Keeping portions under control

Learning to control portion sizes can help you cut down on the calories you consume.

One of the biggest challenges we face when it comes to eating a healthy diet, is actually how much we are eating. A healthy diet is not just about eating a balance of foods from the food groups recommended by the United States Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate, but is also important is how much of the food we are eating. Portion sizes have expanded in recent years and are leading to many Americans consuming far more calories than they need. Extra calories that are consumed and not burned off result in weight gain. The phrase “portion distortion” can be used to describe how portions are viewed. For example:

French fries:

  • 20 years ago, 2.4-ounces of French fries had 210 calories
  • Today, 5.4-ounces of French fries has 500 calories


  • 20 years ago, a 1.5-ounce muffin had 210 calories
  • Today a 4-ounce muffin has 500 calories


  • 20 years ago, a 6.5-ounce regular soda had 85 calories
  • Today, a 44-ounce regular fountain soda has more than 500 calories

For other examples of distorted portions, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute has an interactive quiz to test your portion sizes knowledge. The answers may surprise you.

As you can see, oversize portions also lead to many extra calories in the foods we are eating and drinking. If excess calories are often consumed it can quickly lead to weight gain.

So what can you do to help monitor your portion sizes?

  • Start by taking a realistic look at what you are currently eating. Read the nutrition facts labels on food items to find out what the serving size is and then compare it to how much you are actually eating
  • Use smaller plates and bowls
  • When eating out, ask for a take-out box before eating and put half the entrée away to enjoy later or share a meal with a friend. Ordering a kids size meal can also help with portion control.
  • Portion foods onto a plate or into a bowl rather than eating right out of a bag, box or container
  • Stop eating when you feel full.
  • Use your hand to measure portion sizes: a 3 ounce piece of meat is about the size of the palm of your hand, a ½ cup is equal to one cupped hand and 1 cup is equal to 2 cupped hands.

Keep your portions from being distorted. Monitoring portion sizes can help you eat less calories and also allow you to have room in your diet to enjoy a wide variety of foods from all the foods groups.

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