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Issue 5, June 2007

Small Bites

Small Bites Issue 5, June 2007
Small Bites Issue 5, June 2007
Small Bites Issue 5, June 2007

Issue 5, June 2007

Portion Explosion

Portions and servings. Cups and ounces. Teaspoons and tablespoons. When it comes to eating,“how much” is just as important as “what”.


is just as important as “what”. WHAT IS A PORTION? “Portion control” is hard to understand

“Portion control” is hard to understand for many people because they simply don’t know what consti- tutes a portion, or how it differs from a serving.

A portion is the amount of food consumed at one given time. Someone eating a cup of pasta for lunch can say they had a “portion” of pasta, as could an-

other person who downed three cups for dinner at The Olive Garden.

The key to successful weight loss (and subsequent management) lies in practicing portion control by understanding – and respecting – serving sizes.

People often make statements along the lines of, “I don’t know why I’m having a hard time losing weight. I just have a little pasta with marinara sauce for lunch and a grilled chicken salad for dinner.”

The answer lies in how many servings of pasta this person is having. A half cup only contains 91 calo- ries, but three cups – the amount often served at Italian restaurants -- clock in at 545 calories.

Servings are easier to measure than portions because the United States Department of Agriculture estab- lished guidelines for them. You actually see serv- ings every day on nutrition labels (although these don’t always match the USDA’s idea of servings, as we’ll soon see).



Issue 5, June 2007

For instance, the label on a 20 ounce bottle of Coke lists a total of 2.5 servings per bottle, since one serving is considered to be 8 ounces.

Unfortunately, all these government agencies aren’t making this easy to understand. Consumers have to put some basic math skills to use in order to under- stand these numbers.

If you guzzle down that 20 ounce bottle, you need to multiply the values on the label (which reflect one serving as eight ounces) by 2.5 to determine how many calories, fat grams, sugar, and other nutrients you are getting from your drink.

sugar, and other nutrients you are getting from your drink. There are bills currently floating around

There are bills currently floating around Congress that, if passed, would require food manufacturers to alter their nutrition information. The label on the left divides a 20 ounce soda bot- tle into 2.5 servings. The one on the right lists values for the entire bottle.

After all, who buys a 20 ounce bottle of soda and drinks 8 ounces at a time? NO ONE.

One significant weakness of serving sizes is that they do not often reflect the way we eat.

Many cereal boxes, for instance, list half a cup as a serving. Next time you pour yourself a bowl of ce- real, get out your measuring cups and see just how much – or little! – half a cup of cereal is. I guarantee you will laugh.

The average person pours 1.5 to 2 cups of cereal into a bowl every morning. In other words, they need to multiply those values for half a cup of cereal by three or four to determine just how many nutri- ents – and calories – they are starting off their day with.


Both the old and new food pyramids are as mys- terious as the ones in Egypt, as far as I’m con- cerned.

Up until 2005, we were guided by a pyramid launched in 1992 (shown below), which many of you are familiar with. Grains were at the bottom, followed by fruits and veggies and then dairy and meat/meat substitutes. Fats, oils, and sweets shared the narrow tip.

substitutes. Fats, oils, and sweets shared the narrow tip. Mind you, this was the United States’

Mind you, this was the United States’ food pyramid. The Mediterranean pyramid, for example, lists wine and olive oil as separate food groups, and places red meat all the way at the top (even above sweets!).

The old food pyramid recommended 6 to 11 daily servings of grains, depending on the number of



Issue 5, June 2007

calories you consumed. The illustrations accom- panying this guideline included an entire ba- guette, large loaves of bread, and generous bowls of rice and pasta. It is worth noting that no dis- tinction was made between whole and refined grains.

Many people saw this and took it to mean, “I can have 6 to 11 bagels a day,” which is a gross misin- terpretation.

In the USDA’s eyes, one serving of grains is equal to one ounce of grains.

So, when a standard bagel weighs five ounces, it delivers no less than FIVE grain servings.

Many people thought one bagel/muffin/side of rice at a restaurant was equal to one grain serving, and, in turn, would unknowingly go through a whole day consuming as many as 15 or 20 grain servings.

In April of 2005, the USDA launched a new pyramid, developed by advertising agency Porter Novelli (who designed the first pyramid and also worked for McDonald’s and M&M’s!) for a cool $2.5 million.

for McDonald’s and M&M’s!) for a cool $2.5 million. This new pyramid – officially known as

This new pyramid – officially known as “MyPyra- mid” -- includes the recommendation of physical ac- tivity (although in a wishy-washy “exercise every day, or most of the time” way) and places all food groups next to each other, rather than rank them hi- erarchically.

According to the USDA, this was done to communi- cate the idea that everyone should include a variety of foods in their diet.

However, I find the new pyramid to be not only confusing, but also rather useless.

There is practically no notion of portion sizes, and it is easy to misunderstand its message to mean we should be eating the same amount of every- thing, rather than strive for a diet rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

for a diet rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. The new pyramid fails to mention

The new pyramid fails to mention portion sizes. People need to know that one bagel has as many calories as FIVE slices of bread!

I have also always taken issue with the fact that “fats and oils” are thrown into a general “consume spar- ingly” category, without distinguishing that the fat in avocados and olive oil is a heart-healthier choice than that found in butter and steak.



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And, thanks to the milk lobbyists, the “milk, yogurt, and cheese” group is now just the “milk” group.


According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans,

a person on a 2,000 calorie-a-day diet should con-


6 servings of grains (6 ounces) 5 servings of vegetables (2.5 cups) 4 servings of fruits (2 cups) 5.5 servings of meats/legumes (5.5 ounces) 3 servings of dairy products (3 cups) No more than 2 tablespoons of added oils

Although these are healthful guidelines (they ensure

a balanced intake of nutrients, since each food

group offers its own exclusive blend of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants), they might as well be written in another language.

No one inherently thinks of their food in ounces or cups, and very little has been done to educate the public on what these serving sizes mean.

Before continuing, allow me to provide you with some reference points to help you eyeball your serv- ings easily.

reference points to help you eyeball your serv- ings easily. 1 serving of grains is equal

1 serving of grains is equal to one slice of bread, one cup of ready to eat cereal, or half a cup of cooked cereal, pasta, rice, and other grains.

Do you see why this can be so confusing? Many ce- real boxes list a serving as a half cup, but according to the USDA’s guidelines, one serving is equal to one cup.

to the USDA’s guidelines, one serving is equal to one cup. 1 serving of vegetables is

1 serving of vegetables is made up of half a cup of cooked or raw chopped, non-leafy vegetables. However, you need a whole cup of green leafy vege- tables or vegetable juice to constitute one serving.

vege- tables or vegetable juice to constitute one serving. 1 serving of fruits is equal to

1 serving of fruits is equal to one me- dium whole fruit, three-quarters cup of pure fruit juice, a half cup of berries, or a quarter cup of dried fruit.

Do you see why this is initially confusing for many people? All fruit is not created equal. Dried fruit is denser, so one cup of raisins is more caloric



Issue 5, June 2007

than a cup of grapes, which hold more water and, thus, less calories.

of grapes, which hold more water and, thus, less calories. Whereas the old pyramid recom- mended
Whereas the old pyramid recom- mended two to three servings of meat (since one serving
Whereas the old pyramid recom-
mended two to three servings of meat
(since one serving was considered to
be three ounces), the new guidelines
decided to confuse people even more
and change the serving size to 1 ounce
and recommend 5.5 servings a day.
One serving of dairy equals one cup
of milk or yogurt, two ounces of
cheese , and half a cup of cottage
cheese, ice cream, frozen yogurt, or
To make this a little easier, consider the following:
• One cup is about the size of your closed fist.

Ridiculous! The previous serving size of three ounces for meats was equivalent in size to a checkbook or deck of cards, while the new one (one ounce) is only equivalent to a book of matches. Even the smallest of chicken breasts weighs approximately three ounces.

The only way in which one-ounce servings are help- ful is with alternate meat sources like nut and seed butters, where one ounce (two tablespoons) has al- ways been considered one serving.

I personally think it’s easier -- and more realistic - to remember the recommendation as two 3-ounce serv- ings a day (two decks of cards’ or checkbooks’ worth).

Half a cup is roughly the size of half a baseball.

Three ounces of meat is equal to a checkbook or deck of cards.

Two ounces of cheese are equal to four dice.

This is not to say you have to eat just one cup of any- thing at a time. However, if you pour yourself a bowl of cereal and estimate it’s two baseballs’ worth, you now know you are having two cups (or servings) in one sitting.

If you’re having a five ounce bagel for breakfast, avoid having a grain-centric dinner that same night.

If you have spaghetti for dinner at a restaurant and your plate appears to have two baseballs’ worth of food, keep in mind you are having four grain servings in that one dish.

If you already had four or five grain servings earlier that day, you might want to think twice before finish- ing your plate and bringing your grand total of



Issue 5, June 2007

grain servings for the day to nine, if you are eating 2,000 calories a day.


Very simply, the amount of food we are being served has been expanding like crazy over the past two dec- ades.

Consider the following examples from the eye- opening, must-read book The Portion Teller:

Smartsize Your Way to Permanent Weight Lossby expert dietitian Dr. Lisa R. Young of New York University:

Pizzas averaged 10 inches in diameter in the 1970s, and have since increased to 16 or 18 inches.

In the 1970s, 7-11 offered 12 and 20 ounce cups for soda. Now, you can walk out of there with a 64 ounce cup (that’s two liters!)

When Burger King first opened, their regular burger weighed in at 3.9 ounces. Now, you can get yourself a 12.6 ounce Double Whooper

Now, you can get yourself a 12.6 ounce Double Whooper The original 1.5 ounce Kit Kat,

The original 1.5 ounce Kit Kat, launched in 1935, packs 220 calories. King-size bars (440 calories) are now sold as individual candy bars at movie theater concession stands across the country.

In 1996, Starbucks’ short (8 ounce) size was discontinued and the Venti (20 ounces) was introduced.

“In the course of just three years – between 1984 and 1987 – the exact same chocolate chip cookie recipe on the back of Nestle’s ‘Toll House Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels’ package scaled down the number of cookies it makes from 100 to 60.”

Queen size beds are 6 inches wider than in the 1970s.

“In 1988, the original Lunchables was small and contained 340 calories. By the year 2,000 Oscar Mayer introduced the Lunchables Mega Pack, containing 640 calo- ries for the pizza version and 780 calories for the nacho version.”

“Meals served in Chinese restaurants in Philadelphia are 72 percent heftier than those served in Chinese restaurants in Paris.”

And, guess what? The more food we are provided, the more we eat.

A renowned 2003 study by Brian Wansink of Cornell University’s Department of Applied Economics and Management had a control group drink soup from a regular bowl, while others did so from a bowl that inconspicuously refilled itself in a continual fashion.

The results? Those drinking from the “bottom- less” bowl not only downed 65 percent more calo- ries than the control group, they also did not re- port feeling full for much longer than those who had a limited quantity of soup. In other words, they unknowingly consumed extra calories!

This goes to prove – the more food we have in front of us, the more we’ll eat, regardless of how hungry we are.

Wansink also experimented with movie theater pop- corn. Subjects who later remarked the popcorn tasted bad and stale still ate more if they



Issue 5, June 2007

were eating from larger containers. Oh, by the way, the popcorn tasted so bad because it was two weeks old!

If you want to apply this to your own life, place a bowl of candy or chocolates at your office desk and observe what happens. People who would have most likely not gone to a vending machine for a snack will take a few pieces from your bowl just be- cause they are there.

Think about it. Have you ever seen anyone buy a large order of fries at McDonald’s and not finish the entire thing? Throw out an ice cream cone with two scoops on it because they only wanted one?

No. Most people think, “Well, I’m not THAT hun- gry, but I paid for it. Besides, I feel bad wasting food.”

We need to stop with the food guilt. You can’t ex- pect to maintain a healthy weight if you are under the impression that you must always clear your plate. Why should you have three cups of pasta in one sitting? Because someone you don’t even know decided that’s how much they wanted to put on a plate?

decided that’s how much they wanted to put on a plate? Your standard Chinese restaurant en-

Your standard Chinese restaurant en- tree -- approximately 6 ounces of meat and 4 to 5 servings of grains.

Some people might say, “But I PAID for that food!” So what? You paid for food that would satisfy you. If only half a dish is enough to eliminate your appetite, you got your money’s worth. What is the point of stuffing yourself silly with extra calo- ries if you truly don’t want – or need – them?

I will never forget an interaction I had last summer in the Del Mar, California race tracks. Craving some soft serve, I approached the stand and, I am not exaggerating, saw people walking away from it with half a foot of soft serve on their cones.

I asked the salesperson at the counter for a small cone and asked him to stop less than halfway through his pouring of the ice cream.

“That’s all I want,” I said.

He looked at me incredulously (waiting for the Punk’d cameras to ambush him, perhaps?).

“Are you sure? I can give you a lot more.”

“No, that’s all I want. Really,” I said.

“OK,” he shrugged.

I pulled out my wallet, but before I could hand him

any bills, he said, “Oh, don’t worry about it, it’s free.”

We need to start becoming more vocal about the por- tions we are being served. Let waiters and restau- rant managers know they are serving you too much food, whether it’s with a verbal acknowledg- ment, sharing an entrée, or asking for half or appetizer-sized portions of huge entrees.

This is a multi-layered problem. Not only are por- tions bigger than ever; the small ones aren’t all that small!



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I stopped by Coldstone two weeks ago and noticed that even the small size was too big for what I was craving at that time.

Why can’t I get a half-sized burrito at Chipotle? Since one of their burritos average 1,500 calories, so one with half the calories would still be plenty of food.

Not to mention, Starbucks discontinued its “short” size in the late 1990s, therefore entirely taking away consumers’ choice to request an 8 ounce serving of coffee.

If you don’t think restaurant portions are out of con- trol, consider how much food you are getting at the following chains:

Au Bon Pain

Average muffin size: 5.5 ounces Average croissant: 4 ounces Average bagel: 4.5 ounces Average cookie: 2.5 ounces Average dressing packet: 5 tablespoons Focaccia bread: 4.5 ounces 2 slices of multigrain bread: 5 ounces Baguette for one sandwich: 3.5 ounces


Tortilla: 6 ounces Scoop of rice: 5 ounces Scoop of beans/steak/chicken: 4 ounces

One burrito with rice provides 11 grain servings! And, if you are also getting an animal protein with beans, that’s more than a day’s worth of meat in one sitting.


more than a day’s worth of meat in one sitting. Starbucks Average muffin : 5 ounces

Average muffin: 5 ounces Average cookie: 3 ounces Average slice of cake: 4.5 ounces Average bagel: 4 ounces

Dunkin’ Donuts

cake : 4.5 ounces Average bagel : 4 ounces Dunkin’ Donuts Average cookie : 4.5 ounces

Average cookie: 4.5 ounces English muffins: 2.5 ounces Average muffin: 4.5 ounces Average donut: 2.5 ounces


Sandwich bread: 3 ounces Average cookie: 1.6 ounces Average meat topping: 2 ounces Average condiment: 0.5 tablespoons Average cheese filling: 0.5 ounces



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Chicken breast filet: 3.5 ounces Apple pie dessert: 2.7 ounces Big Mac bun: 3.1 ounces Regular bun: 1.8 ounces Beef patty: 1.2 ounces English muffin: 2 ounces (so, a McMuffin contains 4 servings of bread)

Domino’s Pizza

a McMuffin contains 4 servings of bread) Domino’s Pizza 6 inch deep dish pizza (bread only)

6 inch deep dish pizza (bread only): 7.6 ounces Large thin crust pizza (bread only): 4.7 ounces Extra cheese topping: 2 ounces Breadstick: 1.5 ounces

Taco Bell

Taco shell: 2.8 ounces Side of rice: 4.5 ounces


Bun: 2 ounces Chicken filet: 3.8 ounces


Like it: 5 ounces (0.7 cups) of ice cream Love it: 8 ounces (1 cup) of ice cream Gotta Have It: 12 ounces (1.5 cups) of ice cream


If your goal is to lose or maintain body weight, portion size needs to be your number one priority.

Don’t fret about carbs, fat, and protein. Instead, take a look at how much you are eating.

The key is to find foods that, when eaten in large amounts, do not add up to a lot of calories.

For example, if you eat a cup of ice cream, you are looking at roughly 500 to 600 calories. A cup of strawberries, though, will only give you 46 calo- ries.

By the way, strawberries – just like every single piece of fruit -- are 100% carbohydrate, so if you were on a low-carb diet, they would be on the “do not eat” list! Do you now see why I cringe at the mere mention of anything Atkins?

Remember, weight gain is the direct effect of con- suming more calories than you burn. Your body could care less if your excess calories come from steak, potatoes, or unpasteurized, organic goat milk flown in from the Alps.

That being said, some foods will always be helpful in preventing you from ballooning.

The first issue of Small Bites discussed how fiber- rich foods – along with fat and protein -- help you feel full. These include fruits and vegetables (with their skins), whole grains, seeds, and legumes.



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Consider the following lunch:

2 slices toasted bread (not whole grain) 2 cups iceberg lettuce ½ cup tomatoes 3 ounces lean turkey breast 1 cup apple juice 1 small bag pretzels

Basically, a turkey sandwich piled with some vege- tables and accompanied by a cup of apple juice and a small bag of pretzels. Sounds inoffensive, right?

Well, that lunch adds up to 530 calories, 28 grams of protein, 4.3 grams of fat, and 4 grams of fiber.

It is very likely that such a lunch would only sat- isfy for about an hour and a half before hunger kicked in again. I wouldn’t be surprised if, about 90 minutes later, you ended up consuming more calories.

Now, take a look at this lunch:

2 slices whole grain bread 2 cups baby spinach ½ cup peppers

3 ounces lean turkey breast ¼ cup avocado 1 banana

1 cup flavored seltzer water

This lunch contains 25 less calories than the first one and provides nine more grams of protein, six additional grams of heart-healthy fats, and ten extra grams of fiber.

The higher protein, fat, and fiber amounts in the sec- ond lunch guarantee a longer feeling of satiety (and thus no need to consume more calories just 90 min- utes later).

This concept, known to nutritionists as “nutrient density”, consists of selecting appropriate portions of foods that help keep you full with the same amount of calories as another food.

Let’s say you are making a salmon and vegetable stir fry and are considering having a cup of one of the following grains as a side dish: white rice, cous- cous, brown rice, whole wheat couscous, and qui- noa.

Let’s see how one cup of these grains stacks up:





White Rice








Brown Rice














The white rice, with its low fiber and protein would not fill you up. The quinoa and whole wheat cous- cous (and the brown rice, to an extent) are higher in fiber and protein, which would leave you sati- ated for a longer amount of time.

The more satiated you are, the longer before you are hungry again and ingest more calories.


I do not have any recipes to go along with this issue

l, but I will advise you to keep a watchful eye on many of the recipes you make at home.



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If a brownie recipe yields 16 squares, take a look at the final product. Perhaps it would be better to cut 24 or 30 small servings rather than a handful of dense three-ounce brownies.

Next time you’re making dinner, remember your portions! A dinner for four with a total of two cups of vegetables only amounts to half a cup (or one serving) per person. Aim for two vegetable servings at lunch and dinner, respectively!


Alas, I also don’t have a fad diet related to portion sizes to share this month.

However, I will say the following. Many of the di- ets out there that make such a big deal out of carbs, fat, protein, food group combining, and what time of night you stop eating all end up do- ing the same thing: restricting calories.

As I have stated many times before, when you re- strict calories, you lose weight, no matter where those calories come from. Remember, 600 calories can be found in just one cup of ice cream or 12 cups of fresh strawberries!

In other words, a diet rich in fruits and vegetables will allow you to eat larger quantities that result in less total calories.

Eating foods containing a mix of fiber, protein, and healthy fats will also help you feel full for longer than those with low amounts of these nu- trients.

Every food group is necessary for our health, and should be enjoyed. Just remember to watch your portions and make the most whole, healthy choices from each group.

Small Bites is a monthly newsletter de- livering nutrition information without sponsors to please, advertisers to pro- mote, or hidden agendas.

Please share your thoughts, opinions, and questions so I can continue to pro- vide you with an excellent publication each month.

Also, be sure to check out the Small Bites blog:

See you next month!