Portions Advice

Yesterday I wrote about portion sizes, complaining that good nutritional information tends to be published alongside luxuriously unhealthy recipes and other consumption-oriented material. On Wednesday the Free Press basically turns its Life and Entertaiment section into a Food section, with articles about cooking, recipes and a wine column. Today, I found an article out of the Canadian Press covering the start of Nutrition Month – March is Nutrition month for the Dieticians of Canada. This year they are emphasizing portion size.

One interesting fact – a 12 inch sub bun contains 6 servings of grain. The recommended daily number of servings of grain, according to a publication called Canada’s Guide to Healthy Eating is 5 to 12. Another fact – the recommended standard portion of grain, cooked as pasta, is half a cup. The usual restaurant serving tends to be about 3 cups, or 6 servings. The restaurant meal contains all the grain, perhaps all the food you might eat in a day. Another way of looking at it – the restaurant meal is probably three times the size it should be, unless you are exercising a lot.
The Guide portions sound skimpy in themselves – well they are. The Guide suggests that a person needs 14 servings or portions a day – 5 grain, 5 vegetable, 2 milk and 2 meat or alternatives. So, a small sub for lunch and a pasta meal using one cup of pasta would provide about 5 servings of grain and whatever meat, cheese and vegetables you chose to add. Many people can and should eat more depending on their size and level of activity.
The newspaper article quotes dieticians talking about snack foods and the idea is to snack if your regular meal is delayed or if there is a long gap between meals. You don’t want to go into a meal feeling like you’re starving because it encourages overeating. The snacks still count, so they should be light. I think dieticians don’t see any real use for potato chips and salted nuts. They suggest a chewy snack – it doesn’t go down as fast and it feels satisfying.
Another suggestion (not from the Dieticians – this comes out of a discussion with my sister Joyce) if you are used to eating seconds and don’t feel right without a second helping, give yourself a small first helping, and serve yourself a second helping and enjoy your meal.
The Dieticians site have Adobe pdf fact sheets on portion size. The black and white version may be quicker to load.


5 responses to “Portions Advice”

  1. Zosma Zack Avatar
    Zosma Zack

    WeightWatchers is about the only diet program out there that recognizes the importance of portion sizes. They simplify it into a point system. A guy your size would get about 26 points a day. A guy my size gets about 30 points a day. Those points being in the range to allow us to lose weight at a safe rate: 1 lb a week. A Six inch Roast Beef sub is worth 5 points without cheese or oily dressing, as I recall. Two cooked cups of spaghetti are worth 7 points, then add the points for your sauce (2 or 3 for tomato sauce). A cup of cheerios is worth 2 points, the half-cup of milk to go with it is worth 1 point. High fibre foods with low fat (like the whole-grain bun at Subway) are worth fewer points. Anyway, you can see how it adds up pretty quickly. My doctor wanted me to go on this last year, but I haven’t yet. Val’s got all the material at home, though, so I’m familiar with it. And I did go with her to her meetings a couple of years ago. It was kind of interesting. There were even a few guys there, including a couple of TV anchors who needed to lose weight. Hehehehe.

  2. Zosma Zack Avatar
    Zosma Zack

    I should add… the good thing about the WeightWatchers system is that they encourage you to eat or drink everything you normally would, but to count the points. A regular beer is 3 points. A light beer is 2.

  3. Zosma Zack Avatar
    Zosma Zack

    Oh, yeah, and as far as this relates to cycling… exercise is worth negative points. Intense exercise, like a three hour ride in the wind to St Francis or down to St. Adolphe, might count for 15 to 18 points. Having a couple of beer after that is no sweat. A light ride out to Grace that takes an hour might only be worth 5 or 6 points. Two beers afterwords basically cancels it out, other than the fitness aspect.

  4. Brave Kelso Avatar
    Brave Kelso

    The points system sounds useful because it simplifies many of the calculations. The 14 portion system needs to be adjusted for weight and activity, and then every meal has to be checked for portions. I like the fact that they have calculated points for some of the common restaurant meals. I was skeptical about Weight Watchers because they seemed to be a commercial networking thing running out of a (women’s) support group. I’d like to think I could use the nutritional information effectively without joining a support group or getting too involved with their branded cookbooks and products.
    The information about beer and light beer is useful. It seems to me that alcohol adds calories and points. I wonder how they count diet soft drinks and low-alcohol beer (Excel, Nordic, PC Brew). It seems to me that there is room for wine with meals and real beer with friends a few times a week – even after a shorter workout – if the food intake over the week is appropriate to activity over the whole week. Hard liquor has to treated as a treat – you can take it if you make room for it.
    And it seems to me that the diet has to change seasonally. If fall and winter brings a sedentary life, the meals have to be planned with that in mind.

  5. There’s a formula for calculating points of anything. On average, it works out to 1 point for every 50 calories. High fibre reduces the point count, high fat increases it. Diet sodas are worth zero points. Zero alcohol beer would be based on calorie count. Hard liquor… same points as light beer. 1.5 Oz of whiskey is 2 points.
    Ideally, you should probably achieve your proper weight during the winter/sedentary months. During the summer, when exercise kicks in, you should be drinking and eating more to maintain that weight. However, I don’t know how to actually achieve that.