Chef Tim Says...

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Dr. Tim Says...

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Dr. Tim Says....

Portion Size

Portion size is the single most important key to eating healthy.

You read every day that there has been a dramatic increase in the size of portions. Everything from fast food to candy has been "supersized" in the last 30 years. The good news is that there are also a lot of great ingredients that have been produced with less fat and fewer calories. By using those foods and combining them with the right portion size it's easy to eat healthy. There's great research that shows you can do this and not go hungry (see Dr. Tim Says… February 6, 2006).

Here are five simple steps to help you eat better.

1. Use a scale and weigh everything you eat for at least a month. By doing this you will get used to how large a 4 ounce portion of beef, chicken or fish is. Weighing pasta or potatoes is the best way to eat "low carb" and still eat carbs. (Carbohydrates are good for you but too much of a good thing is just that -- too much.)

2. Use measuring cups and spoons. While this may seem a repeat of number one, there's a whole lot of ingredients that can add unnecessary calories to your dish.

A teaspoon of any fat, whether it is olive oil or butter, has about 45 calories, for instance. A teaspoon of salt has about 2300 mg of sodium. While you see many TV chefs slosh ingredients into their pans with abandon, most of the fat and salt that goes in is not needed for great tasting food. By measuring accurately, the right amount of the right ingredient goes into your dish.

3. Know what a real portion is. Here's a short list.

Ingredient Before Cooking After Cooking Looks like


Rice 1/4 cup 1/2 cup 1/2 baseball
Pasta 2 ounces 1/2 - 2/3 cup 1/2 baseball
Dry cereal 1 cup   The size of a fist
Potato 4 ounces   Computer mouse
Potato (mashed) 4 ounces 1/2 cup 1/2 baseball
Bread 1 slice    
Pancake 1/2 cup batter Two Compact disc
Bagel 2 ounces   Hockey puck


Beef 4 ounces   Deck of cards
Pork 4 ounces   Deck of cards
Veal 4 ounces   Deck of cards
Fish 4 ounces   Checkbook
Poultry 4 ounces   Deck of cards
Peanut butter 2 Tbsp.   Ping pong ball

Fruits and Veggies

Salad greens 1 cup   Baseball
Berries 1/2 cup    
Apple 1 medium   Baseball
Orange 1 medium   Baseball
Raisins 1/2 cup   Large egg


Cheese 1 1/2 ounces   4 stacked dice
Milk 1 cup   (choose low-fat)
Yogurt 1 cup   (choose low-fat)


Oils 1 tsp.   Thumb tip
Butter 1 tsp.   Thumb tip

4. Read every nutrition label. I think that this is the easiest way to get to know normal portion sizes. By looking at the labels of every product you buy you quickly learn what is in the foods that you are eating. Start with the portion size reported in the Nutrition Facts box. How big is it? How many portions are in the package?

Next is calories. How many calories are in each portion? Check other basics like fats and sodium as well.

5. Don't cook a recipe if it doesn't report nutrition information. By using recipes that tell you what is in the final dish, combined with reading nutrition labels, you will quickly learn what is in the food you are eating. By taking a few extra minutes to get an idea of what is in your food, you'll know what is a good portion size for you. This is especially helpful when you go out to eat.

The real key to portion sizes is to pay attention. Using these five simple guidelines helps you to focus on what's going into your meals. It's easy to both eat great food and eat healthy.

First posted June 12, 2006