Editors note: “A Better Life” is a weekly column by the USU Extension – Tooele Office that focuses on a variety of topics intended to enhance quality of life.
During the past 20 years, obesity among U.S. adults has risen significantly. According to the American Heart Association, about 35 percent of adult Americans are considered obese. It is estimated that another 30-35 percent of adult Americans are overweight.
Such numbers mean nearly 70 percent of the population falls in a health danger zone. Obesity can lead to problems like high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes. It increases the risk for heart disease, stroke and respiratory problems.
A large part of the problem is that our perception of portion sizes has changed. One striking example is spaghetti and meatballs. Here is how they differ:
Spaghetti and meatballs in 1999: 1 cup spaghetti with sauce and 3 small meatballs (500 calories)
Spaghetti and meatballs in 2019: 2 cups spaghetti with sauce and 3 large meatballs (1,025 calories)
As you can see, the amount considered a serving has more than doubled in many cases. Larger portions mean more calories and fat per serving. With larger portions being the new norm, how do we ensure we are eating the right amount? A good place to start is with MyPlate’s Daily Checklist. For the average adult following a 2,000-calorie diet, this checklist includes the following items to ensure you have a balanced diet.
• 2 cups of fruit daily. Focus on whole, fresh fruit before choosing juice. Whole fruits can include fresh, frozen, canned (in juice not syrup) or dried.
• 2 ½ cups of vegetables daily. Remember to vary your veggies by picking a variety of colors. Different colors mean you are getting a mixture of vitamins and nutrients. Also salad greens may seem to add up fast but you’d actually need to eat 5 cups of salad greens to equal 2 ½ cups of veggies.
• 6 ounces of grains. Try to make half your grains whole grains. Grains add up fast. One slice of bread or a single tortilla is considered 1 ounce. A hamburger or hotdog bun is 2 ounces. An average restaurant serving of pasta (2 cups) is actually 4 servings! Whole grain pasta, brown rice and whole wheat bread are easy places to make changes in your diet.
• 5 ½ ounces of protein. Vary your protein routine. Mix up your protein foods to include seafood, beans, unsalted nuts or seeds, soy products, eggs and lean meats and poultry. Remember 1 egg or 1 tablespoon of peanut butter counts as 1 ounce.
• 3 cups of dairy. Move to low-fat or fat-free milk or yogurt. Despite having less saturated fat, you’ll get the same amount of protein, vitamins, and minerals and in some cases you’ll actually get more.
• Limit sodium to 2,300 milligrams per day, saturated fat to 22 grams per day and added sugars to 50 grams per day.
By following the recommendations from MyPlate, you can feel confident that you are eating the right amount of the right kinds of foods. Caloric needs may vary.
Here are a few other tips you can follow to protect yourself from portion distortion:
• Track your food. If you don’t write it down, you may be over or under estimating how much you are eating from certain food groups.
• Use a smaller plate. If you use a large plate, you are likely to fill it right up and eat what is on the plate. If you use a smaller plate, there will be less food in front of you. You may find that you are satisfied with the smaller amount of food.
• Be smart when eating out. Opt to skip the appetizer and share your entree. Most times, an entree is large enough to split between two people. You can also ask for a box right when your food is served. Box up half of it to save for later.
• Avoid eating straight from the package. You are likely to eat more of a food item if you are eating it straight from the package. Try portioning out a small amount of the item into a food dish. Eat and enjoy, but avoid overeating.
• Drink plenty of water. Keeping your body hydrated will help you avoid filling up your belly with food when what it could really use is H2O.
• Bulk up your meals with veggies. Veggies will fill you up fast without a lot of calories.
• Eat slow. If you eat too fast you may miss your body’s cues telling you that it is satisfied. Slow down and enjoy each bite rather than rushing through meals.
• Turn off distractions. Focusing attention on things like cell phones, computers, and TVs will distract you from what you are eating. The distraction can cause you to eat larger portions. Instead, focus on your meal, how it smells, tastes, and feels.
• Use smart sweets. If you have a sweet tooth after most meals, try sipping on a cup of herbal tea or enjoying a piece of fruit rather than candy or a high calorie dessert.
• Don’t skip meals. In fact, consider snacking between meals. If you go too long without eating, you are likely to overeat at your next meal.
Make a goal today to be more aware of portion sizes. With a little practice, you’ll soon be a portion pro.
Sarah Patino is the Certified Nutrition Educator for Food Sense at the USU Extension – Tooele County office, which is located inside the Tooele County Health Department Building, 151 N. Main, Tooele. She can be reached at 435-277-2408 and at firstname.lastname@example.org.