1. Understand food labels.
Did you know that 4 grams of sugar equals 1 teaspoon? Just knowing this one equation was a revolution for me! Food labels are confusing or present units of measure that are often unfamiliar to us. When I look at labels now, for example, on a package of granola (even organic and natural), and see that is has 12 grams of sugar per serving, I ask myself if would sprinkle 3 teaspoons of sugar on my cereal?
In May 2016, the FDA announced that it will issue new food labels to reflect updated health and nutrition information. One significant change is that the amount of added sugar in the total sugar will be noted, but there is still no translation of grams to a measuring spoon, an everyday tool, so it still leaves most people in the dark. For the overall serving size on the new labels, grams will be translated into a measuring cup size, e.g. 55 grams is 2/3 cup and this will be very helpful. Certainly, some progress here, but it took 20 years to change this label, and it will be another 2 years until we see them. I think it best to take some action ourselves!
What about foods that don’t come with packaging? How can we assess healthy portions? I always recommend to my clients that they keep a set of measuring spoons and cups on their counter. They each come with 4 sizes. Realizing what a serving is, rather than pouring it freely from a container is really eye opening. With practice, you develop a visual sense of portions and this is the key to portable and reliable portion control wherever you may be.
3. Proportion your meals.
Building a nutritious plate for any meal is not only about portions, it's about proportions, as well.
A great plate template is:
- 2/4 of the plate: veggies (1 – 2 cups)
- ¼ of the plate: a whole grain (½ cup)
- ¼ of the plate: a protein (3 ounces or ½ cup of legumes).
Look to always include the farmacy in your meals with fresh produce, which provides micro-nutrients and brings up the fiber. We need these! Applied to breakfast or a snack, bring up the fresh produce and fiber, rather than relying on sugars, simple starches or fat for the majority of the meal. Americans have been eating dessert for breakfast for years, e.g. a pile of pancakes topped with a few berries, dripping with maple syrup. Switch the proportions and try a bowl of berries with nuts and on the side of a whole grain pancake and a measured teaspoon of maple syrup. For a snack, have you ever found yourself dipping a spoon aimlessly into a peanut butter jar until it is empty? Try including a piece of fruit, a celery stick or whole grain cracker with a measured tablespoon of peanut butter.
Getting to know portions and proportions takes some practice, but it's well worth it!