"My doctor has advised me to give up those intimate little dinners for four, unless there are three other people eating with me."
The other day a colleague told me about a government website with an interactive quiz comparing today’s portions to typical portions 20 years ago, including both calories and the amount of physical activity it takes to burn those calories. As someone who has always prided myself on my ability to count calories in my head, I looked forward to the challenge. Suffice it to say, I am no longer so confident in my calorie-estimating talents.
(If your ego can take it, give it a try at http://hin.nhlbi.nih.gov/portion/.)
The supersizing of food and its effect has certainly gotten plenty of notice. One estimation is that servings in U.S. restaurants are two to 10 times the size of those recommended by the U.S. Food Guide Pyramid. Moreover, according to a 2001 survey by the American Institute for Cancer Research, this doesn’t stop 67 percent of Americans from finishing their meals most of the time. This Clean Plate Club attitude is clearly one cause of our ever-expanding national waistline.
The supersizing of soft drinks is a perfect example (and the only question I was confident about in the online quiz). A 12-ounce can of regular soda (already an increase from the original 6.5-ounce bottle) contains 150 calories, while the 20- to 36-ounce mega-cups typically purchased at the movies can climb from 300 to 450 calories.
And although certainly not limited to fast food restaurants, a regular meal can easily turn into mega-calories when it is supersized. Here’s what happens to a typical burger combination:
REGULAR MEAL (regular burger, regular fries and 16-ounce soft drink)
Approximately 625 calories
About 4 tsp. of fat (19 grams)
SUPER COMBO (double burger with cheese, supersize fries and drink)
About 17 tsp. of fat (84 grams)
3/4 cup sugar
A recent Tufts University Health and Nutrition Letter reported that restaurants serve some entrées with an entire days worth of what the Food Guide Pyramid considers grain and meat servings. For example, an order of spaghetti and meatballs at Olive Garden equals 10 servings of grains and 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 servings of meat.
And when it comes to “imported foods,” once they are Americanized so too is their size:
The American croissant contains about 100 more calories than the average one in France.
When the bagel first arrived from Poland, it weighed 1 1/2 ounces and contained 116 calories. Today’s American bagel is about triple the size and contains over 300 calories (or as much as 4 slices of bread).
In Mexico, a cheese quesadilla is a 5-inch tortilla estimated at 540 calories. The American version is generally 10 inches and contains over 1,200 calories.
But enough of this discouraging news. If you’re putting on pounds -- or aim to take them off -- check those portion sizes. (And remember, just an extra 100 calories daily beyond your needs can lead to a weight gain of 10 pounds a year.)
To estimate your food intake based on “serving sizes,” here are some ways to visualize how much you’re really getting (without having to weigh or measure):
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Since hands and fingers vary from person to person, think of a modest size individual. And remember, these are only guides.)
Breads, Grains and Cereals
1/2 cup cooked cereal or grain = cupcake wrapper full
1 cup cooked pasta or grain = a walkman, tennis ball, man's fist
2 cups pasta or grain = a full outstretched hand
1 cup dried cereal = large handful
1 slice bread = audiocassette tape
1 pancake = compact disc (CD)
1/2 cup cut up vegetables = tennis ball, light bulb
1 cup cut up vegetables = man's fist
1/2 cup serving = 6 asparagus spears; 7 or 8 baby carrots or carrot sticks
1 medium potato = computer mouse
1 cup lettuce = 4 lettuce leaves
1 cup salad = baseball, man's fist
1 medium fruit = tennis ball, man's fist
1/2 cup cut-up fruit = 7 cotton balls, 15 marbles
1 cup fruit = baseball, man's fist
1/2 cup grapes = 15 grapes
Milk & Dairy Foods
1 oz. cheese = 4 dice, your thumb
1 1/2 oz. natural cheese = 3 dominoes, a 9-volt battery, bar of hotel soap, your index and middle fingers
1/2 cup ice cream = tennis ball
1 cup ice cream = baseball
Meat and Nonmeat Proteins
1 oz. meat = match box or floppy diskette
3 oz. meat = deck of cards, cassette tape
4 oz. meat = palm of the hand
3 oz. grilled or baked fish = checkbook
3 oz. cooked chicken = a chicken leg and thigh or breast
1 tsp. peanut butter = tip of finger to first joint
1 Tbsp. peanut butter = tip of thumb to first joint, 1 dice
2 Tbsp. peanut butter = ping pong ball
1 cup beans = baseball
Concentrated Fats and Other High-Fat Foods
1 tsp. butter, oil, salad dressing, mayonnaise = tip of finger to first joint
1 Tbsp. butter, oil, salad dressing, mayonnaise = tip of thumb to first joint, one dice
2 Tbsp. butter, oil, salad dressing, mayonnaise = ping pong ball
1 oz. chips or pretzels = one modest handful
1/3 cup chips, crackers or popcorn = woman's handful
1/2 cup chips, crackers or popcorn = man's handful
Concentrated Sugars and Other Sweetened Foods
one slice cake = width of two fingers
wedge pie = width of three fingers
1/2 cup = small fruit bowl, custard cup, mashed potato scoop
1 1/2 cups = large cereal/soup bowl, dinner on a dinner plate (not heaped)
4 oz. liquid = tea cup, small juice glass
8 oz. liquid = water glass
Nikki Goldbeck is a New York State Certified Dietitian-Nutritionist and the author/co-author, along with husband David, of eight books. The recipes in their cookbooks are for reasonable size portions. You can learn more about her work at Bodybuilding Forum - Supplement Review - Anabolic Minds.