Maintaining a healthy weight is not only about what you eat, but how much you eat. While there are some general guidelines about portion size, it actually differs for everyone. Gender, size, age and activity level all impact metabolic rate, or the rate at which you turn food into energy, and that rate determines appropriate portion sizes. In addition, more sleep and hydration will improve your body’s ability to convert food into fuel.
What determines healthy portion size?
As for what you should be eating, here are the suggested ranges for adults by food group:
- Carbohydrates: 45-65% of calories
- Fat: 20-35% of calories
- Protein: 10-35% of calories
The Mayo Clinic has a tool that allows you to personalize how much of each food group you should eat based on gender, age, height, weight, how much you exercise and whether your goal is to lose or maintain weight.
But what is a food portion?
A healthy portion also depends on what the food is. One portion of protein should be about the size of a deck of cards, while one portion of fat is two teaspoons, or the size of two dice. For carbohydrates, one-half cup is frequently one portion, again depending on what exactly the food is, and is often compared to the size of a hockey puck.
Measuring food is important too. Whether with a food scale or measuring cups, eyeballing it may not be your best gauge. Look at a package to see what the serving size is and set that amount aside to ensure that you don’t overeat.
Another way to think about portions is to consider nutritional density. If a food has minimal nutrients, that food’s portion size should be smaller. With good-for-you foods, it is generally OK to eat portions that are a little larger.
A portion is not what is put in front of you. Restaurants often serve huge meals on oversized plates, to provide the appearance of giving patrons a great value. Yet, the “value” is usually only in the quantity; you may be getting three to four portions of calories, added fat, sugar and salt if you eat the whole thing.
You can begin with the above recommendations, but at the end of the day, it is you who needs to experiment with what you eat and the portion sizes, and see how you feel. Did you gain weight or lose weight? Do you feel like you have enough energy, or do you feel lethargic? Then, once you assess your situation, you can refine your foods and amounts until you determine your optimal diet and portion sizes.
If you are within reach of your target weight, let hunger be your guide. If you feel too hungry, eat a slightly larger portion of whole foods instead. It’s better to have a larger meal than to pig out on junky snacks that may not be your best choices.
Good nutrition is one of the key components of healthy living. Yet, what people put in their mouths, and how much, seems to be ignored as food choices have expanded; they lead busier lives, and many have replaced cooking with quick and convenient choices.
Spend a moment before you eat appreciating how the food in front of you will nourish you.
Eating too fast distorts our sense of being full, and that means we “inhale” larger portions before our bodies catch up. Consider starting with a drink of water to begin to fill your belly. Perhaps move on to vegetables to continue to satiate your hunger. Slow down, and chew more.
Being more mindful about what you are eating, and the quantity, will help you maintain a healthy weight, keep you energized to do what you like to do and allow your body to function at a higher level.