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How Much is Enough to Eat?

From: Susan M.
Sent on: Friday, June 13, 2008 12:13 AM

How Much is Enough to Eat?

Portion control is the key to health--and going green

By Kelly Rossiter
healthy food puzzle pieces on a plate photo

David McGlynn/Getty Images

On average, North Americans overeat and doctors have warned for years of the health effects of obesity. Now with food shortages looming around the world resulting in increased food costs, we may be looking at our  pocketbooks as well as our waistlines.

But what, exactly, is enough to eat? To determine that you first have to understand the terminology. A serving size is the standardized way of measuring food. The measurement is based on energy and nutritional needs. A portion is simply the amount you eat. For instance, 4 ounces of juice is one serving. If you drink an 8 ounce glass of juice you have just had two servings of fruit in one portion. According to the Canada Food Guide if you are a female between the ages of 19 and 50 you require 7 to 8 servings of fruit and vegetables per day. That 8 ounce glass of orange juice at breakfast has just given you 1/4 of your daily requirement of fruits and vegetables.

So let's take a look at dinner and build of plate of what you should be eating. Let's start with the protein. Most people decide what meat they want to eat and then build their meal around that. That's fine, but bear in mind that the meat should always be the smallest thing on your plate. Dietitians have figured out all kinds of mnemonics to help people visualize what the portion size should be. With meat, think of a portion which is no larger than a deck of cards. 3 ounces of lean meat (or chicken or fish) is one serving. Now add some rice to your plate, but no more than 1/2 cup cooked, about the size of a small baseball, which is also one serving. Now add the vegetables which should take up of half of your plate. A 1/2 cup of any fresh, frozen, or canned vegetable is one serving, now add 1 cup of leafy green salad. If you like bread with your meal, have only one slice, or one roll for a serving of grains. If you want dessert have 3/4 of a cup of yogurt and that is your serving of milk or milk alternatives. That meal translates into 1 serving of meat, 2 serving of grains, 1 serving of milk or alternatives and 2 servings of vegetables. Take a look at the chart and see who much of your daily requirement is met by this meal, based on your age and sex.

If you are having a vegetarian meal, 1/2 cup of cooked pasta is in order, not an entire plate of spaghetti.A single serving cup of tofu is 3/4 cup; the same as for legumes such as chickpeas or beans. Take a look at the chart below and see how much of your daily requirement is met by this meal, based on your age and sex. Bear in mind that I am not talking about the caloric count of any sauces you may put on any of these things nor the fat content, I'm simply addressing portion size. This may seem like an absurdly small amount of food, depending on how much you eat now, but it really isn't. If you are currently eating two or even three times that amount, cut back gradually until you reach the target portion sizes. Use a 7" plate rather than a 9" plate and your eyes and brain will be in collusion making you think you are eating more than you are.

The chart below is from the Canada Food Guide and indicates the suggested amount of servings per day of each category of food.

  Children  Teens  Adults 
Age in Years 2-3 4-8 9-13 14-18 years 19-50 years 51 + years
Sex Girls and Boys Females Males Females Males Females Males
Vegetables and Fruit  4 5 6 7 8 7-8 8-10 7 7
Grain Products  3 4 6 6 7 6-7 8 6 7
Milk and Alternatives  2 2 3-4 3-4 3-4 2 2 3 3
Meat and Alternatives  1 1 1-2 2 3 2 3 2 3

Thanks very much to dietitian Elaine Eppler for her help doing research and for always being a great sounding board about food and nutrition.

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