Don't Fall Prey to Portion Distortion

Updated:Jul 1,2013

According to the National Institutes of Health, a “portion” is how much food you choose to eat at one time, whether in a restaurant, from a package or in your own kitchen.

A “serving” size is the amount of food listed on a product’s Nutrition Facts.

Sometimes the portion size and serving size match; sometimes they do not. Over the past few years portions have grown significantly in fast food and sit-down restaurants, as has the frequency of Americans eating out. Subsequently, waistlines across the U.S. have grown right along with this trend. 

Big portion sizes can mean you’re getting more food than your body can stomach to maintain a healthy weight. Learn how much to put on your plate to help control how much you eat.

Consider these statistics from the American Heart Association study “A Nation at Risk: Obesity in the United States”:

  • Adults today consume an average of 300 more calories per day than they did in 1985.
  • Portion sizes have grown dramatically over the last 40 years.
  • Americans eat out much more than they used to.

Take a look at the examples below and see how easy (or difficult) it is to choose accurate food portions.

Serving Sizes Graphic

Here’s another kernel: In the book "Mindless Eating," Brian Wansink, Ph.D., found that people who were given larger buckets of popcorn ate 44 percent more calories than those who were given smaller buckets — even when they thought the popcorn didn’t taste good! Bottom line: An overloaded plate can lead to an overloaded stomach.

Making good choices

Tracking your calories helps you monitor your weight. It helps to know what the appropriate serving size is so you can correctly estimate the calories in your portions, especially if you dine out a lot. Portion sizes that are typically offered in restaurants are often double or triple the standard recommended serving sizes of most foods. Using a food diary can help you pay closer attention to what  you're eating, how much and how often.

Take time to learn the difference between a portion size and a serving size. You may see that the portions most people consume are often more than what they need to eat to keep their bodies at a healthy weight. Of course, eating larger portion sizes at one sitting will not cause weight gain unless it contributes to a total eating pattern in which a person regularly consumes more calories than he or she expends in one day.

Learn more:

Answer Key: A = Medium banana, B = 1 cup vegetables (cooked or raw), C = 1/4 cup nuts, D = 3 oz. lean meat, E = Small baked potato


This content was last reviewed on 01/10/2013.


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