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Portion, Calories, Servings...OH MY!

Posted Feb 17 2010 8:36am

No matter how much info is on the internet, I think people will always be confused on portions and serving sizes.
A portion is how much food you choose to eat.
A serving is the amount that is used to calculate a food's nutritional value.
The Food Pyramid tells us to eat 6-11 servings of carbohydrates/day and 2-4 servings of fruit a day, for example.
The following are suggested servings of carbs and fruit that I found on the internet*1 slice bread
*1/2 whole grain/wheat bagel
*1/2 cup pasta (choose whole wheat more often)
*1/2 cup brown rice or bulgur or couscous
*3/4 cup cooked oatmeal
*2.3 ounce sweet potato or white potatoes
*3/4-1 cup cereal (although servings of cereal vary)
* 1 small fresh fruit (4 ounces)
* 1/2 cup canned fruit
* 1/4 cup dried fruit (2 tablespoons)
* 1 cup melon, berries
* 2 tablespoons raisins
* 1/2 cup fruit juice

Here is a less complicated and more accurate guide to serving sizes from Consumer Reports on Health1 serving of cereal, milk, yogurt, raw leafy vegetables, soup = 1 cup
1 serving of cooked beans, pasta, rice, fruit or fruit juice, most veggies = 1/2 cup
1 serving of cooked fish, meat or poultry = 3 ounces
1 serving of cheese, nuts, snack foods (chips, pretzels, tortilla chip) = 1 ounce
1 serving of jam, jelly, salad dressing = 1 tbsp
1 serving of butter, margarine, oil = 1 tsp

As you can see, serving sizes can be confusing and a bit misleading. While a serving of bread may be 1 slice, there are so many brands of bread to choose from, with a different caloric value for each brand. Also, when it comes to nuts, some nuts are more calorically dense than others.

If you are seeking weight loss or athletic performance benefits, it's important that you focus on your portions, calories and servings. While you may, at first, notice a decrease in weight from decreasing your portions thus decreasing your total calories, it's probably more important that you focus on how many calories are in the servings of food that you choose and how many servings you may need to feel satisfied.
For example, if you are choosing a 'light' piece of bread, at 40 calories, rather than a piece of 100% whole wheat bread at 100 calories, you are certainly decreasing calories. However, if it takes you 4 pieces of bread to feel satisfied (4 servings) it is likely that you would benefit more from giving yourself the higher calorie food.

I think it is great that so many people are watching portions, calories and servings. All 3 will help you perform better with your fitness/training routine and will help you with your weight loss journey. More often than not, if you are consistent and conscious with your eating habits and exercise routine, you will find it very easy to stick to a healthy lifestyle for many years to come. However, a healthy lifestyle isn't about exercising a lot and eating low calorie foods (wow-I sure say that phrase a lot). Although I believe in low-er calorie diets, I believe in balanced meals, filled with fruits, veggies, quality protein, complex/high fiber carbs and healthy fats.
When trying to create a healthy eating routine, balanced with the items that I listed above, I think people avoid many healthy foods because of the serving sizes listed on the food label.
For example, many people choose fat-free cheese or reduced fat shredded cheese instead of the regular version because the calories are much lower on the package of the "reduced" version. However, just because the serving size is 1/4 cup, doesn't mean that you need to eat 1/4 cup. Sometimes, choosing 2 tbsp of real cheese, as opposed to 1/4 cup of fat-free cheese, is much more satisfying and filling. I would rather see people choosing sugar-free/fat-free versions of toppings/spreads/dressings (ex. jams, mayo, cream cheese, dressings, dips, syrup, etc.) to reduce calories, fat and sugar than choosing fat-free/low calorie/sugar-free ice cream, breads, cheeses, chips, crackers, etc. I believe strongly that people choose the fat-free/sugar-free versions of their favorite foods so that they can continue to eat processed foods but without the guilt of eating a lot calories, fat or sugar. When you seek lower calorie processed foods over the higher calorie alternatives, sure you are making "healthier" choices to reduce fat, calories and sugar. However, I find that for many people, there is no conscious effort to focus on fruits, veggies, healthy fats, complex carbs or quality protein IN PLACE of the processed foods that you crave on a daily basis. Therefore, rather than eating a piece of fruit instead of a serving of chips, you just choose a lower-calorie chip so that you don't have to break your chip-eating habit.

To help you reduce your fear of popular calorie-dense foods, I thought I would reduce the portions for you and give you calories, in an effort to help you add more healthy foods to your diet.

1 almond = 7 calories
1 whole walnut (in shell) = 26 calories
1/2 ounce part-skim cheese = 35 calories
1 dry roasted peanut = 6 calories
1/2 tbsp natural PB = 50 calories
1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil = 60 calories
1 pistachio = 4 calories


Although natural sweeteners like Truvia, Splenda and Stevia are becoming really popular in the American diet, people still choose sugar-substitutes like sweet n' low and equal in order to "sweeten" up the diet and reduce calories.
I don't use sweeteners in my recipes or coffee but I do use low-sugar jelly on my PB&J sandwich. Just my personal decision.
It's always good to know what you are choosing to use or avoid (depending on how your body tolerates sugar) so here are the calories in sugars1 tsp granulated sugar = 16 calories
1 packet of sugar = 23 calories
1 tsp packed brown sugar = 17 calories
1 tsp light brown sugar = 15 calories
1 tsp cane sugar = 15 calories
1 tsp turbinado sugar = 15 calories
1 tsp Splenda sugar for baking = 20 calories
1 Equal Sweetener = 5 calories
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