Eating the proper serving size is a crucial part of eating healthier and taking better care of yourself. But, sometimes it can take some sleuthing!
Portion control is a method many people use to eat less food. That is a good thing.
This is especially the case if you are eating too many portions of the wrong food. Cutting back to just one piece of cake or brownie or one handful of salty chips is helpful.
But, what do you do if you want to start eating a proper serving size to eat healthier, measure calories, reduce sodium, or even lose weight?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a short answer. And, the stricter your goal, the more specific your information needs to be.
But there are some basic points to learn to make things a lot easier. Let me show you.
Let’s Use the Same Definition to Find and Measure Serving Size
First, let’s use the same definitions.
The phrase serving size refers to the information on a nutrition facts label using the guidelines published by the FDA (the Food and Drug Administration). Serving sizes are also meant to help you figure out how much food to eat at one time. (Note-you do not have to eat the full amount-especially if it is not a healthy option.)
In contrast to serving size, a portion is an actual amount on your plate. A portion may be more or less than a serving size. Portions are how people ‘talk about’ the amount of food they eat.
Serving size helps guide you to a nutritionally appropriate serving size in most cases. If you know you should eat a cup of yogurt but only two tablespoons of peanut butter, you can get a feel for the number of calories that are in food simply by seeing the amount.
What to Use to Measure Serving Size
You will see volumes of tools, strategies, and tricks to measuring serving size, but measuring cups and food scales are two common kitchen items that work great, and you may already have them. I like this 19-Piece Measuring Cup and Spoon Set because it has more than just the typical 4 cups and this Digital Food Scale. You may already have these in your kitchen, but if you do not please know they are worth the very small investment. The digital food scale is especially helpful with protein, nuts, and grains and is super accurate.
If you are measuring and recording your intake to lose weight, measuring or weighing your food is going to give you the most accurate results and get you to your goal faster than estimating or guessing.
Find and Measure Serving Size Found on Food Labels
Foods that are in a package are required to have a food label. There are many things listed on a food label, but for this article, we’ll focus only on the serving size and calories, which are typically listed at the top.
The serving size will list how many calories are in that measurement (and also tell you the measure of nutrients in the serving size).
Here is an example. Listed right beneath the title ‘Nutrition Facts’ you can see the serving size is 1/2 cup dry (dry meaning you will likely add liquid to it but the dry contents are listed here).
Next, you can see how many calories are in EACH SERVING of 1/2 cup, which is 150 calories. (If you eat 1 cup of the food, you are eating two servings and thus 300 calories.)
Using a food label is reasonably straightforward, but it gets more challenging when you start eating more healthy foods because you usually buy them fresh. Fresh fruits & vegetables may not always come with a food label, and you’ll need to look them up.
A Note on Sodium
The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams (mgs) a day, and for most adults. For people with high blood pressure, an ideal limit is no more than 1,500 mg per day. Even cutting back 1,000 mg/day has been shown to improve blood pressure and heart health.
The Salt & Sodium Connection
If you are working to lower your blood pressure (or lose weight) you need to understand how much sodium is in salt so you can make changes to control your intake. Sodium chloride or table salt is approximately 40% sodium.
- 1/4 teaspoon salt = 575 mg sodium
- 1/2 teaspoon salt = 1,150 mg sodium
- 3/4 teaspoon salt = 1,725 mg sodium
- 1 teaspoon salt = 2,300 mg sodium
On a food label, the values reported are ‘per serving’. If you eat an entire can of soup and it contains two servings, you have double the intake listed.
Watch out for the ‘Salty 6’ – the top six common foods that add the most salt to your diet. Read food labels so you can use brands that contain the lowest sodium for these items:
- Breads and Rolls
- Cold cuts and cured meats
At home, most sodium is consumed (up to 75%) from processed foods like soups, tomato sauce, condiment, and canned goods.
Sodium can be ‘hidden’ in some foods. These are foods we forget to consider:
- Salted snacks, nuts and seeds (buy unsalted)
- Frozen dinners and snack foods
- Condiments (ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise)
- Pickles and olives
- Seasoned salts like garlic salt, onion salt or celery salt
- Sauces like barbeque, soy, steak and Worcestershire
Avoiding fast food is a great way to lower sodium while dining out. Check the menu for low sodium options and you can request your food be prepared without salt.
Find and Measure Serving Size Found on Websites
You can search online for the number of calories in a specific food, and you will find numerous websites that can provide that information for you. Sometimes though, the data is hard to see on a big site.
Here is a website that offers a database of common foods, grocery foods, and restaurant foods. Find the search tab and enter your food to see the calories and nutritional information.
Some authors try to make it easier for you and show you ways to ‘estimate’ a serving size by comparing food to an everyday item. The problem now though is that many authors have added so many things it is hard to remember the menagerie of items (tennis ball, a deck of cards, baseball, dice, cupcake liner, hockey puck, spice containers, spoons, baby food jar, and even small amphibians).
So far, my favorite is this website because it has only four things to remember. That’s more my speed.
And, here is a wallet card that may be helpful.
But, honestly, in the end, calorie apps are my favorite way to go.
Find and Measure Serving Size Found in Calorie Count Apps
If you have a smartphone, free calorie count apps give you the information you need right when you need it. These two offer fabulous information for free. Both are great.
In closing, it can be a challenge to find and measure serving size when you are just beginning. But, I promise the more you do it, the easier it will become.
If you are eating food that comes from a package be sure to look at the food label. It does get harder to know a serving size without a food label, but with equipped websites and free phone apps, you can succeed.
Don’t give up, keep going, and moving forward. It will get easier the more you do it!