Portion distortion in America is one of the main reasons why 70 percent of our country is considered overweight or obese. A review published in the Journal of Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition showed that when people are presented with larger portions, they consumed more despite hunger levels and what their bodies actually needed for nourishment.
All foods (even the healthy ones), when eaten in excess, will cause weight gain. The odds, and pancakes, are certainly stacked against us.
The good news: We can learn the right portions and how to eyeball them, despite what restaurants are serving up. Here are the top 5 foods that we are eating totally wrong and how to eat them right:
Most people consider an 8-ounce petit filet mignon to be just that, petite. In reality, the proper portion of proteins like meat, fish, or poultry is only 3-4 ounces, which is equivalent in size to a deck of playing cards or the palm and thickness of your hand.
The type of protein is important to take into consideration too. Lean proteins like 90 percent lean ground beef, poultry without skin, egg whites, and shellfish are much less caloric per ounce than medium-fat proteins (think poultry with skin, pork cutlet, whole eggs, meat loaf, and regular cheeses) and high-fat proteins (bacon, certain cheeses like cheddar and brie, hot dogs, sparerib, and chorizo sausage). Protein should not be the main star of your plate. At your next meal, stick with leaner proteins, and fill only a fourth to a third of your plate with it, enjoy alongside salad, cooked veggies, and whole grains.
Avocado is becoming a staple at the brunch table and although perceived as health food, portions are way out of control. Avocado is considered a fat, and while it may be a “healthy fat” it is still a more concentrated source of calories when compared to protein and carbohydrates.
In fact, fats contain 9 calories per gram, which is more than double the 4 calories per gram that protein and carbs have. What does this mean for you? It means your beloved avocado toast which packs an entire avocado atop a thick slice of bread may not be as appropriate for weight loss as you may think. A serving of avocado is one fifth of an avocado, or about a 50-calorie portion--not a whole avocado. So that avocado toast comes in at around 400 calories and that's not including the mimosa or whatever else you are consuming during that brunch.
The main thing to keep in mind here is there is a difference between healthy and healthy for weight loss; and for weight loss you should be sticking to that one-fifth serving size. Next brunch outing, swap your avocado toast for scrambled egg whites with spinach and low-fat cheese and one serving of avocado on top of whole wheat toast or high fiber crackers.
When perusing a menu, even seasoned dieters tend towards kale and quinoa bowls. And, when they are trying to be “good” with their diets, will eat foods like sushi, which certainly feels like a lighter option. However, grains like rice and quinoa may not be as innocent as they appear. The serving size for both rice (whether it be brown or white) and quinoa is 1/3 cup. 1/3 cup is equivalent in grams of carbohydrates (and energy) to one slice of bread. Translation: a quinoa bowl (which typically contains 2 cups of quinoa) has the equivalent carbs of 6 SLICES OF WHITE BREAD, and that’s before adding the chickpeas. At the sushi bar, that small 6-piece maki order is equivalent to almost 3 slices of bread! Make that a meal with two rolls and some edamame and you are approaching 7 slices of bread in carbs. Try a Naruto Roll for sushi or limiting yourself to one roll plus extra sashimi. And when it comes to the quinoa bowl, turn it into two meals or ask for half the grain, double the green.
Because fruits are touted for their positive health benefits, people often feel they can eat unlimited amounts, even for if they’re watching their weight. However, as delicious and undoubtedly nutritious as fruits may be, they do contain a fair amount of carbohydrates and sugar. This is problematic for the weight conscious because any carbohydrate (whether an apple, a French baguette or a donut) eaten in excess of what the body can store will get converted into fat.
One serving of fruit is 15g of carbohydrates, so in terms of bananas, that’s a half of a small one, in terms of grapes, that’s about 17. The visual cues are tough with fruits, 1 large medjool date, 1 cup of raspberries and 1 cup of watermelon are all each 1 serving of fruit (and thus contain 15g carbohydrates). An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but more than one apple, a banana, some grapes, a little papaya and a melon to top it all off, and you’re looking at whole lot more sugar than you probably bargained for. Keep your carbohydrates in check and stick to 2 servings of fruit per day.
Not to be pessimistic, but when it comes to proper portions of fruit juices, the glass is literally and figuratively half empty. That’s because the serving size for most juices is a 1/2 cup. An average American drinking glass is 12 oz, so that’s only 1/3 of the glass!
Moreover, drinking does not have the same effect on satiety that eating does, so it’s unlikely that guzzling those extra calories and carbohydrates will even do much to fill you up. Bottom line, whether you’re choosing between orange juice vs a whole orange, or apple juice versus an apple, the whole fruit is always your best bet.
Fun fact: The proper serving size of a bagel is 2 ounces.
Scary fact: A New York style bagel is 6-7 ounces.
Sad fact: a proper serving of a New York City bagel would mean you’re splitting your bagel with two friends.
To put this into perspective, that 2-ounce portion is the equivalent of two slices of bread or about 160 calories. So if you eat the whole New-york style bagel you are getting the equivalent of 6-7 slices of bread or 560 calories before the cream cheese, and a whole wheat bagel is no better in terms of carbs and calories.
To stick to the 2 ounce serving, start with a half of a bagel and scoop out the majority to a thin shell. Or better yet skip the bagel altogether and opt for one slice of high fiber, thinly sliced toast, and schmear however you wish.
Tanya Zuckerbrot MS, RD, is a Registered Dietitian in New York City and the author of two bestselling diet books: The F-Factor Diet and The Miracle Carb Diet: Make Calories and Fat Disappear – with Fiber.