Perryman/Nutrition Column – Portion Size a Plus for Heart Health

The American Heart Association, or AHA, has updated their dietary guidelines. The old guidelines previously published in 2000 stressed healthy eating, but "The new ones broaden that concept to include the importance of a healthy lifestyle," notes Alice Lichtenstein, chairman of the AHA Nutrition Committee.

Balancing the calories you eat against those you burn translates into watching portion sizes and including physical activity for weight control. "We wanted to address head-on the worsening obesity epidemic because of the impact on body weight on the risk of cardiovascular disease," Lichtenstein added.

In publishing the Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations for 2006, the AHA Nutrition Committee emphasized the need to make lifestyle changes. The emphasis is on adopting healthy eating patterns, not computing percentages of fat or other nutrients. Small changes made a little at a time are likely to be maintained over the long haul.

Portion size is a small change, but it’s a lifestyle choice that can make a big difference. As consumers, we’re challenged daily to remind ourselves that we don’t need to eat the whole thing. Huge portions served by restaurants, all-you-can-eat-buffets and extra-large, so-called single servings of chips, candy bars and other snack foods all contribute to overeating. There is some evidence that, once accustomed to these large portion sizes, we also overeat at home, but we’re not even aware we’re doing it. Just an extra 10 calories per day translates to one pound gained in one year. Make a conscious effort to downsize your portions, and at the rate of 10 calories per day, you’ll see a big difference in your body weight in the long run.

Do your heart a favor and avoid portion distortion by practicing these simple tips:

– Learn what normal portions look like so that you’ll know when to count something like a bakery jumbo bagel or muffin as two or three servings instead of one.

– Become aware of how much you’re eating by turning off the TV at home during meal time, and choose not to eat while driving or talking on the phone – all distractions.

– Today’s plates are larger, and that encourages us to eat more. Find a smaller plate. When you fill up a smaller plate, you’ll feel like you’re getting more.

– Do your heart a favor instead of your wallet and bypass the value-super-sized meals. Order a regular size instead of the mega-meal.

– Remember that caloric beverages in giant sizes can show up on the waistline. For just a few cents more, you can consume more calories than you might think. Pass up the good deal and purchase a smaller size drink. Better yet, drink calorie-free water more often.

– Learn how to read food labels. What is inside the package isn’t necessarily a single serving. The number of calories listed may be for two or more servings in spite of what you may be used to eating at one time. Do the math or, better yet, eat only one serving.

– Make it easy and measure out a single serving. It’s too tempting to just keep munching when you eat directly out of the bag.

– If you don’t want to give up the higher-fat condiment choices, like sour cream, mayonnaise, salad dressing or cream cheese, eat half the amount. That change alone will save a lot of calories.

– If you’re feeling deprived but don’t trust yourself to eat less of a favorite high-fat, high calorie food like ice cream, split one order between you and a friend.

The AHA Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations for 2006 are definitely worth reading in their entirety. For more details, visit the Web at


Shirley Perryman, M.S., R.D., Cooperative Extension Specialist, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, Colorado State University