Cut a serving down to size

It's not always what you eat but how much that can hurt your waistline


Published: Wednesday, January 12, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 11, 2005 at 10:58 p.m.

Value-size. Super-size. Biggie.

Big portions, big people.

Twenty years ago, a serving of french fries was about a third the size served now. Spaghetti? Half the size. From the innocuous turkey sandwich to jumbo sweetened coffee drinks and bagels on steroids, so many foods have gotten bigger. So have our waistlines.

The culprit? Portion distortion. Normal sizes look puny; super-size looks about right. And when given more food, most people eat more, rather than stopping when they feel full. Adults take in about 13 percent more calories than they did three decades ago, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

What is a normal portion?

We've put together a visual guide of what passes for normal and what the right size really is. The smaller portions provide the daily calorie requirement for a sedentary woman in her 30s or 40s. Sedentary men that age can add 400 calories a day. In your 20s? Add another 200 calories. Subtract 200 calories daily if you're 50 or older.

What we're showing isn't an ideal diet - it's far too high in saturated fat, added sugar and refined grains, and far too low in fruits and vegetables. But it's typical of what many Americans eat during the day, and of the foods commonly available in restaurants and vending machines.

Even eating these kinds of foods, it's possible to keep calories under control.

Tips on sizing

  • Know what you're getting. Check a restaurant's Web site for nutrition information, or ask before ordering. Panera Bread and Ruby Tuesday are among a handful of fast-casual restaurants that provide nutrition information for all their offerings

  • If you're ordering at a restaurant, request that half your meal be placed in a takeout container before it's served to you and save it for the next day's lunch.

  • Use visual cues. A serving of meat should be no bigger than a deck of cards; a portion of pasta, about the size of a tennis ball; an ounce of cheese (1 serving), about four dice.

  • Fill up on fruits and vegetables, especially vegetables. You'll get beneficial nutrients, antioxidants and a full stomach. Just make sure they're not covered in a calorie-rich sauce or salad dressing

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