When it comes to your diet, what’s most important for reaching your weight loss or fitness goals: quality or quantity? Or rather, does what you eat matter as much as how much you eat? Knowing food’s serving sizes can be the key to achieving a healthy lifestyle.
Take carbs, for example. Soda is a carb. Cookies are a carb. However, oatmeal, broccoli, and blueberries are also carbs. No one would argue that those options are “equal” in terms of nutrition. The eternal question: If you eat 200 calories worth of broccoli, is it “the same” as drinking 200 calories of soda if weight is your main concern?
“I often tell many patients early on that if they can just start eating half of what they are currently eating, they’ll be on the right track for losing weight if that’s a goal,” says John Whyte, M.D., author of AARP New American Diet. “Ultimately, they can think about removing unhealthy items from their diet (like soda and candy) and introducing healthy snacks (like nuts) as they progress on their journey.”
The tricky part is actually understanding what proper serving sizes look like when you’re in the early stages, since every food is different. Here are eight delicious foods you’re probably eating too much of — and the easiest way to keep your serving size in check for each.
Beef is a high quality source of protein. Plus, it’s full of zinc and iron, both of which are essential for your health: iron carries oxygen to your tissues and organs, while zinc helps keep your immune system up to par.
Most restaurants tend to overdo it on serving sizes, though, so use your hand as a guide. The size and thickness of your palm, excluding your fingers, equates to a 4 to 6 ounce serving size of beef.
Colorful cereal brimming with marshmallows certainly isn’t the same as whole grain varieties that are packed with fiber, B vitamins, and other nutrients. Either way, at least keep your portions in check if you can’t resist a sugary options every now and then. A serving of cereal is typically equal to the size of a baseball, or about one cup.
You don’t have to take ice cream off the table completely — but how much (and how frequently) you indulge makes all the difference. Stick to 1/2 cup, which is equal to the size of half a tennis ball. When serving, use the smallest bowl or cup in your house, like a small ramekin.
As an Italian guy from Jersey, don’t tell me I can’t eat pasta. I know portions can be a challenge, though. A staple of the heart healthy Mediterranean Diet, pasta offers energizing carbs, as long as you’re cautious with how much you eat.
The best way to do that is to pair a smaller serving of noodles with a larger serving of vegetables and protein, suggests Dawn Jackson-Blatner, R.D., author of Superfood Swap. Opt for one handful of cooked noodles, which is about the same size of your fist.
Nuts offer filling fiber, protein, as well as vitamins and minerals, like B vitamins, magnesium, and iron. They’re a great snack, but those calories add up very quickly.
Because portions can be a challenge, in shell pistachios may work in your favor. Opening up the shell takes time and acts as a barrier between you and your food, which slows down your intake. A serving of in shell pistachios is about 1/2 cup by volume, or roughly a cupcake wrapper full, so it even looks about twice the size of servings of other nuts.
Full-fat cheese is super satisfying and tastes amazing, so like many other snacks, it can be easy to overeat, which can spell trouble since it’s high in calories.
A serving of cubed cheese (roughly 1 ounce) is the equivalent of four dice. Or, steal a string cheese and use that as your limit. Eat it with a piece of fruit and you’ve got a solid snack that includes protein, fiber, antioxidants, calcium, and vitamin D.
Salads are a great way to sneak in more fruits and vegetables throughout your day, but what you pile on top can make or break your meal. Salad dressing can be a particularly big calorie offender. Still, it’s a great way to give your greens some flavor, so just stick to one tablespoon, or about the size of your thumb.
You can also use this trick: squeeze out the juice of one citrus fruit, like an orange, then flavor liberally with salt and balsamic vinegar (since it’s lower in calories than high-fat oils and dressings).
This grain can be loaded with nutrition, but like many other carbs, it’s easy to go overboard and eat too much. A serving is equal to 1/2 cup of cooked rice, which is about equal to a lacrosse ball. Here’s the best way to make it work: fill your plate or bowl with sautéed vegetables, protein of your choosing, then top it with the rice. This way, you’re not loading your plate with rice first.