The Portion Problem

Even if we weren't tempted by the endless array of unhealthy food products, we'd still be sabotaged by the explosion in portion sizes.

Lara Rondinelli By Lara Rondinelli, RD, LDN, CDE

You’ve probably heard it before: Watch your portion sizes. But do you consistently pay close attention?  Portion size awareness is important for everyone with diabetes. Whether you’re counting carbohydrates to dose insulin or controlling portions to lose weight (or both), keeping portion sizes down can help control blood glucose levels and is usually crucial to weight loss.  

Let’s first look at the growth of portion sizes in the United States. I’ve had several patients who have moved to the U.S. from other countries and gained weight. One woman from Brazil told me of her first time eating at an Italian restaurant in this country. She ordered a pasta dish, and when it was served she moved it to the middle of the table because she thought it was for the entire table to share. She was shocked to find out it was hers alone. She admitted that the longer she has lived here the more she has found herself eating from that bowl of pasta. Americans have gotten used to abnormally large portion sizes and now think they are normal!

A 2002 study in the American Journal of Public Health confirmed that U.S. food portions far exceeded the accepted standards. The largest excesses in portion sizes when compared to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) standards were found in store-bought cookies, muffins, and bagels, with an average muffin exceeding the USDA standard muffin size by over 300 percent. Large bagels can be equivalent to eating 4 slices of bread and can contain a whopping 60 grams of carbohydrate or more. Fast food restaurant portion sizes have also grown with larger servings of soda, French fries, and burgers — portions measuring two to five times larger than their originals. In the mid-1950s, McDonald’s only offered one size of French fries, which is now considered small and is one-third the weight of the largest size available in 2001. Not surprisingly, this growth in portion sizes in the U.S. has been parallel to the rising level of obesity.

Eating large amounts, even of healthy foods, can lead to excessive carbohydrate or calorie intake, and this can get in the way of weight management and blood glucose control. Many people don’t even realize the amounts they are eating. Try to be more conscious of normal portion sizes during the holidays and year round. Check out "When Size Matters” for help with estimating portion sizes, and mind these healthy portion habits:

1.    Aim to eat something from at least three food groups per meal to help increase satisfaction and help prevent overeating from one food group.  
2.    Measure portion sizes of high-carb foods that are easy to overeat, such as cooked rice, pasta, and cereal. Doing this several times will let you see what a proper portion looks like on your plate or bowl and help you learn to properly estimate carbohydrate content.
3.    Purchase single-serving items or choose snacks that come pre-portioned such as ready to eat sugar-free pudding, sugar-free fudgesicles and popsicles.
4.    Avoid mindless eating in front of the computer or television. Be fully aware of eating while you eat!
5.    Never eat out of a bag, box, or jar. When snacking on salty foods, make sure to portion out your serving and put it on a plate or in a bowl. This will help control your portion sizes.
6.    Still hungry? Choose more low-carb veggies such as salad vegetables, green beans, asparagus, Brussel Sprouts, or cauliflower.  Most Americans’ portions of these foods are too small!

NEXT: Get the recipe for Artichoke Salad

Last Modified Date: November 28, 2012

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by Nicole Purcell
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