Courtesy of Richard's Whole Foods

Do You Suffer From Portion Distortion?

Posted Oct 27, 2006

Oct. 25--WATERLOO -- We read the fine print on our car loans, home mortgages and even our gym memberships. But when it comes to breakfast, lunch and dinner, the fine print detailing everything from sodium to calories barely gets a passing glance.

Nutrition labels still are confusing for some people, said Mary Steffensmeier, dietitian for Covenant Medical Center. If snackers don't pay attention to serving size, they have no idea how much they're actually eating. The 200 calories listed may only apply to a quarter of what's in front of you.

"They look at the calories and assume it's for the whole bottle or container," Steffensmeier said.

The first step to knowing the amount of fat, carbohydrates and calories going into your mouth is simple: Read the label -- the whole thing. Then multiply accordingly.

"Certainly when I'm eating something out of a package ... I always pay attention to what the serving size is," said Joanne Margolin of Iowa City, a Weight Watchers leader.

Weight Watchers members use calories and other nutrition factors to determine how many "points" an item is, and they are allowed a certain number of points per day.

"I can have more than one serving if I want, but I have to know the point price I'm going to pay for that," Margolin said.

Both Steffensmeier and Margolin use common items to estimate the size of their portions.

-- Four dice is equal to about one serving of cheese.

-- A 3-ounce serving of meat is about the size of a deck of cards.

-- A single serving of fruit measures about the size of a baseball.

-- A 1-cup serving of anything should be about the size of your fist.

-- A 2-tablespoon portion is the size of a big marshmallow.

-- A helping of casserole should be the diameter of a compact disc .

To better learn what one serving really looks like, it may help to actually measure out your food. When Margolin first measured out one serving -- a cup -- of pasta, she was shocked by how little was on her plate.

"You say, I think that's a cup, but when you measure it it's actually a cup-and-a-half or two cups. Take a day to measure your food, and train your eyes to watch for those kinds of servings," said Steffensmeier.

It also might help to buy smaller packages or use smaller dinner plates to make your servings seem bigger, said the experts. Those small changes could save hundreds of calories, as could a little bit of self control. Margolin has gotten good at cutting her food in half.

"Just because you go to the store and buy a muffin doesn't mean you necessarily need to be eating the entire muffin at one sitting," she said. "We need to get a grip on what a normal, practical serving size is."

Contact Kelsey Holm at (319) 291-1464 or

How much are you really eating?

Ben & Jerry's Chubby Hubby ice cream, 1 pint

Serving size: 1/2 cup

Number of servings in container: 4

Calories per serving: 330

If you eat the whole thing: 1,320 calories

Tombstone original supreme pizza, 22.85 ounces

Serving size: 130 grams

Number of servings in container: 5

Calories per serving: 300

If you eat the whole thing: 1,500 calories

Barilla fettucine, 1 pound

Serving size: 2 ounces

Number of servings in container: 8

Calories per serving: 200

If you eat the whole thing: 1,600 calories

Mountain Dew, 20 ounces

Serving size: 8 ounces

Number of servings in container: 2.5

Calories per serving: 110

If you drink the whole thing: 275 calories

Doritos Cool Ranch chips, 1.75 ounces

Serving size: 1 ounce

Number of servings in container: 3

Calories per serving: 140

If you eat the whole thing: 245 calories


Copyright © 2006, Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, Iowa

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News. Kelsey Holm, Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, Iowa