One of the things I have been concentrating on for myself recently has been getting my portion sizes back down to where they should be. I have been doing a bit more eating for the sheer pleasure of it and perhaps taking things a bit beyond 80/20.
When it comes to weight management understanding portion size really is a major key. By eating the recommended number of serves, in the correct portion size, of fruit, vegetables, dairy, wholegrains, lean meat and fats you are likely to lose weight (if that is your aim and you have excess fat to lose) or find it quite easy to maintain a stable weight once your body reaches a point it is happy with. You will also go closer to getting your recommended daily intake of essential macronutrients, vitamins and minerals without having to think about supplementation.
No calorie counting or strict/fad dieting required. However, a good set of digital scales and some cup measures do come in handy.
If you have been reading Eat.Move.Explore for a while you will know that I believe in the food pyramid. These days clever marketing often has us convinced that we need more protein than we really do and also led us to believe that carbohydrates are bad.
Foods from the wholegrain group are often labelled interchangeably as ‘carbs’ when, in fact, they usually contribute around 10% protein by weight. When choosing foods from this group you want to look for grains and legumes that have been through as few processes as possible, choose brown or wholemeal varieties instead of white. Personally I choose organic whenever possible for my grains and cereals because they make up a significant portion of my diet.
Serving sizes of carbohydrate rich foods are often overstated on packets. Pasta is a good example. A 500g packet of dry pasta is usually labelled as 4 serves. I know that I can feed my whole family of six twice from that packet. When we have pasta it’s more a case of ‘bulking up’ the meal with extra veggies than lots of pasta with a stingy amount of sauce.
1 serve of grains/cereals looks like:
2 slices bread (look for a total serve of around 200 calories)
½ cup muesli/porridge oats
50-75g (dry weight) pasta/noodles/rice/quinoa/pearl barley/cracked wheat/cous cous
Women should be aiming for 4-9 serves/day depending on activity levels, men 6-12
Vegetables and legumes are a huge category. Legumes also fit into the grains/cereals categories and are a significant protein source for non-meat and dairy eaters. To be honest I don’t think you can eat too many vegetables, especially raw ones, in a day (with the exception of starchy vegetables like potatoes).
Serving sizes for vegetables are more related to nutrient value than calorific value. For many vegetables you will actually use more energy digesting them than they are worth. It is your method of cooking and additions that add to the calorie value.
Aim to eat a broad range of vegetables of different colours to ensure that you are obtaining a full range of nutrients. Eating the same small selection of vegetables day in day out can have adverse effects if the veggies are coming from a source that uses pesticides. If you do only have a small range of vegetables that you enjoy eating then I would be more inclined to suggest that you seek out pesticide free alternatives, particularly for vegetables that you eat whole (ie don’t peel).
1 serve vegetables/legumes looks like:
1 medium potato or half a sweet potato
½-1 cup green leafy vegetables like spinach, broccoli and kale
½-¾ cup cooked legumes (chickpeas, cannellini beans, lentils, red kidney beans)
1 cup lettuce or salad leaves
½ cup anything else
Women and men should both aim for a minimum of 5 serves/day
Fruit contains all sorts of great nutrients as well as important dietary fibre. The recommended daily serves for fruit is two. Personally I have 1 serve with my breakfast and another later in the day as a snack in most cases.
A serve of fruit is a medium piece of fruit or equivalent amount of smaller or larger fruits or 1½ Tbs dried fruit.
Dairy is our main source of calcium and also a significant source of protein and fat. Both Men and Women should aim for two serves of dairy each day. If you or your family members are intolerant to dairy it is important to supplement your calcium intake with other sources like green leafy vegetables, almonds or fish with bones like canned salmon or sardines.
1 Serve of dairy looks like:
1 cup milk
200mL yoghurt (stick with natural or greek to avoid excess fructose*)
*Lactose is the sugar found in dairy, when you read the nutritional panel on yoghurt the first 6g or so/100g is lactose, anything more than that is fructose.
It is where meat, fish and poultry are concerned that we often get carried away. Think of how big a porterhouse steak is, usually a good 200g-250g before you trim off the fat. That is enough to serve 2-3 people. A single chicken breast is usually enough for two.
To get used to what a portion of meat, fish or poultry looks like spend a few weeks weighing your uncooked meat portions. It won’t take long to get used to how much you should be eating.
The recommended daily amount from this category is only 1-1½ serves for both men and women but that also needs to be balanced with achieving adequate protein. Right now there are an incredible number of protein supplements on the market and every other person who steps a toe in the gym seems to be rushing out to buy a king sized tub. The reality is, that if you are eating a balanced diet you don’t need them. You are already getting more than enough protein from you daily diet. The only reason people think that they need supplements is because of the marketing. You can read more of my thoughts on protein here.
1 Serve of Meat/Fish/Poultry looks like
50-100g red meat
100g-150g chicken or fish
It’s really easy to check yourself on portion size. Get our your kitchen scales and see how much that piece of steak weighs. Easier still, when you buy meant only buy as much as you will need to serve your family for one meal. Or buy in bulk and divide it into proper portion sizes.
Food takes up a significant portion of our weekly budgets. Unfortunately it can cost significantly more to feed a family with fresh food than processed when buying from the supermarket. It is bullshit, I have a whole soapbox on that particular topic I’ll share with you one day. Fortunately I also have plenty of strategies to keep the cost down on feeding my family.
One of those strategies is, quite simply, to stick to portion sizes. Less wastage, lower cost, less potential to overeat because I cooked more than we need. It’s a win win really.
Why not grab your food diary from last week and see how it stacks up against the recommended daily servings. I’d love to hear what you find out!