Much like the scale readings or the waist circumferences of many Americans, the serving sizes of your beloved foods may be on the increase. Many American favorites such as french fries, hamburgers and sodas are two to five times larger than when they were first introduced. Think you're safe if you refrain from eating fast food? Guess again. Pasta, steaks, bagels and muffins have also become giants in comparison to their ancestors. So while your eyes may appreciate the size of a large meal, it's now time to listen to your stomach's satiety cues.
Why the Transformation?
"If a little is good then a lot is better" sometimes seems to be the food industry's mantra. They want you to believe that you are getting a big bang for your buck. Unfortunately, those who fall for their strategy may suffer weight gain and associated negative health issues such as heart disease, elevated cholesterol levels and diabetes. Knowing appropriate serving sizes and learning tricks to combat the urge to overeat meals can help you reach your health goals.
Serving Size Basics
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Determining proper serving sizes can take a little practice, but it's not hard. Begin by reading nutrition labels on packaged foods. The serving size will be found at the very top of the label, along with how many servings are in the package. If you are a visual learner, try physically placing the appropriate serving into a measuring cup or on your plate and commit it to memory. If your large dinner plate looks empty with the appropriate serving sizes, simply use a smaller plate -- just like the sizes of some foods, the typical dinner plate has increased over the years from 8 inches to 12 inches in diameter.
Simplify the Science
Using simple household items can help you remember proper serving sizes when you don't have time to measure or when you're eating out. A serving of meat should be about the size of a deck of cards. A computer mouse approximates the serving size for a baked potato. A 1/2-cup serving of ice cream or rice should be the size of a hockey puck. A serving of cheese is about the size of a die. A pancake should be about the diameter of a computer disc.
Dining Out Dilemmas
When you dine out, ask if you can split a meal with a companion or ask your server to pack up half the meal to go before your plate is delivered. Often you're allowed to order off the children's menu for free or a nominal fee; you also can look for designated heart-healthy options. Enjoy your meal and chew each bite slowly. It takes your stomach 15 to 20 minutes to sense that it is satisfied. Chewing more slowly will decrease your odds of ending up in a "food coma."
Lauren Daub is a registered dietitian working in school food service. She graduated from Texas A&M University with a bachelor's degree in nutritional sciences. Daub completed her dietetic internship at the Memphis VA Medical Center.