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Portion vs. Serving Size

As a nation, we're eating more calories than we admit to or even realize. We tend to suffer from a distorted view of portion and serving sizes. When asked, most people couldn't explain the differences between the two.

This is what they mean, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

PORTION - How much food you choose to eat, whether in a restaurant, from a package, or in your own kitchen.

SERVING - A standard amount set by the U.S. Government, or sometimes by others for recipes, cookbooks, or diet plans. Serving sizes are then broken down into two common standards.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Guide Pyramid shows the recommended number of servings to eat from each of five food groups every day to meet your nutrition needs. The pyramid also defines serving sizes.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Nutrition Facts label is printed on most packaged foods. It tells you how many calories, fat, carbohydrates, sodium, and other nutrients are in one serving of the food. The serving size is based on the amount of food people say they usually eat in one sitting. This size is often different than the serving sizes in the Food Guide Pyramid.

The problem happens when the PORTION size you're used to eating is larger than the standard SERVING size on the food package.

Take a look at a plastic 15.2 ounce bottle of Minute Maid Cranberry Apple Raspberry. It says right on the label 120 calories, but that's 120 calories PER SERVING (which is 8 oz.). The average PORTION a person drinks is the entire bottle (15.2 oz.). If you drink the entire bottle, you're really consuming almost 240 calories, not 120.

To help you better control your portions and keep them more in line with the serving size, here are suggestions you can try while eating at HOME.

  • If your food comes in a package that holds multiple servings, take ONE serving and put it on a plate. Put the package away and eat only the single serving.

  • Don't serve food "family style." Make up each plate in the kitchen and put extra food away.

  • Don't eat in front of the TV. Savor the taste and smell of your food without interruption.

  • Eat slowly. Your brain takes a few minutes to get the message once your stomach is full.

  • If you eat seconds, go for vegetables and salads instead of higher-calorie meats and desserts.

  • Freeze food you don't plan on serving right away in individual meal-sized containers. Then you won't eat everything, "before it goes bad."

  • Eat several small meals throughout the day to maintain energy levels, and always eat breakfast. If you skip meals, you're more likely to eat high-calories and high-fat foods when you get hungry.

  • If you eat dessert, limit yourself to one serving.

How to control your portions while eating OUT.

  • Avoid all-you-can-eat buffets.

  • Order an appetizer as a main meal, ask for a half portion or share your dinner.

  • Ask for half your meal to be wrapped up before you start eating. Take it home for later.

  • STOP eating when you feel full.

  • Don't order large beverages unless you chose calorie-free drinks like diet soda, unsweetened tea or water with lemon.

  • Don't "super-size" anything because it's a bargain. Your health is more important.

  • At fast-food restaurants, choose the salad without dressing, grilled chicken, diet soda or fat-free milk. Skip the fries or order a child-size.

Track your food for a week. People almost always underestimate how much they eat. Next time I see you, I want you to know how much YOU'RE eating.

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