.4  

5. Potassium-rich foods 

Because they counteract the effects of sodium on fluid balance, potassium-rich foods are important to combat hypertension, a well-documented risk factor for dementia. Potassium-rich foods include potatoes, tomatoes, bananas, coconut water, avocado and winter squash. 

The National Academy of Sciences even assigned “managing blood pressure for people with hypertension” as one of the three classes of interventions to prevent cognitive decline.5 And the MIND diet (a combination of DASH “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension” with a Mediterranean diet) is associated with preservation of stroke survivors’ brain function. 

6. Mediterranean diet 

Following a Mediterranean diet might improve cognitive function in seniors and delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease by a few years.6,7,8 A Mediterranean diet is characterized by high intake of vegetables, legumes, fruits, cereals, fish and unsaturated fatty acids (mostly as olive oil), low intake of saturated fatty acids, meat and poultry, low/moderate intake of dairy products and a regular but moderate amount of alcohol (mostly wine drank at meals). 

7. Coffee 

Coffee consumption is correlated with a reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.9 This neuroprotective benefit is independent of caffeine but may be related to the roasting process due to one of coffee’s polyphenolic compounds.10  

The Takeaway 

Whether you choose fish, potassium-rich fruits and vegetables, coffee or an array of heart-healthy powerhouse foods it’s possible to boost brain power, function, and mental wellness while forestalling degenerative brain disease through diet. Nutrition is often the best medicine – now that’s food for thought! 

References: 

  1. Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Major Depressive Disorder: The American Psychiatric Association Task Force Assessment of the Evidence, Challenges, and Recommendations. American Psychiatric Association, June 2009. file:///C:/Users/Lilde/Downloads/rd2009_CAM.pdf  Accessed 3/18/2019 
  2. Leafy Greens are Good for the Brain. Gina Shaw. American Academy of Neurology. Brain & Life, Oct/Nov 2018. https://www.brainandlife.org/the-magazine/article/app/14/5/14/leafy-greens-are-good-for-the-brain Accessed 3/18/19 
  3. Brain Foods: The Effects of Nutrients on Brain Function. F Gomez-Pinilla. Nature Reviews Neuroscience. 2008 Jul; 9(7): 568-578. 
  4. Obesity Linked to Dementia Risk– Gray matter atrophy tied to BMI and other obesity metrics. Judy George. 1/9/2019.  https://www.medpagetoday.com/neurology/dementia/77340  Accessed 3/1/2019 
  5. Preventing Cognitive Decline and Dementia: A Way Forward. National Academies of Sciences Engineering Medicine. 2017. ISBN 978-0-309-45959-4 
  6. Mediterranean diet and 3-year Alzheimer brain biomarker changes in middle-aged adults. V Berti, et al. Neurology. May 15, 2018; 90 (20). 
  7. Adherence to a Mediterranean diet and Alzheimer’s disease risk in an Australian population. S Gardener, et al. Translational Psychiatry. 2012 Oct; 2(10): e164. 
  8. Mediterranean diet nutrients tied with healthy brain aging. Catharine Paddock. 12/21/2018. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324064 Accessed 3/1/2019 
  9. Coffee and its consumption: benefits and risks. MS Butt, MT Sultan. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 2011 Apr; 51(4): 363–373. 
  10. Phenylindanes in Brewed Coffee Inhibit Amyloid-Beta and Tau Aggregation. RS Mancini, Y Wang, DF Weaver. Frontiers in Neuroscience. 2018 Oct 12; 12:735. 

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What’s the Deal Between Flaxseed and Fertility?

What’s the Deal Between Flaxseed and Fertility?

Question:

Does flaxseed help in increasing fertility and weight loss?

– Shamily BM

Answer:

There has been a lot of chatter in the media regarding flaxseeds and fertility. Looking at the research, I found evidence to support its effect on menstrual cycle and hot flashes, but nothing conclusive regarding conception in humans. So, flaxseed may have an insignificant effect.

Flaxseeds are high in fiber which helps promote satiety so that appetite is dampened and fewer calories are consumed. Theoretically, this would translate into weight loss if people didn’t compensate elsewhere in their diets. Again, there’s a lack of studies showing an isolated effect on body weight from flaxseed consumption alone.

No matter the physiological effect, it would take a lot of flaxseed to make an apparent isolated difference. My advice is that cracked or crushed flaxseeds* should be included to complement an overall healthy diet, similar to the addition of chia seeds, garlic, or ginger. Start with a teaspoon here and there to see in which foods it’s most acceptable. I like it on yogurt, in smoothies, oatmeal, grain breads, mustard, soups, and meatballs. If you’re committed you can work up to 2-4 tablespoons of flaxseed a day, as recommended by health experts.

*Why cracked or crushed flaxseed is best – Whole flaxseed is a good source of soluble fiber and lignans (phytoestrogen precursor) but isn’t fully digested to get the full nutritional benefit. Freshly cracked or crushed flaxseeds offer fiber and lignans plus thiamin, magnesium, and omega-3 fatty acids including alpha-linolenic acid. Ground flaxseed, milled flaxseed, and flax meal can also be used but spoil more readily than the whole flaxseed, so keep them in the freezer. Flaxseed oil doesn’t contain the fiber, lignans or micronutrients; it only has the fat.

– Debbie J., MS, RD

This article should not replace any exercise program or restrictions, any dietary supplements or restrictions, or any other medical recommendations from your primary care physician. Before starting any exercise program or diet, make sure it is approved by your doctor.

Some questions have been edited for length and/or clarity.

Ask our Dietitian

Have a nutrition question? Our registered dietitian is ready to help!

Email nutrition@lafitness.com or submit your question below and it may be featured in an upcoming article!

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How to Determine Your Macro Breakdown

How to Determine Your Macro Breakdown

Question:

I would like to know how I determine what my macro breakdown should be? How do I know how to calculate my split as far as protein/fats/carbs based on my weight & height? And what carbs are good for me? Female, Weight 170 lbs., Height 5’2’, Weightlift 5 days per week Cardio 3-5 times per week. I need help (guidance) with the nutrition part of my weight loss journey.

– Yolanda G.

Answer:

Given your current exercise regimen, your estimated daily energy needs for weight loss are about 2,000 calories if 20-30 years old (subtract 75 calories per decade older). Not knowing anything about your present intake, I’d recommend a rough caloric distribution of 30% fat, 20% protein, and 50% carbohydrates. Breaking down the 2,000 calories would give us 67 gm fat, 100 gm protein and 250 gm carbohydrate per day.

I’m so glad you asked about which carbohydrates are good! That indicates you’re aware that quality matters as much as quantity – for all three macronutrients. Complex carbohydrates that are more wholesome (less refined) are preferred over processed sources. Think of oats, quinoa, corn, potatoes, and vegetables complimented by simple carbohydrates from fresh fruit and milk products.

Here’s a one-day sample 2,000 calorie menu providing 27% fat, 22% protein, and 51% carbs*:

  • Breakfast – 1 Cup bran cereal, 1 Cup 1% milk, 1/2 grapefruit, and 1 large egg
  • Lunch – 3 oz. tuna, 1 Tbsp. mayonnaise, 4 rye crisp crackers, large dark green salad, ½ C. chickpeas, 2 Tbsp. of oil-based or ‘green goddess’ dressing
  • Dinner – 4 oz. skinless chicken breast, 1 Cup of broccoli, ½ Cup of corn

3 Snacks –

  • 1 large apple with 2 Tbsp. of peanut butter
  • 1 carrot + 1 celery with ¼ Cup of hummus
  • 6 oz Greek-style plain yogurt with 1 Cup berries

* Calculated by Registered Dietitian Nutritionist using Fitday.com’s food log function. Findings were used along with RDN’s professional judgment.

– Debbie J., MS, RD

This article should not replace any exercise program or restrictions, any dietary supplements or restrictions, or any other medical recommendations from your primary care physician. Before starting any exercise program or diet, make sure it is approved by your doctor.

Some questions have been edited for length and/or clarity.

Ask our Dietitian

Have a nutrition question? Our registered dietitian is ready to help!

Email nutrition@lafitness.com or submit your question below and it may be featured in an upcoming article!

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Break Up with Your Diet, Start a New Relationship with Food

Break Up with Your Diet, Start a New Relationship with Food

It is near midnight. The house is quiet, and it’s officially “lights out.”  Then, suddenly you are alarmed by a loud and mysterious rumbling that begins to echo to every corner of your bedroom. You turn over and reposition your lethargic body on its side; hoping it was all just a part of a dream. A few minutes pass and the same resounding rumble begins to grow even more violent. You can no longer ignore the internal calling we all dread to acknowledge a quarter past midnight. No longer can its origins be disguised for anything other than the dark deep abyss of your hollow stomach.

Translation: You’ve got the serious case of the late-night munchies.

At this point, you have a decision to make. You try to talk yourself out of dragging your sluggish legs into the kitchen to satisfy your appetite, but the internal debate of “to eat or not to eat” is waking more neurons in your brain, making it nearly impossible to fall back asleep. Feeling restless and still hungry, you head to the kitchen and look for anything that doesn’t require any actual effort beyond pouring yourself a bowl of cereal.

Like many of us, we have all experienced a similar internal dialogue when deciding between making healthier choices over the not-so-healthy-ones. We are confronted daily with choosing between the salad or fast food, the workout before your 8 am meeting or hitting the snooze button for the fifth time. Unfortunately, we are often faced with the guilt and only momentary satisfaction when self-control is less effective on those days your supervisor decides to leave a free-for-all box of hot-and-ready-to-eat donuts in the conference room. Then there are those seasons of pure discipline when it’s strict dieting, no sugar, skip the happy hour, and the “I’ll just have a spinach kale salad with vinegar and oil on the side.”  Unfortunately, we are often faced with short-lived results only to return to the same habits as before.

So, if we are what we eat, what’s the secret in actually doing it well?

Food is Fuel

Let’s put some things in perspective – our relationship with food has gotten a negative rap throughout the existence of American mass media. It is either introduced as being the enemy or the solution to our overall well-being. It is either quick-fast and not nutritionally dense “meals” we have easy access to at your nearest fast food chain, or it’s posed as an almost militarized form of consumption, aka steamed veggies and grilled chicken Monday through Friday.  

This duality of “good and bad” types of eating sends many of us on an emotional roller-coaster when making day-to-day healthy choices. I carry the firm belief that our relationship to food is tarnished when used for reward or punishment. If we bring it back to basics, when we were first developing as a species, food was medicine, and a resource to aiding our bodies to function and fuel itself for our day-to-day activities. We have commercialized the food industry so much, that we as consumers feel trapped and often disempowered when making instinctual decisions about what our body’s actual need!

The fact that every single day we get to decide when and what we eat is nothing short of a privilege; especially when we consider people who geographically, socially, and economically don’t have the same luxury. So, when we take a step back and see the purpose behind why we eat, we might be able to lessen the pressure of making those healthier choices.

You might be thinking, does that mean I have to drop the cookies and grab the carrot sticks instead? Well…not exactly.

Food is Fun!

Looking back, I can attest that every great childhood memory, every birthday and celebration has good food somewhere in the picture. I’m talking about that feel-good-straight-out-of-Grandma’s-oven home cooking or recalling the greatly anticipated pizza parties when your class scored highest in the school’s spelling bee. There were no counting macros or guilt-tripping myself into burning extra calories on the treadmill at the gym the next day. Food was something to be enjoyed in those moments, and they still should be!

Navigating healthy-living through food shouldn’t feel like a death sentence to enjoying quality time with friends and family. Rather, it is acknowledging that food and these impressionable moments in life often go hand in hand, and we can find ways of empowering ourselves by setting ourselves up for success. For example, try introducing newer ways of enjoying more vegetable side dishes at the next family potluck, or adding more fruits and veggies in school lunches for the kids over fruit snacks.

When we surround ourselves with healthier options we are more likely to incorporate them in our lifestyle with greater ease than the polarizing feeling we often feel when we are under-prepared and just down-right hungry.

A person who knows a lot about eliminating the stress and pressure around food while still enjoying healthier choices is former White House Chef to the Obamas and Food Policy Advisor, Sam Kass.

Kass knows a thing or two about ways you and your family can feel more empowered on making better choices without the fuss! His newly released cookbook, Eat a Little Better: Great Flavor, Good Health, Better World, is based on the philosophy that there is no “right way” but there is always a better way we can approach diet and nutrition to support our households and the planet. His approach to changing our relationship with food is approachable for anyone wanting to take a more proactive step towards optimal health, minus the excess will-power. Think “small changes that collectively make a bigger impact in the long run!

“Eat one vegetable a day. Just one. Eat whole grains and beans once more a week. When this becomes your new normal–in two weeks, ten weeks, or a year–you raise the bar again.”

Sam Kass

Former White House Chef to the Obamas and Food Policy Advisor

If there is one food trend I think we have all been neglecting it is that food is our friend when we allow it. It is the fuel and the fun in our lives that collectively make for a better, more enjoyable living. You were made to enjoy the fruit of your labor (literally!) So if that means working your butt off and enjoying that ice-cream with the kids on the weekend so be it. If it means learning new ways to cut out processed sugar and introduce fresh and dried fruits to curb an unhealthy habit, that’s great too.

Making better choices for you and your family ultimately comes down to meeting the needs that are going to support the lifestyle and results you envision having. For me, my “better” means throwing out fad-diets and picking up healthier ways to live for the long run. Call me crazy, but I’m a firm believer that you can live a healthy life and still have that cake and eat it too!

Sources

  1. Kass, Sam, and Aubrie Pick. “Eat a Little Better: Great Flavor, Good Health, Better World.” Eat a Little Better: Great Flavor, Good Health, Better World, Clarkson Potter/Publishers, 2018.

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