Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Take control of portions

How much you eat matters as much as what you eat

By Chris Swingle
Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle

Americans have a peculiar clean-your-plate approach to food, and the more food on our plates, the more we eat.

In the early 1900s, the average dinner plate was 7 inches wide. Today it's 10 inches or more. The typical restaurant now uses 12-inch plates. It's no wonder people's sense of a serving is out of whack.

New American Plate.
• Portion Distortion quiz from the National Institutes of Health.
Most restaurant dinners could feed a family: huge bowls of pasta, steaks that fill the plate, refilled drinks. At home, Americans make the same mistakes, dishing up way more than recommended portions.

That bowl of breakfast cereal, if you haven't measured it out, probably contains two or three servings - and all the extra fat, calories and sugar.

"Americans tend to focus on what they eat rather than the amount," says Sue Grace, a registered dietitian and nutrition program leader at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Monroe County, N.Y. "We need to balance both."

• A serving of cooked pasta is just one-half cup, about 32 strands of spaghetti, or the amount that fits in an ice cream scoop. It's not that you can't have more; just measure up how many servings you're actually eating. The federal food guide pyramid recommends eating six to 11 servings per day of grains, including bread, cereal, rice and pasta.

• One portion of cooked meat or poultry is 3 ounces, which is the size of a deck of cards or the palm of your hand (no fingers). A serving of fish, being lighter, is about the size of a checkbook. The food pyramid calls for two to three daily servings total from the meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs and nuts group.

• Go for fruits the size of a tennis ball or your fist, and vegetables - a baseball-sized amount of raw ones or an ice-cream scoop of cooked veggies. The pyramid calls for three to five vegetable servings a day and two to four fruit servings.

• Milk and yogurt (fat-free, of course): one 8-ounce cup. Low-fat cheese: just 1 ounce, no more than a pair of dice. Per day, aim for two to three dairy servings.

• That leaves fats, oils and sweets, which should be used sparingly. How spare? A serving of low-cal mayonnaise is 1 teaspoon, or the size of two tea bags. A slice of cake should be 3-by-3 inches, or the size of a stack of sticky notes.

Another way to think of healthy proportions comes from the American Institute for Cancer Research. Its New American Plate model suggests each meal should be two-thirds plant-based, such as vegetables, whole grains and beans. The other third can be protein, such as meat, eggs or beans.

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