Portion size vs. serving size

A portion of food on your plate may not be a true serving

Did you know that a food portion and a food serving aren’t the same? And if they since they are not, what’s the difference? Michigan State University Extension says that a portion is the size of a serving we choose to eat. A serving is a measurement of food. Serving sizes are what is recommended through the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.  Most American portions are bigger than an actual serving. Confused? Let’s simplify.

 Picture in your mind what a plate of spaghetti looks like. That is a portion. You decided how much you put on your plate. According to the dietary guidelines, a serving of cooked pasta is a half-cup. Picture that plate again… is there just a half-cup of spaghetti on your plate? You may have two or even three servings of spaghetti on your plate that are topped off with sauce and shredded cheese. Is this a bad thing? Not if you’re aware of what else you’ve been eating during the day, you have enough calories left for that extra serving and you stop there.

 If you’ve been making an effort to maintain your weight or lose weight with few results, your serving sizes could be the reason you’re obtaining more calories than you thought. Determining the difference between your portion and a serving will save extra calories. It’s important to your health that you learn to balance your portions sizes. How can that be done? By learning what is a true serving. Does this mean you have to measure everything before you eat it? You can and may want to for a time to determine how much you are eating.

 The MyPlate website is an exciting resource offering information related to serving sizes (portion distortion), along with weight management tips, sample menus, food safety, physical activity, healthy eating tips, food labels and interactive resources such as a food tracker. If you do not have internet access at home, visit your public library and log on to access the materials.

Portion control is also important at the dinner table. You can make it easier by dishing up each plate before it goes to the table. The next important step is to leave the remaining food in the kitchen. It’s very easy to dish up seconds or even thirds if the food is sitting in front of you.

Trying to stick to correct serving sizes and snacking while watching TV can be tricky. Begin by reading package labels to determine what a serving size is for the snack you plan to eat. Dish up the serving and again, leave the remainder of the package in the kitchen. Eating while watching TV takes the attention off the eating and this “mindless eating” generally leads to eating more than a serving, thus increasing caloric intake.

Eating at a restaurant can be a big challenge when it comes to serving sizes. If you know in advance that a particular restaurant serves large portions either ask for a to-go container before the meal arrives, or plan to share with others at the table. Sharing or taking leftovers home will help cut down on automatic overeating. Either way, your behavior is effective role modeling for healthy eating.

A helpful resource called a portion control guide can be found on the following website:

This guide is easily folded and slipped into your wallet, purse, backpack or pocket. You’ll soon learn that a serving of meat is the size of a deck of cards or 1.5 ounces of cheese which equals the size of three cheese dices.

A serving refers to the size. A portion is what’s there. Which choice is healthiest for you and your family? The time and effort taken to learn the difference is time and effort well spent.

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