"Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food" - Hippocrates

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Less is More

Thursday I had the pleasure of teaching classes for a diabetes program. I love teaching because it is a great opportunity to share my passion about nutrition with others. Diabetes is a big problem (no pun intended) in our county as well as across the nation. And it is mostly due to poor eating habits. I was explaining portion sizes to the class and someone in the class asked me if I measured out my foods. I told her that I did. Even though I am at my ideal body weight and exercise regularly, that is still not a license to eat whatever I want and as much as I want. I think that this is a myth that many athletes and even regular exercisers believe. If you want to be at or close to your ideal weight, you have to have an idea of how many calories you are taking in(at least for most people- there are a few that are very thin and have trouble keeping on weight). The problem is that our portion sizes have increased so much over the past 20 years, that we don't have an accurate idea of what a correct portion size looks like. There are a couple of great presentations by the National Heart Lung & Blood Institute called "Portion Distortion". You can view them here: http://hp2010.nhlbihin.net/portion/. Basically the presentation compares the portion size of a food item 20 years ago to today's portion. Then you see how long it would take to burn off those calories (based on a 130 lb person). You can see how easily a person could gain weight over time.
There are a couple of different tools that you can use to measure portion sizes. My favorite visual is to use your hand.
  • A fist represents a cup (for cereals, vegetables, casseroles, etc)
  • A cupped hand represents 1/2 cup (pasta, rice, beans, etc)
  • A palm represents 3 ounces of meat (beef, poultry, pork or fish)
  • A thumb represents a tablespoon (peanut butter, salad dressing, etc)
  • A tip of the thumb represents a teaspoon (butter, margarine, oil, etc)
Yes, hand sizes vary but if you are using your hand, that is a good start. I encourage people to cut back gradually. Make small changes so that it is not such a big adjustment. If you are used to going to Outback on the weekends and your steak looks like the size of two entire hands, please don't cut back to a palm's worth! You will be seriously undersatisfied. Cut back to 3/4 or 1/2 of that amount. Fill in the difference with low calorie, nutrient dense foods such as fruits and vegetables. Another visual that I like to use is called the Plate Method. Fill 1/2 of your plate with non-starchy vegetables (salads, broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, etc); 1/4 starch (pasta, rice, potatoes or other starchy vegetables, and 1/4 protein (meat, chicken, fish, tofu, etc).
To measure portion sizes you can also use other visuals. Here are a few examples.
  • 3 ounces of meat is the size and thickness of a deck of cards
  • A potato is about the size of a computer mouse
  • A tortilla, pancake or waffle is about this size of a CD
  • 2 tbsp of peanut butter or salad dressing  is the size of a golf ball
  • A cup of cereal is the size of a baseball
  • 1/2 cup of rice or pasta is the size of 1/2 a baseball
  • 1 1/2 oz of cheese is the size of 4 stacked dice
If you are not measuring out your portion sizes, I would encourage you to start. You can also use measuring cups and spoons or even a food scale. Just remember, less is more.

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