For many whose goal is to achieve a leaner body composition, the heart of the shift is a need for portion control. The aim is to enjoy regular, balanced meals and snacks; "regular" in timing and "regular" in portion size.
There are three common portion problems that can arise and make it hard for you to achieve your goals. One is over consuming total daily calories, the other is overeating from one nutrient group (i.e. carbohydrate), and the other is restricting meals or snacks throughout the day and overeating at night.
The terms portion size and serving size are often used interchangeably, yet they actually mean two different things. Serving size refers to measures of food as they relate to recommendations of the Canada's Food Guide. The term serving is also used on nutrition labels where a company indicates nutrient information relative to a specified serving. Note that food labelling allows companies to choose the listed serving size from a range of sizes and thus does not specifically reflect Canada's Food Guide servings. For the purpose of this article, unless otherwise indicated, comments on serving sizes will relate to those outlined by Canada's Food Guide.
In the other corner, portion size refers to the amount you choose to eat at a given snack or meal. There are no standards set for portion sizes. Your portion size is typically comprised of several servings.
When we compare serving recommendations for Canada's Food Guide, we see that depending on age and gender, adults require seven or more servings of vegetables and fruit, six to eight servings of grain products, two to three servings or milk or milk alternatives, and two to threee servings of meat and meat alternatives.
Redistribute these suggestions by combining vegetable and fruit with grains to give a total carbohydrate category. Then, construct a second category of dairy, meat and alternatives. The intent of making the adjustment is to maximize vegetables and fruit, moderate grain and dairy, while emphasizing adequate protein intake through meat and alternatives.
With categories combined, an adult then requires 13+ servings of carbohydrates and five to six servings of meat and alternatives (protein) over the course of the day.
It is how you consume these servings in your meals and snacks that make up your portions. For example, you can aim for two to three carb servings and one protein serving at each meal and snack.
Let's look at single serving sizes for foods rich in protein. Serving sizes for meat and fish are based on 100g (three ounces) and this looks like a 'deck of card' size or some say the palm of your hand. As palm sizes vary, a 'deck of card' size is standard and familiar. For eggs, the serving size is based on two eggs while beans and lentils servings are measured by one cup. The Canada Food Guide sets the servings for cheese as 1.5 ounces, which, is estimated by the size of two thumbs or two nine-volt batteries.
For some carbohydrates, the size of your fist (or a baseball) can be used to estimate a one-cup serving while for other carbs this would represent two servings. For carbohydrates from fruit, one medium (raw) fruit, 1/2 cup canned fruit or fruit juice each equal a single serving. For grains, one cup of cooked grain, 1/2 to one cup cold cereal, one slice of bread or half of a bagel equate to one serving each. For vegetables, one cup of leafy vegetables and 1/2 cup of chopped or dense veggies each measure one serving.
In practical terms, you should look at your meals and snacks, compare them to the recommendations above and see if your servings and portions match up. A dinner portion should resemble a deck of card size of chicken (or other meat) balanced with a baseball size of grain and a baseball size of broccoli. You can play around with the servings. For example, your baseball can be 1/2 grain and 1/2 squash. Lunch might look like a piece of bread, a deck of card of protein, 1/2 cup vegetables and a piece of fruit.
Take the time to look at your portions and think about what you really need.