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Healthy Food Portions 101

One of the keys to weight loss and weight management success is portion control. Knowing how much to eat is just as important as knowing what to eat. Keep reading to learn more.

Sifting through all the weight loss and weight management advice out there, there's no shortage of information on what to eat and what not to eat. Once you've narrowed down the foods to avoid and the foods to stock up on, the next question is, "How much can I eat?" This is where portion control comes in -- master these two things and you have a recipe for success.

According to a study published in the International Journal of Obesity in 2014, the best way to portion your meals to is to decrease the amount of high energy density foods you consume, instead making your meals up of mostly low energy density foods. Now, what is the difference between high energy density and low energy density foods? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the energy density of food is measured in calories per gram (kcal/g). Therefore, foods that are low in calories are low in energy density and vice versa. Some examples of low energy density foods are fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats due to their high water content, abundance of fiber and/or lack of fat. Fried foods, fatty meats, dairy and nuts are considered to be high in energy density.

Eating foods low in energy can help you stay full longer with energy to get you through the day. But that doesn't mean cutting out high density foods forever. When dealing with packaged foods, the first thing to do is read the labels. Make sure to follow serving suggestions to the letter as opposed to "eyeballing it" -- when was the last time this worked when you went for a bowl of ice cream, right? Now for whole foods you'll be preparing or serving yourself either at a restaurant or a family dinner, figuring out the correct amount can be tricky. Most experts recommend making half your plate veggies, 1/3 protein (3 oz) and 1/3 starch (whole grains, bread or fruit). An example of a balanced plate would be 1/3 salad greens with dressing on the side, 1/3 grilled chicken breast and 1/3 quinoa.

Using everyday objects can be a helpful way to determine portion size when you can't measure the food out yourself. Follow these approximations when portioning out common foods, as suggested by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute with the National Institutes of Health (NIH):

  1. Grains -- 1 serving of pasta or rice is half a baseball
  2. Protein -- 3 oz of meat is the size of a deck of playing cards
  3. Dairy -- 1.5 oz of cheese is four stacked dice
  4. Produce -- 1 medium piece of fruit or a 1 cup of greens is the size of a baseball

Making sure to measure and count your food is the first step to make sure you only consume the amount of calories you meant to. Here are some supplies we recommend keeping on hand to make controlling portions easier:

  • A variety of reusable storage containers (glass, metal or BPA-free plastic)
  • Salad plates
  • Pinch bowls
  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Food scale
  • A variety of plastic storage bags

Check back tomorrow for more of the latest health news and information. Stay well!
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