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Jul 28, 2014

Minding Your Portions

Committing to a heart-healthy diet can help reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke or repeat events. This includes watching what you put on your plate.

In the rush of everyday life, you may find it difficult to keep track of everything you eat and drink, especially if you tend to eat on the go. Carrying excess weight can increase your risk of heart disease and other health problems, including high blood pressurehigh cholesterol and type 2 diabetes. That’s why paying attention to and cutting back on portion sizes can be an important step in helping to control how many calories you consume as well as promote healthful eating. Of course, consuming a well-rounded balanced diet is just as important.

What’s a Portion?

A portion is the amount of food—or drink—you choose to eat for any given meal or snack. It could be how much food you put on your plate at home, what’s given to you at a restaurant or even how food is packaged.

Unfortunately, portion sizes have grown (a lot) in the last several decades—“supersized” portions are often offered at relatively low prices. As a result, our reference point for what a healthy portion looks like may be vastly distorted. For example, today’s bagels or muffins are often at least two servings, yet we tend to eat the whole thing, thinking we’ve only had one serving.

At the same time, more Americans are eating their meals out of the home at restaurants where they can’t control the ingredients. The problem? Some entree portions are packed with an entire day’s worth of calories, fat and/or sodium.

“What we eat may be well more than what our body actually needs, and we know excess body weight can spell trouble for the heart,” says JoAnne M. Foody, MD, FACC, Editor-in-Chief. “Adopting a low-fat, heart-healthy diet and being mindful about how much food you are consuming is an important step to making better choices.”

Why Pay Attention to Portions?

Research shows that people eat more when they are given—or take—larger portions. We tend to eat what’s in front of us, often without thinking much of it. But indulging in bigger portions often means you are consuming more calories and fat than your body needs.

“An overloaded plate with ‘supersized’ portions translates to a lot of calories consumed,” adds Penny Kris-Etherton, PhD, RD, Distinguished Professor of Nutrition at Penn State University. “Too many calories results in weight gain—a risk factor for both heart disease and diabetes.”

Bottom line: Healthy portion sizes are likely a lot smaller than what you are used to putting on your plate.

How Much Food is Enough?

It’s highly individual. Your age, gender, current weight and how physically active you are all play a role. Regardless, it’s important to stay in tune with what your body needs. For example, practice eating more mindfully so that you eat to feel satisfied, and not to the point of being overly full. 

Your goal should be to eat a diet composed of a variety of foods that are prepared in healthful ways. Be mindful of salt, sugar and saturated fats, and use steaming, sautéing, baking, roasting or grilling methods to cook versus frying.

“Try to fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, one-fourth with lean protein and one-fourth with a starch like brown rice, whole grain noodles or a small plain baked potato,” says Kris-Etherton. “Take smaller bites and eat slowly.”

Taking Charge of your Food Portions


(Click thumbnails to view infographics)

Take 10: Ten Tips to Help With Portions  

Below are some practical tips to help you mind your portions:

  1. Pre-portion or buy single-serving healthy snacks and beverages. For example, it might be helpful to cut up vegetables and fruits so they are ready to go for the week or buy a smaller package size of your favorite beverage.
  2. Use a smaller plate. Consider swapping your entrée-sized plate for a salad plate when dishing up. Nutritionists say this is an easy trick to control how much you eat. That’s because we tend to fill the space on whatever plate we use. Again, the key is to fill your plate with a variety of heart-healthy foods. For more information, go to
  3. Resist going for secondsor thirds. Consider leaving platters of food in the kitchen instead of placing them on the table where it’s easy to take additional helpings.
  4. Skip all-you-can-eat buffets and bottomless drinks. These are bound to get you into trouble. Remember mom’s old saying “Your eyes are bigger than your stomach.”          
  5. Don’t eat from the bag. Put popcorn, chips and other foods in a bowl, especially if you are watching TV or will be distracted while snacking; otherwise you might end up at the bottom of the bag.
  6. Consider splitting an entrée when dining out. Or, take the other half in a to-go bag to enjoy at another meal. Alternatively, just stick to an appetizer and salad.
  7. Order a small when you are eating a meal out. Even if it seems that a bigger size is the better deal, stick with a small.
  8. Be a grazer. You might actually want to spoil your meal by snacking on healthy foods throughout the day. Doing so may help you to avoid becoming overly hungry and overeating at meal-time.
  9. Find your balance. Ask your health care provider about low energy, nutrient dense foods. These satisfying foods can provide protein and fiber without many calories. You may also consider meeting with a dietitian/nutritionist as part of your overall health plan.
  10. Savor your meals. Be purposeful about what you eat, and only eat when you are hungry. Try to pace yourself and really taste and enjoy your food.

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