Serving vs. Portion Size

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Dark chocolate coconut ice cream with banana chips, gluten-free mini cookies, and dark chocolate pieces. Truly decadent.

Do you know how much you’re really eating? It can be difficult to tell if our portion sizes are right for our bodies’ nutritional needs.

Portion sizes have grown quite drastically in recent decades and, with it, people’s waistlines and confusion about how much they are eating versus what they should. Let’s get back to the basics. Even with healthy food, eating too much can add inches to our waistlines and counteract progress to our goals.

What is a serving size and how do I find it?

The serving size is the amount of food listed on a product’s nutrition facts label, along with the nutritional values (calories, protein, fiber, sugar, carbohydrates, etc) associated with that amount of food. So let’s say you are drinking a 20oz soda and the serving size is 8oz; there are 2.5 servings in the bottle. If you drink that whole bottle, you’ll need to multiply 2.5 with all of the calories, sugar, carbohydrates and more listed in the nutrition facts label. It’s sobering.

For foods without a nutrition facts label, how will you know what a serving size is? Luckily WebMD has a handy-dandy handout with some common household items as a reference point for servings of various fruits, vegetables, grains, and more.

Okay, but how many servings of each food should I eat?

Here’s a guide from the American Heart Association with suggested serving sizes from each food group to get started. Remember, your needs and chosen food groups may be different from what is listed. It’s a guide; reach out to your nutrition professional to set up an individualized plan (especially if there are certain food groups you’re avoiding due to food allergies or sensitivities or dietary preferences, such as being gluten-free or vegetarian/vegan).

Whaaaa? It’s says here my ice cream servings is 1/2 cup. That’s totally too small!

First, as fellow ice cream lovers, we agree with you. This part of your exploration may shock you. Check out serving sizes for cheese, nuts, and oils for further surprises.

What’s the difference between serving and portion sizes then?

A portion size is the amount of food we choose to eat at one time and this means we can control our portion sizes. We can choose to eat less than a serving of food or multiples of it.

So as discussed before, the serving size of ice cream is 1/2 cup; however, the portion size can vary…it is the amount of food you choose to eat in one sitting. So, for ice cream, you/me/we may choose to eat closer to 1 cup of this decadent dessert. In this case we’ve all screamed for more ice cream and promptly devoured 1 portion but 2 servings total.

What I do now?

How far do you want to take this? It can be helpful to use measuring cups to actually see what 1/2 cup of ice cream or 2 Tbsp of nuts looks like. Counting out a serving size of pretzels or chips can be eye-opening as well.

You can also stick with a guideline of 1/2 your plate being vegetables, 1/4 of it being protein, and 1/4 of it being starch (try for whole grains or healthier starchy vegetable such as sweet potato versus macaroni and cheese or pasta).

Consider tracking your serving sizes and portion sizes for a few days; you can write the food you eat and the amount down in a food journal or use an app such as MyFitnessPal. Increased awareness may jump-start a few small changes in how much you eat and can help with weight loss.

 

 

 

The 7-day Breakfast Experiment

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At the Body Mindfulness presentation we gave at VegFest this past weekend, we spoke about how to bring awareness to both our lifestyle choices and to our plates. By listening to the messages the body is sending us, we can identify issues (and solutions!) related to digestive, blood sugar, and stress woes. Are you answering the calls your body makes?

Because what we eat first thing in the morning can impact our energy levels, sugar cravings, digestion, and more, we suggest you try a fun Breakfast Experiment. Consider keeping record in a notepad, calendar, or on your computer. This exercise is a powerful tool to bring awareness to your eating patterns. Here’s an example:

Day 1: scrambled eggs
Day 2: fruit smoothie
Day 3: oatmeal
Day 4: boxed breakfast cereal
Day 5: coffee and bagel
Day 6: whole wheat pancakes
Day 7: avocado toast (toast with mashed avocado on top)

Feel free to change this experiment to fit your diet with vegan, gluten-free, or other appropriate options. If you’re diabetic or worried about becoming so, consider checking your blood sugar after each of these meals and noticing any differences in daily measurement.

On each day, you’ll want to record the food you ate, how you felt (physically or emotionally, i.e. “felt energized!” or “started getting heartburn”) a few minutes after eating and then again 2-3 hours later (i.e. “had tons of energy and was productive but then dropped, craving coffee” or “felt really full, almost forgot to eat lunch!”)

Your job, as a breakfast experiment scientist, is not to negatively judge yourself or your food choices. Objectively recording the information can assist you in making connections between what you’ve eaten and how you feel – both physically and emotionally.

This exercise may reveal digestive upset or an intolerance to certain foods. A food sensitivity or allergy may impact your level of inflammation and symptoms. Contact your integrative nutritionist to discuss what you discover and to get the support you need to experience a higher level of vitality and wellness!

#2 Problems Solved! Have the Perfect Poo

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If your bathroom visit has you feeling less-than-stellar, whether from incomplete bowel evacuation or runny rapid transit, you may wonder what’s going on with your gut. We will solve the mysteries of these #2 issues so that you can sit down and take action!

What’s your number?
If you’re looking at the stool chart feeling as through you run the gamut of each type, start to observe toilet clues and investigate reasons that may underlie issues of diarrhea and constipation. Like most changes, this starts with awareness. Track the number associated with the Bristol stool chart type that best matches your bowel movement.

Water makes all the difference. Diarrhea results when the intestine doesn’t have time to reabsorb all the water from the food waste before it exits. On the other hand, if too much water being reabsorbed, constipation occurs and results in hard, dry rabbit-poo-like stools.

When you can’t wait another second….diarrhea. Common causes of diarrhea include:
Food allergies or sensitivities
Lactose intolerance, gluten intolerance/Celiac disease, or malabsorption of fructose
Hyperthyroidism
Emotional stress
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Gastrointestinal infection

Sh*t happens….hopefully. Constipation involves the passing of hard, dry stools that resemble rabbit or deer excrement. Are you eating sugar, processed carbs, packaged foods? If so, you’re at higher risk for constipation. Or perhaps it’s one of these common issues:
Low fiber intake (or too much fiber and not enough water)
Food allergies (dairy and wheat can also lead to constipation issues for some)
Hypothyroidism & hormonal imbalance
Lack of physical activity
Dehydration
Issues with the nerves or muscles in the intestinal tract

Whoa! That stinks!
If you find that your flatulence clears a room or your BMs are so stinky they cause a plane to turn back, there’s a problem that needs to be addressed. For the deadly gas (silence optional), the problem has its roots in sulfur compounds. One reason why flatulence can flatten the mood: bacteria adds sulfates to trapped air bubbles in the gut, creating smelly farts. Food can lead to foul smells particularly when one is consuming foods high in sulfur (think Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, garlic, and onion).

Smelly poo can have its origins from food as well. Those who eat a lot of animal protein tend to have stinkier BMs. A weak digestive system will contribute to foods not breaking down well and putrefying in the gut. Poor diet and stress often have key roles to play as can food sensitivities and inflammatory bowel disorders.

Have the Perfect Poo
Though seemingly as mythical as unicorns, some people claim to have the perfect poos. You can too! First, you have to know what you’re aiming for. On the Bristol stool chart, a perfect poo would ideally be a 4, with 3 and 5 being strong contenders. Let your competitive side show as you try some of these tips to improve your digestive wellness.

  • Get more fiber (think fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains)
  • Drink enough water! Some people like to jazz it up with some lemon and/or mint.
  • Address any underlying thyroid issues
  • Consider eliminating gluten and/or dairy from the diet (both are a common cause of diarrhea and constipation) or other foods on your sensitivity results
  • Fermented foods (i.e. kimchi, yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut) may be beneficial as they can support the colonization of healthy bacteria in the gut. Consider a probiotic supplement.
  • Exercise!
  • Incorporate stress management techniques
  • Get enough sleep

It is important to give your body the tools it needs to be healthy. Every piece of food eaten is broken down and nutrients are absorbed. If it passes too quickly in the digestive tract, important nutrients are missed. If it takes too long, damage may occur in the colon (think diverticulitis as an example). Remember that there are plenty of neurotransmitters in your gut and the brain-gut connection is real. Your thoughts, anxiety, depression, stress, and mood impact your gut.  With all of the information and ideas presented, what step will you take to  achieve gastrointestinal balance?