Choose Your Portion With Caution!
Why is it important for me to watch the portions of food I eat?
Eating larger portions of food means you are taking in more energy (kilojoules) from food, which can lead to weight gain over time. This is one of the reasons why so many people in South Africa are overweight or obese. Being overweight can put you at risk for developing high blood pressure, strokes, diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers. To maintain a healthy weight, one should aim to balance the amount of food eaten (total energy) with regular physical activity.
What does portion size mean?
A portion is the amount of food that a person eats at one time. Different foods are needed in different amounts – for example, we need to eat more vegetables and fruit than we need to eat of foods containing fats. So portion sizes for fruit are different to portion sizes for foods containing fats. A serving size is a specific measured amount that is recommended. A portion can be more or less than a serving.
How do I know what correct portions are to eat?
You can use your hand to measure what a healthy portion size is. Adults can use the guidelines below and Table 1 to estimate healthy portion sizes for different food types.
Palm of your hand – Make protein food portions the size of your palm, which is about 90 g. Good choices include fish, chicken without the skin or lean red meats.
Tip of your thumb – Fats are important for health, but they’re also very dense in energy (kilojoules), so match fat portions to the tip of your thumb. Sources of healthy fats include avocados, olive or canola oil, nuts and seeds.
Clenched fist – Keep the portions of fruit, cooked vegetables and starchy foods, such as cooked rice, cooked pasta and potatoes to about the size of your clenched fist, which is equal to 1 cup. Remember to rather choose whole grain or high fibre options.
Thumb – Use the length of your thumb to measure the amount of hard cheese or peanut butter to use.
A handful – This is a good portion of raisins or unsalted nuts for a healthy snack, and two handfuls of home-made popcorn is also another great snack option.
How can I keep my portions in check?
- Before grabbing a snack, ask yourself if you’re truly hungry or if you’re reacting to your thirst, emotions or eating out of habit.
- Use smaller plates, containers, utensils, glasses and mugs that will make it look ‘fuller’. Plates with a darker-coloured rim can also help, since one will tend to only serve food on the lighter-coloured portion of the plate.
- Avoid being tempted by second and third helpings. Serve the right portion amounts on individual plates, instead of putting serving dishes on the table. Keeping excess food out of reach may discourage unintentional overeating.
- Be aware that your body may only experience feeling “full” sometime after eating your meal. Therefore, eat slowly, chew properly and pay attention to your body’s internal cues to avoid overeating. Do not eat in front of the TV as this may lead to being distracted and not paying attention to signals of becoming “full”, thereby leading to overeating.
- Many restaurants serve more food than is appropriate for one person. Control the amount of food that ends up on your plate by sharing a meal with a friend or asking the waiter to put half the meal in a “doggie bag” or “take away container”, before it is brought to the table. Alternatively order a salad and a starter as your main meal.
- If you don’t buy it you won’t be tempted to eat it. Keeping healthier foods within easy reach means you’ll eat more of those foods. Place fruit in a large bowl on the counter and serve cut vegetables as the family arrives home from school or work.
- Limit the intake of sugar-sweetened beverages (like fizzy drinks and sweetened juices) and replace with unflavoured water, maas or low-fat or fat-free milk.