Understanding Portion Sizes

Weight loss involves more than just being aware of what you're eating -- you also need to consider how much of it you are eating. That's where a good understanding of portion sizes can help. Many people are shocked to discover that the "serving size" listed on the label of the food they're eating is much smaller than the actual portion they are about to eat.

 

Why Are Food Portions Important?

Whether you are trying to lose weight, maintain your current weight, or simply improve your eating habits, it's important to understand food portions. This means that not only is it important to be aware of the types of food you are eating, but also how much you are eating at a time. Just because a food may be low in calories and fat, it doesn't mean you can't still put on weight if you eat a large quantity of it.
 
Before you skip over this article, thinking you already know what a serving size is and how to check the food label, just wait! While you may have a good understanding of what a serving size is for your foods, that doesn't necessarily help you figure out how many servings you should eat in one portion. Serving sizes and serving portions are different, and confusing them could make or break your diet.
 

Serving vs. Portion

So what's the difference between a serving and a portion? The serving size is the amount of food that's listed on the nutrition label. The portion size is the amount of food you "choose" to eat at one time.
 
For example, let's use a common favorite -- ice cream. If you grab that tub of ice cream out of the freezer and dish up around one cup, you may be thinking that's a serving. And if you're watching your waistline, that one cup may not look like much ice cream at all. The label may say that one serving of that ice cream is 200 calories, which is what you think you've eaten. However, if you take a close look at your ice cream's food label, you'll find that your one portion of ice cream was actually two servings -- or 400 calories.
 
So before you eat what would appear to be a single-serving size bag of chips, check to see if you may, in fact, be eating two or more serving sizes. The best way to know how much you are eating is to check the nutrition facts label on the product. However, it is important to understand that the serving size is not a suggested amount of food to eat. It is simply a way of informing you of how many calories and nutrients are in a certain amount of food.  
 
Not all foods come with a nutritional label -- fresh fruits and vegetables, for example. Fortunately, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a program called MyPlate that lets you check on these amounts. The MyPlate program is designed to inform you of how many "cups" of fruits and veggies are considered a serving.
 
(Click How to Read a Food Label for more information on what to look for when checking the nutritional facts labels on your products.)
 
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