Wednesday, 9 October 2013

The Myth of Healthy Food: Understanding Portion Sizes


Many people believe that because some foods are healthy, they can eat them in unlimited quantities. We all know the usual suspects, the real baddies.  Fat, salt, sugar, carbohydrates. Avoid these and you're laughing all the way to the skinny jeans section. Right? Well, it's not quite so simple.

Years of consistent over-eating means most of us have no sense of what a healthy portion of food is.  When we are born, we start off only eating as much as we need to satisfy our hunger.  A newborn baby's stomach is only the size of a marble. And here marks the beginning of the problem.  From day one, you will often hear parents complain about their children being poor feeders. 'She only drinks a tiny bit of milk and then she's done'. This is because the stomach sends a signal to the brain to signal that it is full and the child reacts accordingly.  But then we want them to sleep longer and so begins a lifetime of coaxing, bribing, distracting, haranguing and even threatening said child into finishing all their food. 

By the time we are adults, we have long-since lost touch with our stomach signals and it is ingrained in us that  we must eat at certain times and that we must clear our plates when we do, even when the serving has been dished out by a well-meaning but over-zealous aunt at Sunday family lunch; 'You're getting sooooo thin! Eat some more!' So you sit there and diligently work your way through a mountain of food, with fruit to finish it off. Because it's healthy, home-cooked food. 


As part of our Rocktober Challenge, as well as cleaning up our diets, we are going to learn (and un-learn) about healthy portion sizes. It may seem a lot of information all at once but once you get used to how your portions should look, you will be able to tell just by sight whether or not you have a healthy amount of food on your plate or not.

1. Fruit, Vegetables, Starches: 
By now, I hope we are all eating at least 5 portions of fruit and veg a day. 7-10 is better.  I prefer to think of it as 5 portions of veg, plus a little extra fruit.  'But fruit is healthy!' I hear you cry.  Yes, it is, but it is also high in natural sugars. Eaten in moderation, fruit is wonderful, packed with vitamins, minerals and fiber.  But this doesn't mean you should eat sackfuls of the stuff.  

One Portion Size
Fruit and veg - The equivalent of 1 apple or half a cup/3 heaped tablespoons 
Leafy greens -1 cup. 
Starches eg sweet potato, pumpkin, squash: 1/2 cup
Fresh squeezed fruit or veg juice with pulp - 1 150ml glass - no more than one glass per day. 

Recommended portions per day: 5 veg, 3 fruit

Tip: Try to have one veg with each meal plus snack on it. It is easy to add veg into your food, all you need is a little imagination; stir grated carrot into a chicken mince casserole, make zucchini cookies or bread for your children (i'm no baker but i wonder if you could leave the sugar out of these, anyone who bakes comment below please), carry carrot sticks in your bag for a quick, easy snack, add chopped peppers to your morning omelette, cook up a pot of homemade veggie soup and store it in the freezer, make green smoothies!

Preparation: Eat as much uncooked fruit and veg as you can. Boiling pours all the good stuff down the drain.  Steam if you can. If you must cook, don't overdo it; you want them to remain crunchy and retain their colour.

2. Dairy and Soy Milk:
Not all dairy is made equal.  The closer to nature, the better it is for you.  If anyone discovers where chocolate cows live , please let me know.  Until then, chocolate milk is milk, with some chocolate in it. If you're lucky. 

One Portion Size: 
Cheese - Hard cheese: One matchbox size piece. Cottage cheese: 1 cup
Yoghurt Drinks/Low Fat Milk/Soy Milk - 250ml/1 cup 
Yoghurt - two small tubs/200ml
(Butter is not recommended but if you have it, 1 level teaspoon is one portion)

Recommended portions per day: 3

Tips:  If you don't like milk, have your cereal with yoghurt; add chopped or pureed fresh fruit to natural yoghurt if you prefer the flavoured variety, jazz up your salads with cheese

3. Grain:
Whole grain, whole grain, whole grain. Ditch the sugar filled cereals and the white rice in favour for high fibre varieties.

Healthy Portion Size:
Wholegrain Rice and Wholemeal Pasta - 1/2 cup cooked/3 heaped tablespoons
Wholegrain bread - 1 slice
Breakfast cereal - 1/2 cup or two biscuits
Porridge (oatmeal or wholemeal Uji) - 3/4 cup

Recommended Portions per day: 6

Tip: 6 servings of grains seems a lot right? Well, the average person's morning cereal serving is two to three portions.  Couple that with two slices of bread and a serving of rice with dinner and you could easily eat 8 servings a day. 

4. Fish, Poultry, Beans, Lentils, Nuts, Seeds, Eggs, Tofu:
I am not including red meat in this guide as it is not in our Rocktober menus (hopefully).  Beans, nuts, seeds and eggs fall under the same group as they are all meat alternatives. They are great for us and full of good fats but don't go overboard!

One Portion Size:
Fish Poultry - One piece: The size of a deck of cards
                          Chunks: 1/2 cup
                            Mince: 3 tablespoons
Beans, Lentils, Tofu - 3/4 cup
Nuts and Seeds - 2 tablespoons
Egg - 1 egg

Recommended portions per day: 3

Tip: eat your nuts and seeds raw to preserve maximum nutrients.  If you must cook, dry roast them at home. Save money by saving your pumpkin or squash seeds left over when you're cooking and baking in the oven with herbs and spices. Have one meat free day per week.

Let's plate up!

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