Measuring Your Meal

You may watch what you eat, but do you really pay attention? If you take time to "eyeball" individual serving amounts over the course of a day, you may be surprised at the gap between the servings listed on food labels and helpings most Americans actually consume.

Portion sizes are bigger today, and that increase has contributed to the growing numbers of overweight or obese Americans, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR).

According to clinical studies, Americans underestimate the amount of calories they consume each day by as much as 25 percent. This "unconscious eating" helps to explain why more Americans than ever—roughly two-thirds—are now considered overweight. This means most Americans are now at increased risk for obesity-related diseases such as cancer, coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, gallbladder disease, and osteoarthritis.

"Eyeball" your portions

Experts recommend that you take a day and follow these quick, simple steps at each meal: First, check the serving size listed on the "Nutrition Facts" food label, and fill a measuring spoon or cup with that amount. Next, empty the food onto a clean plate.

At this point, you should make a mental snapshot of what you see, paying particular attention to how much of the plate is covered. By repeating this procedure at each meal prepared that day, you will quickly learn what a single serving of many different foods really looks like.

You can develop an important weight management skill in these few extra minutes. The mental snapshots taken while "eyeballing" a single serving of many different foods will prove an invaluable reference tool for gauging portion size in the future.

Serving sizes

Even if you read food labels regularly, if you don't have a good idea of serving sizes, the information isn't going to be that useful.

For instance, a typical serving of low-fat granola contains around 220 calories and 3 grams of fat. What you may not notice, however, is that the serving size listed is usually only two-thirds of a cup. If you pour out a typical bowl of cereal, you could be getting two to four times more calories and fat than you realize.

Serving size amounts on food labels should not to be considered suggested servings. They are simply the units of measure used by food manufacturers to calculate nutritional information like calories, fat, cholesterol, carbohydrate, protein, vitamins, and minerals. As such, the concept of serving size is central to discussions of balanced diet and weight management.

Growing portions

Changes in the American marketplace have spurred the growth in portion sizes. Fast-food chains have competed for consumer dollars by inflating their serving sizes. Modestly sized bagels and muffins have disappeared from American cafes, replaced by much larger creations. Even reputable restaurants are using larger plates laden with more food to assure customers they're getting their money's worth.