Do you often struggle when trying to determine what the right portion size is when making your meals? You’re not alone! Portion sizes can be a huge factor in trying to achieve a healthy diet, and figuring out what’s specifically right for you can be really difficult.
That’s why this week we are going to give you a taste of the Love Yourself portion guide: what you should be eating, how much and how frequently in order to keep you full of energy, feeling your best and staying full!
With the rise in obesity over the past 50 years, we need to examine not only what we eat, but how much we eat. Research repeatedly confirms that larger food servings not only provide more calories but also encourage us to eat more in the future as our bodies become accustomed to consuming more in order to achieve that ‘full feeling’. As a result, people gain more weight and put themselves at a higher risk of developing health-related conditions such as type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
A portion is the amount of food offered in the packaging of prepared food or in a restaurant, whereas serving is a measured amount of food such as one slice of bread or one cup of milk. For example, bagels or muffins are often sold in 2 servings but consumers often eat the whole thing thinking that they have eaten 1 serving!
The trend toward increasing the portion size started in the late 1970s and shows that portion sizes of numerous food products, particularly energy-dense foods have increased in the past decade with the introduction of “super-sized” portions. Research shows that doubling a portion leads to an increase of energy production by 35% and to the desire of eating more. This phenomenon is known as the portion size effect and is closely linked to the perception that large portions are appropriate amounts to be consumed on a single occasion.
Large restaurant servings, large packaging and the high palatability and low satiating effect of certain energy dense foods (e.g., chocolate bars, cookies, crisps) have led to perceptual alterations of what an appropriate portion is.
Moreover, a wide range of external factors including value for money, mindless eating and unawareness of portion size guide affect food consumption. Let’s have a look at these more closely:
Value for money
It is interesting to notice that larger portion sizes are usually offered at a proportionally lower cost than smaller portion sizes (For example, a small portion of chips costing £2.50, vs a large portion costing £2.99, many would be more enticed to buy the large as they experience the delusion that they are saving money overall). As a result, consumers are willing to pay marginally more for a larger portion because they feel they are getting more value for money. This is a strategy that engages consumers in unhealthy dietary behaviours over time, as it often means that they end up finishing the larger portion (so as not to waste it) and eating more than they initially would have intended.
Individuals who eat while distracted and not focussed on their food (for example eating and watching tv at the same time), consume larger portions. This is because when you are distracted, it becomes more difficult to realise the amount of food you're consuming. Individuals have reported lower degrees of fullness and a greater desire to eat compared to those who are not distracted.
Unaware of the portion size guide
Research shows that half of the population is unaware of reference portion sizes. This means that many may be eating more (or less!) than what is recommended by either the food producers, or nutrition professionals!
We can’t control food industries’ strategies and individuals’ behaviour around food. However, we can help you to understand what an appropriate portion of pasta, meat or fish should be.
Everyone has different nutritional requirements based on height, weight, age, physical activity etc. Moreover, if you are trying to lose weight, gain weight or gain muscle mass, portions might also change. However, on average, to achieve a healthy and balanced diet, you can follow this portion guide:
Starchy foods: are the most important source of energy and should make up just over a third of your diet. You should consume approximately 80 g of pasta or rice, 40 g of oats/cereals, two slices of bread and 5-6 new potatoes.
Proteins: meat, fish, beans and eggs are excellent sources of protein, and they are needed for growth and repair. Two (or maximum three) portions of protein are recommended throughout the day. 70 g of meat counts as a portion; 130 g of fish counts as a portion; two eggs count as a portion; 200 g of beans (around half a can) count as a portion. Four tbsp of lentils and 1 tbsp of peanut butter count as a portion.
Dairy: you can also include some dairy in your diet, as it is an excellent source of calcium which is needed for healthy bones and teeth. Dairy products like milk, cheese and yogurt are recommended as two portions a day. 30 g of cheese is recommended, 200 ml of milk and 125ml of yogurt.
Fruit and vegetables: aim at five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. One portion of any fruit or vegetable should be around 80 g and one portion of dried fruit 30 g. Fruit juices can be a great option as long as they are 100% natural and also help you to achieve your 5-a day. Aim at 150 ml of fruit juice/smoothie (with no added sugar).
Oils and spreads: we also need some fat in our diet. We should try to swap saturated (unhealthy) fats with unsaturated (healthy) fats. We can find the good fats in ingredients like avocado, olive oil, nuts and seeds. One portion of avocado corresponds to 70 g, one portion of olive oil corresponds to 1 tsp which is 4 g and a portion of nuts and seeds is approximately 15 g.
Interventions aimed at portion size:
As oversized portions have become pervasive from restaurants to supermarkets and vending machines, it is essential to implement interventions aimed at reducing portion sizes. Current interventions include reducing the availability of larger portions and package sizes, making the placement of larger portion sizes in stores and cafes less accessible, restriction of portion and package size used in advertising and marketing, and restrictions of price promotions on larger portions and package sizes.
However, this is not enough to help people control what they eat. We should inform and educate people on portion sizes and servings. People not only have lost awareness of an appropriate portion, but they are unsure what the difference between a portion and a serving is, due to a lack of information that they receive.
Knowing about food portions and how much fuel our body needs in order to stay working its best is very important. We never believe in restricting ourselves when it comes to the food we eat; instead that everyone should try to stick to recommended serving sizes where possible in order to stay full and bursting with energy (and avoid eating so much that you feel sluggish and rubbish!). If you're still not 100% sure on how much you should be eating, you can check out our calorie calculator for a more tailored experience!