"Diet." What a terrible word. As you probably know, diets do not work long term for most. Often, we plan a diet and realize that the restrictions are heavy, and it is not sustainable. Living a healthy lifestyle is all about tangible change that can be implemented over the course of your entire life. This is where portion control comes in handy. Knowing how much of what to eat can help you plan healthy meals and avoid overeating. In this explanation, serving size and portion are considered synonymous and are used interchangeably. Here's a little crash course on how to control your portions and create a balanced plate at each meal.
An Approach that Requires Zero Tools
***Disclaimer: I am not a registered dietitian or certified nutritionist, which means I am not qualified to tell you how much you should eat, or when. These portions and serving sizes are based on the general recommendations from the USDA. If you have a health condition, or struggling with an eating disorder, please consult a professional before following the guidelines below.***
There is a wide variety of foods that fall into the protein category such as, red meat, poultry, seafood, beans, eggs, and peas. According to the USDA, the amount of protein a person needs varies from 2 ounces per day to 6.5 ounces per day. Those who are physically active need to consume more protein than those who get less than 30 minutes of activity per day. Although people generally eat enough protein, they often struggle with choosing leaner options. When creating a balanced plate, you should pay attention to how big your portions are. For meat based proteins, your palm is close to 3 ounces of meat based protein. If you cup your hand, that is close to one serving of plant based protein, which is measured at one half cup.
Read more about protein on the USDA's website, here. If you are having trouble consuming enough protein in your diet, you can reference the protein food gallery list. Looking at a full range of protein options may allow you to find something different to cook or a protein that is versatile enough to eat with most meals.
I say greens, but really this can be any vegetable. This food group has a wide variety of options, which makes it very easy to eat a variety. The recommended amount of vegetables varies from 2-3 cups a day for adults. This portion size is very easy. Ball your hand into a fist, and that is about the size of one cup. When measuring leafy greens, use two fists for one portion. Be sure to mix a variety of vegetables into your diet. Dark leafy greens, red and yellow veggies, starchy vegetables like potatoes should be included in your weekly vegetable spread. Read more about vegetable intake and find how many servings you should eat on the USDA website.
Fruits and Carbs:
These two groups are only lumped together because of they have the same portion size. Fruit, whole fruit that is, has natural sugars and fiber that can help boost your digestion. When choosing fruit to put into your diet, focusing on whole fruit is best. Whole fruit does not have added sugars and preservatives like canned fruit or individual fruit cups. Fruit is rich in vitamins and low in sodium and fat. Most adults need 2 cups of fruit per day. The amount of fruit that can fit in your cupped palm is about a half cup. A simple hack to upping your fruit intake is to keep a small bowl of fruit on the counter, center of the table, or in the fridge. It will serve as a quick grab and go snack. Here you can find a whole list of fruits. Try a few new ones, or look up what is in season. Buying fruit that is in season is often cheaper and you will get a better quality taste from them.
Carbohydrates are often seen as the foods that make you gain a lot of weight. The truth is that if you overeat any nutrient, you will gain. Carbs are easily available as they are often found in junk food, so naturally they are labeled the enemy. When we were kids, we learned the food pyramids and "carbs" weren't on it. The food group I am talking about was called "grains," and it still is, really. There are two types of grains. One is whole grain, which includes whole wheat flour, oatmeal, and brown rice. These grains are unaltered and contain all of the natural fibers. Refined grains are the second type and they have been altered to improve their shelf life. Refining the grain removes the natural fiber, vitamin B, and iron. Examples of refined grains are white flour, white rice, and white bread. Vitamin B and iron are sometimes added back into the grain during processing, but fiber is not. Most adults need 6 to 8 ounces of grains per day. One ounce is the equivalent to half a cup of cooked rice or pasta, or one slice of bread. The amount of cooked pasta or rice that would fit in your cupped palm would be about one ounce or half a cup. Be sure that over half of the grains you consume in the day are whole grains. This will ensure that you receive enough fiber in your diet. You can read more about the health benefits and nutrients of carbs here.
Healthy and Unhealthy Fats:
Last but not least, fats, or oils, as the USDA calls them. Fats come with two different portion sizes as they are placed into two separate categories. For the sake of simplicity, the first category is labeled "healthy fat" and the second is labeled "not so healthy fat." Healthy fats are unsaturated and provide nutrients that lower your cholesterol, are healthy for your heart, and lower you blood pressure. Omega 3 and Omega 6 are considered healthy fats that you can find in fish. The most common examples of healthy fats are avocados, peanut butter, nuts, olives, and some oils like canola, flaxseed, and olive. To measure out healthy fats, you will use your entire thumb. This is the equivalent of one tablespoon. The general recommendation is that each adult should eat about 2 tablespoons of fat per day. This recommendation is for healthy fats, of course, as unhealthy fat should be avoided in your diet.
When using unhealthy fat in your diet, the guideline is different than when you are using healthy fat. The portion size for unhealthy fat is the equivalent to the tip of your thumb. Mayonnaise, vegetable oil, and, butter are included in unhealthy fats. Any food that is high in trans fat or saturated fat should be limited in your diet because they are high in LDL, the bad type of cholesterol, and will increase your risk for heart disease. There is no recommendation for how much unhealthy fat you should eat, however, being mindful of how much you are consuming is much easier when you measure out your portion, rather than slapping as much butter on toast as possible. Limiting the amount of fat you eat aids in limiting the amount of calories you consume per day. Be mindful that not all fats need to be cut out completely, but there are certainly healthy options to choose from. Check out ChooseMyPlate.gov to read more about oils, and their nutrient content.
I understand that it can be very hard to find nutrition advice that is trustworthy, believable, and serves you for the long term. In our culture of fad diets, lose weight quick schemes, and 30 day detoxs, it can be overwhelming to find sources that aren't just trying to sell you a product. My advice is to start simple. I referenced ChooseMyPlate.gov this entire post because it teaches you the basics, includes recipes, and resources so that you can gain a well-rounded understanding of nutrition. Although eating is a science, it does not have to turn into an overly complicated one. Following basic portion control measures, such as the ones listed above, can be a stepping stone for you on your nutritional journey. In some instances, you may not know exactly how many calories a food is worth, but by using this eye balling method, you can get a closer guess.
Palm of your hand = 3 ounces
Fist = 1 cup
Cupped palm= 1/2 cup
Thumb= 1 tablespoon
If you are unsure, or cannot remember what the portion guidelines are, save the graphics above to your phone. Favorite them or make an album for them so you have a quick reference guide when you need it. You can always use the Choose My Plate App or Lose It to better track your nutritional habits, but this zero tool portion control is a great place to start, as well!
To you, my Maiden Friend!