Healthy portion sizes: Are you eating too much?

Compare the average meal today to one from 20 or 30 years ago, and you may be shocked at how much portions have increased.

ADC Registered Dietitian and Diabetes Educator Mary Ellen Autry says Americans’ idea of a normal portion has become distorted, and it’s important to understand how much you’re eating.

Why portion control is important

First, you should understand the difference between a portion and a serving size.

A portion is the amount of food served in any one meal or snack – for example, the amount of spaghetti or meat served on a plate at a restaurant.

A serving is a standardized unit of measure – cups, ounces, or grams of food. Portions can be several servings of a food.

People who have Type 2 diabetes need to accurately estimate portion sizes so they know how many carbohydrates and calories they are consuming and how it will affect their blood sugar.

People trying to lose or maintain weight need to know or they could be undermining their efforts.

According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are no long term studies that show increase portions over time leads to obesity. But there are short-term studies that show that watching portion sizes helps people control how many calories they eat, which could help control weight.

What has changed about portion sizes?

Two sizes of bagels

The American Diabetes Association has put together a chart about “portion distortion” that shows how much portions have changed.

One example is soda. In 1955, the largest soda at a popular fast food restaurant was just 6.5-7 ounces. Today, soda is commonly sold in 20 oz, 32 oz and 64 oz sizes. In fact, a 12 oz soda is considered child-size.

Food and drink sizes have doubled and sometimes tripled, which means it’s easier to consume more calories in one sitting.

Research has shown that people eat more when they are served larger portions.

What is a healthy portion size?

It may be a shock to learn that the portions of foods you eat are actually much larger than what you should be eating.

Autry says the American Diabetes Association and the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics consider a serving of carbohydrates to be 15 grams. In general, women can eat three to four servings of carbs per meal, and men can have four to five servings per meal.

In the video above, Autry shows three foods that are commonly served or available in portions that are much larger than a single serving: bagels, potatoes, and apples.

What can you do?

Be aware

Learn what a serving size actually is for the foods you like to eat, and then learn to read nutrition labels so you can understand how much to serve.

Keep track

Consider keeping a food journal to track how much food you eat throughout the day so you can see how it all adds up.

Seek help

Find a registered dietitian who can help you learn how much food you should eat and choose what to put on your plate. A registered dietitian can design a menu plan and give you the tools you need to make decisions in the grocery store, restaurants and your own kitchen.