Nutrition Column – Portion Size Matters

From dinner plates to soft drinks to french fries, super-sizing seems to be the name of the game these days.

In the 1950s, a serving of McDonald’s french fries was about 2 ounces. Today, a serving of french fries at most fast-food restaurants is two to three times that size. Likewise, a 1950s fast-food hamburger was about 1 ounce; today, hamburgers usually range from 4 to 10 ounces in weight. Soft drinks used to come in 7-ounce bottles, then 12-ounce ones. Today, 16- and 20-ounce bottles are common.

Fast-food restaurants have even gotten into super-sizing their already enhanced portion sizes. For them it makes good business sense – customers think they’re getting a good deal, and the company is getting another 39 cents from an order just by further pumping up the size of the fries and soft drink.

Supersizing is not just limited to fast food places. The next time you purchase a packaged bagel, muffin or cookie, check out the number of servings supposedly contained in the product, which sometimes may be as many as three or four servings. Even the dinner plates and drinking glasses available on the market today tend to be larger than those sold 20 years ago.

So what is a serving, why is it important to think about serving size and how do you judge a regular serving from a supersized one? Nutrition Facts labels and most dietary recommendations are based on standard serving sizes. In the Food Guide Pyramid, the recommended number of servings per food group varies to accommodate for individual needs, but the size of a single serving remains the same. For example, six to 11 servings of breads, cereal, rice, pasta and other grains are recommended daily, with a "serving" being the equivalent of a 1-ounce slice of bread. A small bagel thus consists of two servings. Many of the bagels sold in specialty shops today contain even more – as many as four servings from the "bread group" in a single bagel.

Serving size savvy: Recognizing appropriate serving sizes is as important as knowing how many servings you need. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when selecting your serving sizes.

  • One-half cup of fruit, vegetables, pasta or rice equals a small fist.
  • Three ounces of cooked meat, poultry or fish equals a deck of cards.
  • One ounce of cheese equals four dice.
  • One teaspoon of margarine or butter equals a thumb tip.
  • One serving of snack foods (pretzels, chips) equals a small handful.

Portion-control tips:

  • In restaurants, eat half of the entrée and take the rest home to refrigerate and enjoy the next day.
  • Avoid "super-sizing" meals at fast food restaurants.
  • Use smaller plates and bowls at home. It will look like you are eating more.
  • Buy smaller packages of candy, popcorn and chips.
  • Eat slower and savor your food. It takes about 20 minutes for your stomach to signal your brain that you are full.

Learning to recognize and control portion sizes is a crucial step in having a nutritious diet and healthy lifestyle. If on occasion you overdo it at a meal, balance out your food choices by eating less at the next meal and/or increasing your physical activity.